With the nature of my job as a cheese monger, I have the opportunity to help customers with creating the ideal charcuterie board to share with their loved ones. Many may assume I am some sort of expert creator of all things cheese and meat; but really, I can be just as indecisive and lost as anyone else. There are too many good things to choose from and trying to cater to a variety of palates can be quite a challenge for anyone.
For this holiday season, I’m going to keep it simple. I’m choosing some no fuss snacking that is guaranteed to keep my family occupied while I wrestle with pie dough. Robiola Bosina is the perfect cheese for the job. This small format, soft ripened cheese is a creamier alternative to Brie, and is made with a mix of cow and sheep’s milk, giving it a bit of delicate funk. It is made by Caseificio Dell’Alta Langa, based in a small village just south of Alba in Piedmont. This area of northern Italy is famous for its wines and truffles, laden with lush vineyards, quaint villages, and medieval castles.
Striving to keep tradition alive while still maintaining the highest quality standards, this cheese maker offers more than 20 handmade cheeses. Robiola Bosina is going to be the centerpiece for AT LEAST one holiday board this year.
Robiola’s form is a small 4-inch square, making it the perfect size to be served cut diagonally (or left intact, your choice) with the halves offset on top of one another for some height and surrounded by your favorite accompaniments. Those may be dried fruits such as figs or apricots, some crostini and jam, a rich and herby cooked ham from your local deli (ahem, Caputo’s), or maybe some bright and buttery olives. With its mild, palatable rind, I can’t imagine why Robiola wouldn’t be eaten in its entirety before anyone has a chance to ask questions. If you’re feeling fancy, consider wrapping it in some puff pastry with brown sugar and fruit and bake it until the pastry is a golden brown and the cheese oozes when cut into.
Tis the season to entertain, but if you find yourself stressing over an elaborate (and often spendy) board, there’s no shame in taking the simplistic route with one knockout cheese of your choice.
You know it’s gifting crunch time, we know it too. You’re still not sure what to give, and you haven’t started shopping yet? That’s OK, we won’t tell. Here’s what some of your favorite faces from Caputo’s are giving to their friends and family this year to serve as gifting inspiration.
Don’t see your favorite monger here? Drop by before the holiday—we’re open through the afternoon of Christmas Eve—and ask them for their personal recommendations. We’re certainly never lacking in opinions around here.
So, here you have it: each of our gift picks for 2016:
Matt Caputo President and residing ulitmate boss-man
Scaldaferro Torrone – Scaldaferro is the perfect nexus of heirloom ingredients and outlier in skill. No other nougat on Earth will taste like this. In my somewhat expansive nougat experience, it is the best out there. With our modern day food system continuously degrading what people are willing to pay for food, it is a treasure that will likely be lost to history some day. I am giving Scaldaferro as a gift, because it is a perfect example what Caputo’s is trying to achieve. We fight to protect these traditional foods by sharing our passion for them with our friends, family, and customers.
VP and ultimatest boss who oversees said boss-man
Pump Street Bakery Father Christmas – Is there anything better than a chocolate figurine of Saint Nick stuffed into your stocking on Christmas morning. There is – said Saint Nick made out of really, really good chocolate. Father Christmas is hand poured 60% dark milk chocolate from HCP protected Ecuador cacao beans. This is one I’ll be gifting both family and friends this season. The best part – Father Christmas is a whopping $8.99!
Director of Education and expert gift wrapper
Holiday Chocolate Trio – I know exactly how much time went in to procuring the selection for all of our gift collections this year because I got to help! This collection is my favorite, it’s a taste of each holiday flavor we all know and love, but each is encased in chocolate. Who says no to something like this?! Scrooge, that’s who. Unless you’re searching for a Scrooge gift, this is perfect for stuffing individually into stockings or gifting bundled in adorable, festive gift wrap.
