Pecorino Romano

The word pecorino comes from the word pecora, or sheep.  Pecorino is a sheep’s milk cheese and is typically the cheese of choice in the southern part of Italy.  Pecorino has a soft and yellow interior that gets firm and crumbly as it ages.  The cheese also can become quite aromatic and salty as it ages. 

Pecorino produced in the regions of Sardegna, Sicily, Lazio and Tuscany all have varying characteristics.  Here in America, Pecorino Romano is the most easily found and is often used on southern inspired pasta dishes.

Grana Padano

The name grana comes from the word grain, and Padano refers to the valley around the Po River where it is produced.  Grana Padano is a hard cow’s milk cheese that is cooked and aged slowly and is made in the Italian regions of Lombardy, Piedmont, and the Veneto.

I use it as a grating cheese, for fillings in pasta (like my Pasta with American Amatriciana Sauce), and shaved onto salads. I also like to use it on baked vegetables.  I also like to add Grana Padano rinds to my soups and serve chunks of different ages of it with seasonal fruit and toasted bread.


When baking, I typically use Granny Smith apples since their tart flavor helps keep the end product from becoming too sweet.  If you don’t have Granny Smith in the house, you can also use Jonagold, Braeburn, Cortland, or Honeycrisp.  

Parmigiano Reggiano

Parmigiano-Reggiano is a hard, dry cheese made from skimmed or partially skimmed cow’s milk.  It is aged at least two years, and has a pale golden rind and a rich, sharp flavor.

It takes its name from the beautiful town of Parma. The words Parmigiano-Reggiano stenciled on the rind mean that the cheese was produced in Italy in the towns of Bologna, Mantura, Modena, or Parma.  If you see the name “Parmesan”, it is simply a different product.

The cheese is aromatic and versatile; I use it as a grating cheese for pasta, soups, and stuffings.  I also use it on baked vegetables, and often serve it in chunks with a drizzle of balsamic and a little seasonal fruit. 

Aged Parmigiano-Reggiano is even more special, but I save that for special occasions and holidays.

Cheddar Cheese

I must admit, I did not taste cheddar cheese until I arrived in the United States at the age of 34.  It is the most widely purchased and eaten cheese in the world. Cheddar cheese is made from cow’s milk, and unfortunately, any cheese producing company can call their cheese “cheddar,” as it is not protected (like other cheese names or brands). 

Cheddar is a hard and natural cheese that is slightly crumbly in texture if properly cured, and smooth if it’s young.  It develops a sharper taste as it matures between 9 and 24 months.  I do not use cheddar cheese very often, but my children do like it in their frittatas (like my Potato and Herb Frittata). 

Look for a cheddar with only milk, cultures, enzymes and salt. Aged or sharp cheddar has a more intense flavor. Always opt for a block, which is typically less expensive and has less additives and preservatives than packaged shredded cheese.


I did not inherit my father’s green thumb, and chives are one of those herbs that just keep coming back without me doing anything.  (I simply planted them in a pot 15 years ago when we moved to the suburbs.  I move the pot into the garage over the winter, and bring it back out in the spring). 

My children are not very fond of onions, and chives offer a mild onion flavor to many dishes that call for an onion.  Plus, they’re easy to chop.  Don’t be afraid to add a few chopped chives to dishes like pasta, salad, and rice dishes.  They add a nice taste of freshness.


Pistachios are tasty and nutritious nuts used often in Italian and in particular, Sicilian dishes.  They are also often eaten as a snack and used in ice creams, confections, baked goods and other sweets. I really love the Sicilian Bronte pistachios when available. 

Try using pistachios to make a pesto or add them to salads, meat or fish dishes for some extra flavor and crunch.  I like to add crushed pistachios to breadcrumbs and coat chicken breasts with them as well.


Basil  is used in cuisines worldwide and is a favorite fresh herb used in many Italian regional dishes.  The most famous growers of basil are from the Liguria, the Italian Riviera, but my family grew basil in both Sicily and Piedmont, and I grow it in New Jersey today. 

When using basil, always wash it and pat dry with paper towels; then remove the leaves from the stem. If you are in a hurry or are worried about those knife skills, you can tear the basil into pieces and add it to your dish.  Otherwise, stack several leaves together and roll into a cylinder and cut crossways into thin strips.