The Italian Picnic, or Eating Cheap in Italy


Whether you’re looking at a five hour train ride, embarking on an afternoon hike, or spending a day at the beach, Italian grocers and produce vendors provide a host of inspiring products for do-it-yourself lunches. In general, Italian food is inexpensive, but packing your own picnic comprised of local delicacies will surely save you a few bucks. From my experience, packing your own lunch can also lead to a lunch that’s even better than those that you can buy pre-made, you just need to know your options.

Marinated Vegetables
picnicItaly seriously knows how to marinate vegetables and every grocery store and alamentari offers a wide selection. They are sold by the kilo or etto (one kilo equals 2.23 pounds while one etto is equal to 100 grams or 10 etti to a kilo.)  My favorite is eggplant marinated in olive oil, oregano, and garlic. I usually order ½ etto of eggplant per sandwich. Add a few slices of cheese, some local tomatoes, and some artisan bread and you have an amazing panino. Other marinated veggies that you can usually find are zucchini, sun-dried tomatoes, and sliced peppers. They are sold at the deli counter and displayed in large dishes submerged in the seasoned olive oil.

Cured Meats
cured-meatsIf you want to try some of Italy’s incredible cured meats, they are also sold at the deli. Every city in Italy has its own style of salami, and you can order Napoli-style and Milano-style salami by the kilo. Again, I usually order around .75 etto per sandwich. Prosciutto is amazing as well, but make sure you order prosciutto crudo, which means raw ham. The word prosciutto in Italian simply means “ham,” and prosciutto crudo is what we in the U.S.usually think of when we think prosciutto. Prosciutto cotta on the other hand, is cooked ham. From my experience, you can’t go wrong with the cured meats in Italy, so feel free to experiment.

Now, you need some local artisan cheese. When I’m on the Amalfi Coast I fresh-cheese-and-tomatoesnever pass up the local buffalo mozzarella, but every city has it’s own special cheeses. Practically any cheese you select will be a winner, but beware of marinated cheeses. I once ordered sliced cheese that looked like it was marinated in olive oil and parsley, and it turned out to be marinated in anchovies—yuck!

The most commonly found sandwich roll in Italy, the one that you will find behind every deli counter, is the panino. It is a light roll with a criss-cross design on the top.

Fresh Produce
If you’re out before 1PM, it’s likely that you’ll see fresh produce vendors around every corner. Farmers from the surrounding areas drive their trucks into the cities daily to sell their incredibly fresh vegetables. For Panini, I prefer cherry tomatoes (pomodorini) which are very sweet, and arugula (rucola).

With ingredients as flavorful as these and options just as numerous as you can imagine, you can make your picnic as simple or elaborate as you please. For me, nothing beats a cherry tomato, buffalo mozzarella, and arugula panino. And the only cutlery you need is one knife and a few napkins. The total cost per panino is usually around two euro, which leaves plenty of change left over for a nice bottle of wine.

Written by Mattie Bamman for

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