Downtown Deli Manager and widely regarded happiest deli elf
Royal Rose Naughty or Nice Moscow Mule Duo – Moscow Mule’s gained their popularity in the 50’s and 60’s. Traditionally served with Vodka and ginger beer in a copper mug, this drink has become a regularly sought after item in most drinking establishments. Royal Rose’s Naughty or Nice Moscow Mule kit adds a twist to the mix in the “Naughty” mixer with the addition of fresh jalapeno peppers. I chose to gift this to my Mother because she has always been interested in Moscow Mules and the culture surrounding the drink.
Holladay General Manager and jolliest smiler
Utah Craft Chocolate Collection – What’s better than a bar of chocolate? A whole crate of local chocolates. Our local chocolate crate is a great way to introduce someone into the world of fine chocolate. I will be gifting our local chocolate crate to not only show my love for chocolate but also to support small local companies that strive to do such an amazing job.
University Deli Manager and avid hat wearer
Fee Brother’s Grapefruit Bitters – I’ll take a hefty dose of citrus any way I can get it in these cold winter months, why not incorporate it into cocktails?! I’ll be adding to gin & tonics at gatherings all season, but these make for a great gift for anyone interested in starting a home bar.
Affineuse and general cheese whisperer
The Silver Spoon cookbook – available at our Downtown location
The Silver Spoon is an elegant book brimming with recipes for classical Italian dishes, accompanied by striking photos. There is a recipe for practically any Italian ingredient you can think of, as well as many that may be unfamiliar. The recipes are straightforward and ingredient-focused, and I find this book inspiring when I want to get out of my comfort zone and try something new. If you love a food-nerd, you can not go wrong with this book. The Silver Spoon is a great investment in the future of your table and tastebuds!
Fall is a special time in the life cycle of plant life. Perennials gently nestle into hibernation while we kiss some of our favorite sweet annual plants goodbye. While it feels slightly sad, this is my favorite time for food as we move from light, crisp flavors to bigger, funky, fermenty ones.
Testun al Foglie di Castagno embodies the best of this cooling season. Cow, sheep, and goat milks are blended into large wheels and aged over a year in the Cuneo region of Piedmont by Beppino Occelli. We carry a handful of selections from this lovely artisan, but this one in particular has stolen my heart. The wheels are wrapped in freshly plucked chestnut leaves and left to continue its year-long aging journey. The result is a sweet, complex paste tinged brown by the oxidized plant matter it’s been snuggled into. Testun’s paste is both creamy and crunchy from crystallized bits of tyrosine while the aroma smells just like the bottom of the leaf pile waiting for you in your back yard. Don’t believe. Go on, dive in there and give it a whiff.
If you’re really lucky, you’ll be graced with small flecks of naturally ocurring blue mold growing just beneath the surface of the cheese. I live for these bits and will wait days for even a hint of blue. This added flavor tips the scales for flavor right up toward transcendence.
When you’re done diving into your leaves, treat yourself to a this lovely cheese. Pair it with bold, tannic red wines, whiskey, or Epic’s Smoked & Oaked beer, and a fireplace. This is the perfect time to enjoy this cheese and the season wanes into winter.
It’s here, finally. My most favorite season has arrived. The Downtown Farmer’s Market is just around the corner, my outdoor pool of choice is open, outdoor concerts abound across the valley, and I’ve already had my first barbecue of the season. For me, summer is the perfect time to reconnect with my favorite farmers at the market and friends from all over the world. But all these typically involve food in one way or another. And for that, we’ve got you covered. Grab that poolside chair and your favorite summer sipper and sink your teeth into these:
Reason #639 for loving all things Mesa Farm: Randy only milks his goats during the natural spring season. Animal husbandry, treatment, and overall well-being is incredibly important to us at Caputo’s, and Mesa excels here. Freshly formed wheels of pasteurized goat’s milk cheese (from the happiest goats in Utah, mind you) arrive from Torrey and make their way straight to our cheese caves. One month later, these are released for our happy consumption. The small size of this cheese allows for quick aging and development of flavor thanks to our very own flora of cave bacteria and TLC from affineuse, Antonia. What appears to be an unassuming nibble of cheese turns out to be full of bright, complex flavors with a rind that only adds to the overall taste experience. Get this soon, and get it often. This is stuff to nibble on while making your #summersixteen memories last forever.
