For 25 years, I've had the abundant good fortune to be the "voice" of Pasta & Co.
It has been a joy to put words to the business that my husband and I started in 1981. Making the company's products and services come alive to our staff members and customers was for me the best part of owning the company. When we sold the business five years ago, the opportunity to continue in that role by writing this newsletter made me feel a very lucky lady, indeed.
But it has been five years. From now on, this newsletter will come directly from Kurt Beecher Dammeier, Pasta & Co's owner since March 2000 and the founder of our sister company, Beecher's Handmade Cheese. That makes this newsletter a particularly momentous one for me. It is my chance to thank you for listening to me for all these many years. It is my chance to boast about something at Pasta & Co that in itself will be a new reason for shopping at our stores. And, for the last time, it is my chance to tell you about what you'll be finding at Pasta & Co.
FIRST, ABOUT THAT NEW REASON TO SHOP AT PASTA & CO
We are just now wrapping up a program to eliminate from Pasta & Co all ingredients and products that contain artificial additives, be they nitrates, nitrites, sulfur dioxide, monosodium glutamate, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, trans fatty acids, or any others on a long and complicated list. They are simply no longer permitted--no exceptions (except for wine with its seemingly unavoidable sulfites).
The work started a year ago when we began making our own soup stocks. Our fresh products were already mostly "clean," but "sub-ingredients" posed problems. We had to look hard and far to find an acceptable quality "clean" mayonnaise. Even harder to find: "clean" ham and salami. One big stumbling block was turkey breast. We're now brining our own to get the moist, flavorful product we wanted without additives.
Alas, the "clean" initiative means eliminating some of my longtime favorite grocery items. I nearly sobbed when I got the word on those spicy little sausages called kabonossi: "not clean" and no replacement. My pick for vegetable stock base, Organic Gourmet, is gone (it contains hydrolyzed vegetable protein). Coriander Chutney, a fabulously cheeky condiment, is also gone: it has artificial coloring in it. Still, as much as I will miss these pantry staples, only one word describes my feelings for their passing: proud - proud that Pasta & Co continues to evolve its products. I remember when some 15 years ago, we undertook a similar effort to reduce fats in our foods. It was one of the most galvanizing steps we ever took as a company, and it changed the way we made food forever. The same goes for the current efforts.
IN OUR DELI CASES FOR SUMMER
We're featuring Northwest ingredients, and I'm especially excited about the SMOKED SALMON PEPPER STRIPS, made with alder smoked wild king salmon straight from City Fish in the Pike Place Market. Smoked fish, of course, is one of our regional specialties, but underused, I think. We mostly think of it as a delicacy, something to be portioned out for nibbles. Try thinking more of it as a meal maker. Clearly, it's good travel food--for picnicking or airplane eating. I can't think of a better treat for pulling out upon arrival at a vacation retreat—you throw open the windows, kick off your shoes, pour wine, tear open a bag of BEECHER'S CRACKERS, lay out the smoked salmon. (Maybe you've picked up some fresh fruit at a farm stand enroute.)
Remember smoked salmon when you're at home too. A little goes a long ways, and especially for summer, it's a protein on the table with hardly a speck of effort. Marry it with olives, some of our FRENCH LENTIL SALAD (made with Washington-grown green lentils and fresh mint), a room temperature vegetable, and good bread. That's one easy warm-weather supper.
The smoked salmon brings up a favorite summer subject of mine: ROOM TEMPERATURE FOODS. As much as I worship at the grill altar, there are times when even firing up the barbecue is too much effort. Far better entrée possibilities: slices of GOBBLE IT UP (our turkey meatloaf that's flecked with BEECHER'S FRESH CHEESE CURDS) or TROLL-CAUGHT WILD KING SALMON WITH SUMMER HERBS. Both pair well with our new LEMON & PEPPER ASPARAGUS. Just sit dishes like these out of the refrigerator long enough to be rid of chill (about an hour at summertime temperatures) and you have dinner. TIP: For a first course, serve the Lemon & Pepper Asparagus over warm toast points (you can do the bread either on the grill or in a toaster; I prefer thin slices of brioche, but other breads will do). Drizzle with the asparagus juices and generous splashes of extra virgin olive oil (enough to soften the bread). Top with a bit of coarse sea salt and shavings of FISCALINI 18-MONTH AGED CHEDDAR, a venerable artisanal cheese you'll find in our stores.
