Just a touch makes such a difference. From top to bottom: Sweet & Salt and Saffron & Salt from Casina Rossa, and Volterra’s Fennel Salt. All photos by Naheed Choudhry.
|KAREN HOCHMAN is Editorial Director of THE NIBBLE.
Ritrovo Imports Artisan Salts From Casina Rossa
Sea Salt Flavored With Other Seasonings
CAPSULE REPORT: You don’t have to look too far to find an artisan salt these days—most specialty food stores offer a variety. The salts in this review are flavored sea salts that have added herbs, spices and other seasonings, imported by Ritrovo, a specialist in the fine foods of Italy. They make a lovely gift for anyone who cooks; and for those who don’t cook, they are an equally welcome, because you can add so much flavor to any food in front of you—from plain pasta to takeout—with just a pinch.
Flavored artisan salts are an easy way to lift any dish. They throw master-chef magic onto foods like fairy dust. Are artisan salts the same as sea salts? Many people use the terms interchangeably, but “artisan salts” are harvested by artisan farmers, as opposed to larger commercial operations.
The salts in this article are created by culinary craftsmen and women, who carefully marry a secondary flavor such as an herb, spice, berry or other seasoning to a particular sea salt (each sea salt has its own unique flavor profile—for more information about sea salt, read our Salt Glossary). The best flavored salts can be a complex combination of seasonings. While the garlic and onion salts in everyone’s spice cabinet are an example of everyday seasonings mixed with common table salt, sea salts are blended with fine herbs, truffle bits and rare spices, or are smoked to archieve sublime flavors that one would not expect from salt—over wood that itself imparts special flavors (like chardonnay barrels). In other cases, more traditional spices are blended into regional profiles to create flavors like “Mediterranean,” “Southwestern” and “Indian” sea salts—new approaches to flavoring cuisine. (We love browsing the salt and seasonings section at fine food stores!)
The result of all this hard work on the part of the specialty salt producer is a complex seasoning that can be used on anything from cocktails to savory dishes to desserts. Blending is a skill, and even if you have the talent to do it, most home kitchens can’t turn out a product that is as stunning to look at as a professional product. A few crystals artfully placed on top of a dish, or sprinkled as a plate garnish, or used as a jewel-like glass or cup rimmer (for example, with soups), are culinary glamour. Of course, the salts can be mixed into recipes as well, as you’ll see in a moment.
We recently had a tasting of salts from Ritrovo, a Seattle-based company that specializes in importing some of the choicest specialty foods from Italy.
Artisan Salt Varieties
Three of our salts come from Casina Rossa (“Little Red Cottage”), a company in the Abruzzo region of Italy. There, Nicola and Paola DeLaurentiis produce a range of artisan food products from extra virgin olive oil to delicacies like cream of artichoke. Our first salt, however, is imported for Volterra, a Seattle restaurant, for which Ritrovo exclusively distributes the product.
Fennel Salt. “Great on Meats, Seafood & Potatoes,” says the label, but that’s just an opener. This delightful salt soars on:
- Meat: Lamb, pork, boar in any form (make a spectacular ragù for fettuccine by grinding boar sausage and mixing with tomatoes, cream and fennel, and finish with Fennel Salt)
- Seafood: We loved this salt on marinated octopus (or mixed seafood) salad
We enjoyed it with a different type of egg breakfast every day for a week, and it was a double thrill with a side of fennel-laced sausage. Volterra’s Chef Don Curtiss suggests using Fennel Salt in salad dressing, over grilled vegetables and meats, in potato salad or as a garnish for pumpkin soup. The product is made of sea salt, organic fennel seed, orange zest and other natural flavors.
Saffron & Salt. This beautiful, yellow-orange salt with red threads of saffron is a visual joy; and when you open the jar, a heavenly saffron scent wafts up to you. Possibly our favorite of the salts (we love saffron), we couldn’t wait to try it with everything we cooked during the entire week, from scrambled eggs to popcorn—both excellent choices. We made a saffron ice cream with pistachios that we served with a pinch of the salt—the salt was a bit “extreme cuisine” for most people, but we liked it. We liked this salt so much, that we invented dishes: hot salted saffron milk, crudités with saffron-salt yogurt dip, saffron polenta. Here are some especially good matches.