We’ve told you about Salumi master Elias Cairo growing up right here in Salt Lake City. We even told you Cairo’s father had a constant supply of home-cured meats, so we can only assume his passion and precision began from a very young age. Fast forward a few decades and we’re in love with his offerings being made in Portland, Oregon. Not only are we obsessing over their cured salami, their sweetheart ham is stealing our very own hearts, one employee at a time.
Pork sirloin tips are brined for ten days with juniper berries, fresh herbs, fresh garlic, and fresh onions before being smoked over applewood for 10 hours. Sweet, smoky, and savory combine forces to create an artisan ham worth forsaking all other hams. Sandwiches, croque monsieurs, omelets, and midnight snacks all beg for this kind of ham. You’ll be amazed at how often you’ll find yourself reaching for this once you bring it home. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Fruition began as the brainchild of Bryan Graham, a pastry chef from New York who fell in love with making chocolate after working with Chef Peter Greweling. Committed to fair trade, organically produced, bean to bar production, and above all wonderful flavor, the company that began in 2011 has steadily excelled, becoming an example of what chocolate should be.
For those of you that have been to our annual Chocolate Festival, this bar hits close to home. All proceeds from our annual event are donated to the Heirloom Cacao Preservation, HCP for short. Our friends at the HCP funded the very farmers and beans used to make this bar. All our hard work put into our Chocolate Festival has come to fruition. See what I did there? Eh, eh?
Now, go, friends. Take your tasty nibbles and dance off into the sunset. Nosh at will, and nosh often.
Moms deserve a day of spoiling, and it is our duty to do so. After all the dirty diapers, temper tantrums, homework help, fighting over curfew, learning to live alone, and then finally realizing she was right all along, it’s fair to say she is owed more than a few indulgences. Here’s what our moms are getting this year:
There is nothing cliche about giving Ma the gift of continued education, especially when said education revolves around chocolate, cheese, and other delicious ways to enjoy herself. Our summer schedule is filling up quick, but there’s still plenty of time to get in on the fun. The best part about this gift is joining her for some quality family time and reaping the benefits of both chocolate education and chocolate consumption with her!
If Mom is a busy one these days and can’t join you for a class, upscale chocolate never hurt anyone. Chocolatier Blue started in Alpine, Utah, but has since relocated to Berkeley, California. Despite the move, Chocolatier Blue uses Salt Lake made Solstice Chocolate for each filled chocolate. There is not a better filled chocolate in the country and you know your mom deserves the best there is. Select from a range of box sizes and flavors, we’ll fill them to order so you can select which flavors your mom will like best.
There’s always something incredibly satisfying about cooking for mom, and doing it well. This beautiful dessert is a welcome treat for any gathering and perfect to wow mom with. Added bonus, the hardest part can be done in advance so mom doesn’t have to see you struggle or hear any expletives that might leave your mouth during the process. You can arrive with premade components, easily assemble them, and present a treat fit for any mom.
Any holiday is a good time for cheese. ANY DAY is a good day for cheese, but especially Mother’s Day. Wrap our favorite bloomy rind cheese in puff pastry, douse it with your favorite jam (mine is Amour’s Apricot Rose for this recipe) and serving a warm, gooey, bubble of cheesy goodness to your mom, and the rest of your family if she decides to share it.
Remember all those nights your mom spent worrying about you for one reason or another? No? I’m sure she remembers, and I’m sure she could use a drink to recover from those long, stressful years. If your mom appreciates a well-made cocktail, get her the ingredients to make her own at home! Luxardo cherries, countless bitters, and assorted bar syrups are a great place to start. Plus, one she hones her skills, maybe she’ll share those cocktails at the next family gathering. One can hope, right?
There you have it. Our top gifts for the best moms out there. Hey Moms, happy Mother’s Day! We hope you get showered with love and spoiled with treats!