Another favorite summer vegetable is a low-fat wonder: CORN SALSA SALAD made with just a teensy bit of oil and a whole lot of tomato, red and green onion, and red wine vinegar--quintessential summer salad. Old standbys: SMOKED SALMON PESCINE features Northwest lox-style smoked salmon; CARROTS JULIENNE are cut matchstick-style and drenched in a heady marinade; and BEECHER'S BREAD SALAD combines our Beecher's Fresh Cheese Curds with vinaigrette-soaked chunks of bread. All these too are room-temperature fare.
CELEBRATING NORTHWEST ON OUR GROCERY SHELVES
Pasta & Co's Culinary Council has been sampling northwest products for months, and we're now featuring our favorites. From Chukar Cherries in Prosser, Washington, comes BERRY MEDLEY—a mix of dried Washington strawberries, blueberries, and cranberries (my pick to outfit visitors for a day-hike in the mountains or for staving off hunger on the way home from work). We also fell for Chukar's CHERRY BALSAMIC DRESSING. TIP: Even better than straight out of the bottle, mix the Chukar dressing half and half with PASTA & CO BASIC DRESSING for coating greens. Then there is Chukar's CHERRY PEACH PIE FILLING. Not being a skilled crust maker, I skip the pie part and just spoon the stuff over ice cream or mix it into BEECHER'S BLANK SLATE for a quick dessert so tasty it belies my scant efforts.
Speaking of ice cream, consider our FRESH GINGER ICE CREAM. Its delicate ginger taste adds intrigue to everything from fruit to chocolate. Don't miss another Washington-made product from Gold Bar: WOODRING'S ORCHARD SEMI-SWEET CHOCOLATE SAUCE, made from organically grown cocoa beans (these from Venezuela). Twenty seconds in the microwave on high makes it a satiny sauce just right to pour over that Fresh Ginger Ice Cream.
Canvassing northwest food products means tasting oodles of good fruit preserves. We've discovered three standouts: CHUKAR CHERRIES CHERRY RASPBERRY JAM (its 10-ounce tall jar makes it an especially attractive gift for out-of-towners); from a little company called Campagna in Lebanon, Oregon, OREGON BERRIES WITH SAMBUCA JAM (the Italian licorice liqueur gives swagger to the mix of marionberries, strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries); and from Woodring's Orchard, MARIONBERRY BLACKBERRY SPREAD. We all know what to do with good jam. There's the spreading on toast and then there's the eating off the spoon. You can also heat them gently in the microwave (similarly to the chocolate sauce) before pouring over ice cream or cheesecake.
I can't leave fruit products without mentioning one of the very best and most distinctively Northwest: PASTA & CO RED CURRANT JELLY. Made with Maury Island red currants, we've had this product under our own label for nearly 20 years. It's essential to making our famous Cranberry Sauce, and for glazing summer fruit desserts, there's not a better option. Then, of course, there's the notion of spreading it over hot English muffins that have been thinly coated with unsalted butter: the ruby red jelly melts into the holes and you're left with one of life's better pleasures. Certainly, houseguests visiting the Northwest for the first time will relish the creation with their morning coffee or tea.
THEN THERE ARE NORTHWEST WINES
We are featuring a number of Northwest wines in limited quantities this summer. To me, the most memorable of our regionals is the SNOQUALMIE RESERVE SYRAH. Long before inexpensive syrahs had become the "everyday chardonnay" of red wine (my opinion only) and long before Washington wines had achieved their world-class stature, Snoqualmie's efforts with this varietal were commendable. If you want to taste syrah at its finest and heftiest, don't miss this wine (save it for a cool summer evening when you're doing lamb chops or beef tenderloin on the grill).
& IF YOU BUY ONE COOKBOOK THIS YEAR
Buy CHRISTINA'S COOKBOOK, RECIPES AND STORIES FROM A NORTHWEST ISLAND KITCHEN. I've known (no, marveled at) Christina for most of my Pasta & Co life. She opened her restaurant on Orcas Island just one year before we opened the first Pasta & Co store. To me, there's not a working chef more quintessentially "Washington." Nor is there one better at telling the Northwest food story (who else would tell you how to dry that bumper crop of Italian prunes that so many of us are blessed with each summer). Even if you don't make a single recipe, read the book cover to cover, especially the little one-subject essays that scatter about it. With Christina, every recipe is a story, every story a tribute to Northwest foods.