Surprisingly, Cristiano and Silvia Creminelli have made Salt Lake City a nationwide source for authentic Italian salumi. The Creminelli family has been producing artisan meat products as far back as the oldest aunt can remember and, legend has it, as far back as the 1600s. So Master Artisan Cristiano came by his craft naturally, and worked in Italy, curing meats and teaching others how to cure them until 2005, when he decided to bring his artisanal products to America, specifically Utah, because of the quality pork here.
Creminelli meats are cured naturally, through careful monitoring of humidity and temperature, with no preservatives added. Since 2007, when Cristiano produced his first batch from a kitchen in the basement of Caputo's Deli, Creminelli meats have become a national food sensation, winning awards and a place of honor in fine food stores' deli cases from New York to California.
But besides the salumi, the Cristianos have brought other authentic Italian flavors to the Beehive State. Cristiano's wife, Silvia, is a meticulous cook in her own right, and teaches cooking classes in various venues around the city. She invited us to watch as she prepared the food for an intimate holiday dinner party.
Terrina di Prosciutto Cotta E Pistacci. Photo by Adam Finkle
The menu, served course by course in Italian fashion, encourages conversation and makes the food the center of attention. "Italians can talk about food for hours," says Silvia. "It's in our DNA." Sure enough, as Silvia slices and sautes, she and her friend Alessandra Deplano, a medieval archaeologist at the U who teams up with Silvia to teach cooking, cover a range of subjects, from duck eggs to wild rabbit to the relative properties of carnaroli and arborio rice, as they sip rosé. Prep is part of the party.
Silvia's holiday menu is a counterpoint to a huge and heavy American feast—its extravagance is in the richness and complexity of flavors. Likewise, her table is understated, set with pristine white on white on gray with accents of crystal and silver. Each dish is presented on its own plate, so that its layered complexity may be savored without confusing it with other flavors. "Food is the heart and soul of celebration," says Silvia.
THE LAND OF THE RICE
"We come from the land of rice," says Silvia. "Piemonte." So instead of pasta or polenta, a risotto is the center of this meal. It's not a side dish. It's served on its own, so the creamy texture and rich flavors can be savored solo. For this menu, Silvia starts with arborio rice and takes it through the traditional steps: the soffrito, the tostatura, the mantecatura.
For the soffrito, she sautes minced shallots in a mix of olive oil and butter. "One mistake I taste often in risotto," she says, "is too much onion or garlic." She prefers the subtler taste of shallots. "They should not brown," she says, shaking the pan. "They should just be soft and translucent."
Silvia garnishes her risotto with mortadella rosebuds. Photo by Adam Finkle.
Next, the tostatura, or toasting of the rice. She adds the arborio, a small handful for each serving, to the shallots and lets it cook a minute or so with no liquid. " Italians say, "Rice grows in the water and dies in the wine,' but instead of wine, I'm using beer." She lets the beer almost completely evaporate before adding the stock [made from bouillon] a little at a time. "Old recipes say you have to stir constantly,'' she says. "That's intimidating and it's not true. With a non-stick pan, you can leave it for a minute.”
Finally, the mantecatura: the enrichment, or flavoring of the rice—powdered ginger, lemon zest and fresh rosemary. While she stirs in a gob of mascarpone, Silvia talks about other risottos—one made with Italy’s famous Barolo wine, red instead of the usual white; one made with beets, resulting in a vivid purple rice; one made with oranges, and one with strawberries. (To find recipes for these and other traditional Italian dishes, Silvia suggests going to giallozafferano.it, her favorite Italian cooking website.)
When the rice has absorbed just enough liquid, but not all of it, the mixture is ready for the final touch. “Italians call this all’onda,” Silvia says. “It means, like waves, flowing in waves.” Finally, with the mascarpone blended in, she tops the rice with strips of creamy Creminelli mortadella, twisting a few pieces into tiny rosebuds.
STEP BY STEP
Silvia Creminelli’s Terrina di Prosciutto Cotta e Pistacci
Ham & Pistachio Terrine
(as an appetizer)
Silvia cutting ham into cubes. Photo by Adam Finkle
Terrines are a sophisticated addition to a menu and don’t need to be complicated. Make this a couple of days in advance for ease but also to let the flavors settle together. Serve slightly chilled with a glass of bubbly Prosecco.
1 1/2 pounds Creminelli Prosciutto Cotto (cooked ham), cut into cubes
1 cup butter, softened
Brandy to taste
white pepper to taste
1/4 cup pistachios, finely chopped
croutons to taste
Chop the ham in the food processor. Save . cup of the butter. Blend remaining butter, brandy, white pepper and blend again until creamy and smooth. If it’s not creamy enough, blend with more softened butter. Taste to see if you need some more white pepper or brandy. Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap. Fill the loaf pan with the ham mixture.
Stir together the ground pistachios and the remaining softened butter until the butter becomes a beautiful light green color. Spread this mixture over the ham terrine, making sure to cover the entire surface. Fold over the plastic wrap flaps over the terrine. Use another sheet of plastic wrap to completely cover the terrine, if necessary. Chill for at least three hours or overnight.
To serve, remove the plastic-lined pate from the pan and invert onto a serving dish. Serve with sliced bread. Keep leftovers covered in plastic and eat within three days.