So there I was, happily noshing away at a slice of Adelle in my kitchen. I’m relishing in the funky flavor, fresh texture, and all around amazingness that has been created by Ancient Heritage creamery in Portland, Oregon. The mix of sheep and cow’s milk make this both creamy and flaky in texture, sweet and funky in taste, and has a rind that only adds to the flavor. It may be just a tad too funky for some, and I wanted to find a way to make this a hit for everyone this weekend at a brunch party. I often reach for fruit to make any cheese more approachable, and this was no different. Amour Spreads’ Apricot Rose jam loves cheese as much as I do, and cheese and jam belong together at every brunch. Oh, you want to make it fancier, you say? Wrap it in puff pastry and bake it. Boom. Melty, gooey cheese with sweet, floral jam and baked pastry dough… Mom is going to love you.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll pastry out to about a 10 inch diameter. Slather the top of the wheel of cheese with jame and place jam side down on the puff pastry. Wrap pastry around the wheel of cheese and press to seal seams. Place in the center of a parchment lined baking sheet and brush with beaten egg. Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.
Allow cheese to rest at least five minutes before serving. Serve with crackers, sliced fruit, or baguette and more jam to spread on top.
Melted cheese is a thing of beauty. Never mind your preference regarding the type, I’m sure we can all agree that gooey, melty cheese is just the thing to pull us out of the winter doldrums. My go to melty meal of choice? Raclette.
The name of both cheese and meal is often met with sighs of appreciation and longing at first mention. Anyone who has experienced this centuries old tradition likely remembers it fondly. If you haven’t, think back to your first grilled cheese or macaroni and cheese that used high quality cheese. Remember that comforting feeling and delicious experience. Now I want you to imagine multiplying that feeling by at least five. That’s what Raclette will do you.
Raclette is a traditional Swiss alpine cheese made of cow’s milk that is aged at least three months and finished with brine baths to further develop its aroma and flavor. The result is a slightly stinky, but very creamy, decadent semifirm paste that, of course, begs to be melted. Most people will tell you the meal based on this cheese was started around the campfires of hunters who mainly ate potatoes, pickles, and this cheese while on long hunts. The story goes that the cheese ended up too close to the fire, melted over the potatoes, and voila, Raclette (the meal) was born.
Over the past few centuries, many iterations of raclette grill contraptions have arisen. Some have a long, thin heating element to melt on face of a quarter wheel of the cheese. Others resemble an Easy Bake Oven with small plates inserted under larger heating elements that can be removed and the cheese scraped over your starch and protein of choice. If you’re dying to experience this melty meal but aren’t so crazy about aquiring another crazy kitchen contraption, fear not, I love this meal and have never used anything other than my oven.
You’ll need Raclette, potatoes, and cornichons for the most basic version of this meal. I love to also include thin slices of Speck, crusty bread, pickled onions, and a big green salad when I’m making this for friends. Whatever you choose, you’ll remember it fondlt and crave it often. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Other vegetables, mustard, or condiments, if desired
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Lay slices of raclette on the bottom of a shallow baking dish or small baking sheet. Bake for about 5-10 minutes, or until cheese is completely melted and beginning to bubble and liquefy. Scrape over potatoes, bread, and any protein selections. Season with salt and pepper, serve immediately with cornichons, pickles, and other vegetables and sides.
So, did September actually happen? Between the warm weather and busy schedules we’ve kept here at Caputo’s, I’m quite positive we jumped right from August to October. I’m just starting to pull my sweaters and comfy socks out of storage and see cute posts of friends getting their hands on the the season’s first pumpkins. I’m ready for cozy dinner parties, hot drinks, comforting stews, and all the wonderful traditions of autumn. We’re keeping things fun and festive this month to help you welcome the cool weather in tasty fashion. Here’s what we’ll be noshing on this month.
There is really nothing better in life than a plate of high quality pasta. If the quality is there, I could not care less about the sauce accompanying it or the vessel in which it is served. I would argue that bronze dye extruded shapes and artisan style pasta is a dying art form that is giving way to slippery, cheap teflon-cut noodles. Dear friends, they are not the same. The ideal pasta is roughly textured on a molecular level, creating a sponge-like surface that holds sauce to itself rather than floating in a puddle of it. There is a toothsome texture and flavor from the grains it was made from. To have the best pasta is to have life. Seriously, this is the stuff of gods. I say you’ve earned the right to a better pasta, don’t you?
Maestri is handmade and extruded by master pasta maker Giovanni Castiello in the most attentive, dedicated fashion. Castiello has traveled across all of Italy to learn and perfect over 80 shapes of pasta. Each shape receives the same TLC and attention to detail as the next. This black—dare I say spooky—spaghetti is colored with squid ink and is the perfect base for a seafood-laden dish. Keep it simple with garlic, oil, herbs, and your shellfish of choice, or let your creative juices flow with a combination of flavors. We’re loving an ‘nduja-spiked tomato sauce with scallops, shrimp, and clams. I dig it so much, I’ll likely have to share the recipe it with you.
More from the master of all things specialty food, Matt Caputo: “As bitters makers go, Bittermens has mastered the technical skill needed to perfectly execute consistent, quality bitters. Despite all that precision, none of the artistry is lost. In fact, these are some of the most creative concoctions found anywhere, flavors that pay homage to pre-Prohibition era cocktail culture but have a wide arc all their own. Bittermens is for the barkeep who has mastered the classics and is ready to create.”
Bittermen’s spicy little shrub is a perfect way to add a spicy kick to cocktails and food alike. I find myself adding this to everything from sauces for tacos and enchiladas, tomato sauces for pasta, tequila cocktails, and spicy brownies. This shrub is the perfect balance of acid and spice.
The hardest part of getting your hands on this bottle is then deciding whether to store it in the bar or pantry once you’ve brought it home.
Don’t you wish Matt Caputo could narrate your entire food journey for your entire life? This is as close as we can get, but it’s pretty fantastic, right?
“Marou evokes many thoughts and emotions. From exhilaration, lust, fear, and back to comfort. It is an incredibly complex and exotic chocolate. It manages to be ethereal and visceral at the same time. On the one hand, it is like an exotic and mysterious woman whispering in a language you can’t remotely comprehend. On the other, it is like a musical journey from slow Asian instrumentals to death metal.
Using 100-percent Vietnamese ingredients, including shade-grown cacao from five different provinces, Marou captures aromas and flavors never before experienced by our Western palates. While it will take us much more tasting to really get to know the soul of Marou’s chocolate, one thing is perfectly clear: The two French expatriates behind Marou who live in Vietnam make chocolate that is a cousin to French cuisine, but distinctively Vietnamese. Marou makes globalization look sexy.”
It can’t get much darker than 85% without beginning to lose its palatability. Marou has mastered the art of creating a super-dark chocolate that is still super delicious. Some chocolate with this percentage of cacao content are far too bitter, and I find myself wishing for just a touch more sugar. Not here. You’ll love its deep and dark complexity and its full flavor and nuance. Plus, the nod to the eerie novel from whence its name comes makes it an ideal bar for October.
Holy cow, this was such a wet week for us in SLC! I’ve been cozied up in all my favorite sweaters and boots all week, and I’m so surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed the cool weather and rain puddles. I had spent last weekend and the beginning of this week preparing for our Eat Local Cooking Class. Eat Local Week began this past Saturday, and our class was part of the festivities taking place all over the valley in celebration of our fabulous local food farmers and artisans. I had the menu set weeks in advance, local produce purchased, and a hoard of local products from the Caputo’s shelves that I couldn’t wait to share. Then, the rain came, and it changed the whole menu.
One of my favorite recipes comes from one of my favorite women, Marcella Hazan. I don’t think there will ever be another person or collection of recipes that I will admire more than her and hers. Smothered cabbage—it may sound bland or boring, but this is the base to the most comforting soup I’ve ever made. Caramelized onions, browned garlic, shredded cabbage, and light seasoning slowly cook over low heat for hours. This transforms the cabbage into a sweetened, complex, and totally craveable dish. On its own, it is the perfect side for roasted and braised meats. When I’m sick, however, this is the foundation for the soup that has entirely replaced the ol’ standby, chicken noodle.
I make a double batch of smothered cabbage as soon as I begin to feel a cold coming on. The cabbage will last for about two weeks in the refrigerator, and it only takes 25 minutes to make a new bowl of soup to snuggle up to. Cabbage is just beginning to make its fall debut at our local farmers markets, and this is the perfect recipe to add to your wintertime arsenal.
• 2 pounds green, red, or Savoy cabbage
• ½ cup chopped onion
• ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
• 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
• Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
• 1 tablespoon wine vinegar, white or red (I use sherry vinegar)
Detach and discard the first few outer leaves of the cabbage. The remaining head of leaves must be shredded very fine. If you are going to do it by hand, cut the leaves into fine shreds, slicing them off the whole head. Turn the head after you have sliced a section of it until gradually you expose the entire core, which must be discarded. If you want to use the food processor, cut the leaves off from the core in sections, discard the core and process the leaves through a shredding attachment.
Put the onion and olive oil into a large sauté pan, and turn the heat on to medium. Cook and stir the onion until it becomes colored a deep gold, then add the garlic. When you have cooked the garlic until it becomes colored a very pale gold, add the shredded cabbage. Turn the cabbage over 2 or 3 times to coat it well, and cook it until it is wilted.
Add salt, pepper, and the vinegar. Turn the cabbage over once completely, lower the heat to minimum, and cover the pan tightly. Cook for at least 1 1/2 hours, or until it is very tender, turning it from time to time. If while it is cooking, the liquid in the pan should become insufficient, add 2 tablespoons water as needed. When done, taste and correct for salt and pepper. Allow it to settle off the heat for a few minutes before serving.
Marcella Hazan’s Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup
3 cups homemade meat broth or 1 cup canned beef broth diluted with 2 cups of water, or 1 1/2 bouillon cubes dissolved in 3 cups of water
Put the cabbage and broth into a soup pot, and turn on the heat to medium. When the broth comes to a boil, add the rice. Cook uncovered, adjusting the heat so that the soup bubbles at a slow but steady boil, stirring from time to time until the rice is done. It must be tender, but firm to the bite, and should take around 20 minutes. If while the rice is cooking, you find the soup becoming too thick, dilute it with a ladleful of homemade broth or water. The soup should be on the dense-ish side when finished.
When the rice is done, before turning off the heat, stir in the butter and the grated cheese. Taste and correct for salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into individual plates and allow it to settle a few minutes before serving.
Note: The smothered cabbage can be prepared 2 or 3 days ahead of the soup, or served as a side dish from here. It also freezes well.
It’s here: the last moments of summer. As we say goodbye to the sunshine-filled days of summer and welcome a new school year, we want to make sure to savor the flavors of the harvest season with the most delicious, new, and craveable treats from Caputo’s. Take a peek at our latest obsessions here: CHEESE: Mesa Feta
Mesa Farm in Torrey, Utah, is home to a local artisan very near and dear to our hearts. Randy Ramsley is at the helm of Mesa, which is home to about 40 goats near the entrance to Capitol Reef National Park. Here, Randy raises his small herd along the banks of the Fremont River and creates a small collection of world-class cheeses. Our current favorite is his 100-percent local goat’s milk feta. Aged about four month to achieve optimal flavor, Mesa Feta is tangy, briny, and delicious. This cheese is the perfect pair for our local bounty of fruits and vegetables. Toss it into Greek-inspired salads, over seasoned watermelon or stone fruit, and top your grilled burgers, mushrooms, and other veggies with it. You’ll be glad you did, and we’ll be glad to have you in full support of this fantastic local product.
There are many piquillo copycats out there, and for darn good reason. Piquillo peppers, which translate to ‘little beak’ in Spanish, are a cornerstone of Spanish cooking and tapas culture. Piquillo peppers—grown in Northern Spain, near Lodosa—offer a sweet flavor with no spiciness, and a sturdy, meaty texture. Piquillo peppers are roasted, seeded, and de-stemmed before canning. Your piquillos should be whole when they come out of the jar. Stuff them with high quality Spanish tuna, a mixture of cheese and herbs (cough, like the Mesa feta above, cough, cough), or chop and toss into frittatas, casseroles, stews, and more. Use these instead of other roasted peppers for amplified flavor, and they’ll make your dish even tastier.
We’ve got another traditional cornerstone for you here. This Craving is one part Creole magic and one part cocktail king. Created by New Orleans apothecary Antoine Amédée Peychaud in the 1830s, this bitters has withstood not just the test of time, but it was one of the only bitters to survive Prohibition. Light, sweet, and floral, this is an absolute must-have for home cocktail enthusiasts and professional mixologists alike. You can’t make a proper Sazerac without it, and you deserve a Sazerac after that first week of getting the kids through school.
Pump Street has stormed on to the American market after a publicized mention at the Oscars. It has long had a cult-like following for both its baked goods and chocolate alike. Hailing from the almost-too-cute and quaint town of Orford, Suffolk, Pump Street coaxes Heirloom Cacao Preservation cacao beans into some of the most decadent bars we’ve tasted. These bars are complex, perfectly textured, and truly craveable. Pump Street offers beans from Hacienda Limon in three different cacao percentages to explore the full spectrum of flavor from these heirloom beans. The Guantupi region of Ecuador is home to cacao beans used by many artisan chocolate makers across the country, but we just can’t get enough of Pump Street lately—especially the 85% bar. This is the ultimate gift to give the most important person in your life: yourself! Go on, indulge.
My favorite resurgent food theme from the last few years is what I like to call “grandma chic.” While food writers, bloggers, chefs, and amateur food enthusiasts will claim to march to beat of their own drum, we all love to follow and comment on the latest foodie trends.
The trends of 2014 included: the Great Kale Revolution, healthy lunches for kids, all local everything, gluten-free foods, and upscale comfort food. So far, 2015 moved further away from molecular gastronomy and embraced things like biscuits, waffles, poutine, and more obscure culinary traditions.
For me, it was “grandma chic” above all else. Everyone believes that their grandma or other kitchen matriarch makes at least one dish better than anyone else in the world. We’re all too happy to pit our sweet, shrinking, and wise elderly relatives against each other in hopes of prevailing with the most authentic and tastiest recipe.
Well guess what, both my grandmothers are Kitchen Queens. My paternal grandmother has cornered the market on eggplant parmigiano, lasagna, and peach pie. My maternal grandmother, Nonna, was the authority on fresh pasta, taralli, and seasonal cooking. She left us all too soon, but made a lasting impression on my life and forever changed my perspective in the kitchen.
Rino, of the now-closed Rino’s Italian Ristorante in the Parley’s Canyon area, is my first stop at the Saturday farmers market at Pioneer Park. His produce reminds me of my Nonna’s kitchen table.
A fresh white tablecloth was the base for the summer’s bounty, day in and day out. Tomatoes, peppers, greens, and many other veggies were piled high, tempting us grandchildren with their wafting scents. We’d sneak tomatoes and peppers all summer, but left our favorite veggies alone in hopes they’d be used for our favorite dishes. Mine included fresh orrechiette with veggies from the garden, braised beef with tomato sauce, and fried squash blossoms.
Nonna lightly fried squash blossoms in a big, cast iron pan that filled the kitchen with a sweet scent that tortured me until dinnertime. Our whole family would sit down, and I’d silently pray everyone would help themselves to the main course so I could get my grubby little hands on the blossoms. I loved the crunch at the tip of the blossom that gave way to its tender base filled with deliciousness. Sometimes, she’d fill them with herbed ricotta. Other times, she fried them plain, with no filling. I didn’t care which she chose, so long as there were blossoms to be had.
Rino has had blossoms since the market began this summer. I haven’t missed buying them—not even once. Each one is ready to be used, slightly fragrant, and cut the same way my Nonna cut them from the garden. I fry at least two of the 10 blossoms I buy from him. The others may be fried as well, or sautéed for pasta, added to farro salads, or as a simple topping on fried eggs or a frittata. No matter how they’re used, I silently thank both my Nonna for her delicious, simple way of cooking and Rino for the opportunity to cook her recipes from my childhood.
Make these squash blossoms for the people you love most. Serve them alongside pasta, poultry, or egg dishes, and manipulate this recipe so it becomes your own. Then pass it down as your family grows. Maybe someday, our grandkids will pit our recipes against each other, too.
Add oil to the pan, about 1 to 2 inches deep. Heat on medium-high until oil is fragrant and shimmering. While oil is heating, remove stamens from blossoms. Mix ricotta with fennel pollen and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon or pipe 1-2 tablespoons of the ricotta mixture into the center of each blossom. Don’t overfill with ricotta (I know it’s tempting, I still make this mistake. Remember, we want to taste the blossom.) In a medium bowl, whisk beer into flour and salt until only small lumps remain.
Dredge blossoms in batter and shake off any excess before laying them into the oil to fry. Make sure not to overcrowd the pan and fry each side of blossoms for about 4 minutes. Remove to a plate layered with paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with fleur de sel and serve immediately.
This is a public service announcement for all of you dedicated enjoyers of cheese out there.
You see, I have been a cheese monger for a very long time. I love cheese, and not a day passes that I do not enjoy one of the 200 cheeses that I have at my disposal. And yes, before you ask, it’s a tough job, but I make these sacrifices for all of you. While part of my job is teaching both the cheese and whisky tasting classes and helping with our educational program, my real job—at its most basic level—is to talk with you fine folks about cheese when you meander into Caputo’s. You’re looking for something exciting, and I’m here to help. This is the part of the job that has kept me here and invested the last several years. Frankly, I get paid to talk about cheese. This to me means that I am doing alright.
That being said, I know that most of you don’t spend 60 hours a week in the equivalent of Cheese Candyland, which is why I have set out to share my thoughts on this from the other side of the counter. People frequently ask me how they can expand their cheese palette, and my response is invariably the same, you need to try more cheese. This seems rather self-serving to some as I clearly work at a place that benefits from selling more cheese. Bear in mind, I am not a sales person who makes a commission. I make the same salary whether we sell out of cheese or if we don’t sell an ounce of the stuff for a week (although that would probably not be a very fun week).
Note that I did not say BUY more cheese, I said TRY more cheese.
We have an open sampling policy, which means that of the 200 cheeses I referred to earlier, you can come in and sample about 197 of them in one sitting, if it suits you. You can also pick the brain of the dedicated cheese nerd behind the counter. And it makes no difference to me if you spend a nickel after the sampling, so long as you enjoyed yourself. So please come take advantage of the cheese library that Caputo’s is happy to offer.
I know all of you have real jobs that don’t center around eating cheese all day. I and my fellow cheesemongers, however, have such a job, so take advantage of this. We are people dedicated to finding you the best cheese for your palette, because, for us, this isn’t just what we eat, it’s what we live for and what gives us a sense of accomplishment. So ask us about our cheeses, and then ask us for a sample. I see no harm in having a favorite cheese that you can go back to time after time and enjoy. However, if you truly want to expand your cheese repertoire, every time you come in for your favorite cheese, try something that you haven’t before. Challenge yourself a little—it’s only cheese, and who is to say that your new favorite cheese won’t come to you on the next sample spoon.
So during your next trip to Caputo’s, please feel comfortable grabbing your favorite cheese, but never hesitate to ask if you can try our cheese of the week or our new favorite or just that cooool lookin’ one with the crazy mold growing on it. We are always legitimately excited about some new cheese. Let us share that excitement with you, and always remember, if you have the time, we have the samples. Plus, I would always rather talk to you about cheese than do dishes—it’s kind of a no-brainer when you get right down to it.