- Dishes made with saffron: Use in biriyana, paella, risotto Milanese and any others in your repertoire
- Main courses: Use as a rub for lamb, to season lighter fish (not meaty varieties such as monkfish and salmon) and shellfish, with pasta; use the salt in the dough of a seafood quiche
- Sauces: With rouille, the traditional Provençal sauce made of breadcrumbs, pimento and garlic that is served with bouillabaisse, substitute half the salt in the recipe for Saffron & Salt; see Julia Child’s recipe for chicken bouillabaisse with rouille, in Julia's Menus For Special Occasions
- Vegetables: Delicious with pearl onions in butter sauce, with almost all potatoes
The salt is made by Casina Rossa, of Sicilian sea salt, dried saffron and natural filaments of saffron.
Sea & Salt. This salt is made of bottarga di tonno, dried tuna roe. It tastes wonderfully of dried tuna and the Mediterranean Ocean—a unique flavor combination in a beautiful, ochre-colored salt.
If you like fish, you’ll be delighted by the gourmet potential of this salt. It tastes of fish without being “fishy.” It’s quite unlike anything we’ve experienced. We love bottarga, and often use flakes of it to season salads, eggs and hors d’oeuvres. Sea & Salt is a much more elegant solution.
- Use it on eggs, seafood, vegetables, potatoes
- Serve it as a “dipping salt” with crudités
- Reinvent your hors d’oeuvres by accenting them with Sea & Salt
The salt is made by Casina Rossa, of sea salt, bottarga di tonno, sun-dried tomato, scallion, parsley, basil, garlic, orange, lemon and cardamom.
Sweet & Salt. Read the label and you’d think this salt would be sweet from the vanilla, fruit and—yes—dark chocolate. But Sweet & Salt is quite salty, with subtle undertones of sweetness. Chefs will love how that subtleness can accent certain dishes:
- Fish: Recipes with vanilla sauce abound, for sea bass, red snapper, lobster, oysters and more. Intrepid cooks will look up recipes for lobster, oysters and fish with vanilla sauce (Alain Ducasse has a famous one), make them, and use this pretty, pink-cocoa-colored salt as a garnish.
- Meat: Pancetta (pork belly), pork roast with prune stuffing (we would also try it in other dishes with fruit sauces and stuffings)
- Vegetables: Sweet potatoes
The product is made by Casina Rossa, of salt, dried fruit, citrus peel, spices, vanilla bean, dark chocolate, grape must and cane sugar.
Truffle & Salt. We didn’t get to try this tempting-sounding Truffle & Salt, that contains summer black truffle and truffle flavor. We fantasize about sprinkling it on scrambled eggs, potatoes and slices of baguette with sweet butter. It’s a natural for pasta, tossed with sweet butter and a sprinkle of salt. We look forward to getting a jar soon.
Speaking of which, it might seem that the price of a jar is high, at $22.95 ($23.95 for Truffle & Salt). But a little goes a long way—one the jar will grace many, many dishes. If you’re uncomfortable with the price, split a jar with a friend.
The suggestions above represent only a week of our own dabbling. Give any food lover these four jars—or any of the others imported by Ritrovo—and it’s like summer camp in the kitchen.
Here are three recipes, courtesy of Ritrovo. But the nice thing about these salts is that they don’t require “recipes.” Just sprinkle them on whatever is in front of you—soup, salad, eggs, meat, fish, vegetables.
Orecchiette Pasta with White Beans and Greens
We love the little ear-shaped pasta (orecchiette), served here with white beans and chard or broccoli rabe.
- ½ pound orecchiette pasta
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cups white beans (Controne beans, grown around the small town of Controne in the Campania region of Italy, are especially famous)
- 1 pound Swiss chard or fresh broccoli rabe (rapini)
- 1 teaspoon Casina Rossa Sweet & Salt, or a herb blend artisan salt
- Pecorino cheese to taste
- Cook beans: Place in 3 parts cold water and bring to boil slowly. Reduce heat to low and cook over low heat for 2 to 3 hours, until al dente. Lightly drain off residual liquid.
- Bring another pan of water to boil. Immerse greens in water until just cooked, remove with slotted spoon and set aside.
- Add pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente, about 18-20 minutes. Drain slightly, leaving some cooking liquid.
- Place the olive oil in a sauté pan and heat to medium. Add cooked greens and pasta, sauté together. Add herb blend/salt or Sweet & Salt and beans. Allow all ingredients to blend, serve hot.
- 1 pound rice pasta
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 bag frozen edamame (or frozen peas)
- 1 teaspoon Saffron & Salt
- Chopped green onion to taste
- Allow the frozen edamame or peas to defrost overnight in your refrigerator. Set aside.
- Whisk together half the olive oil, rice vinegar, and Saffron & Salt. Set aside.
- Cook pasta until just al dente, drain well, and immediately toss gently with the remaining olive oil. Add the edamame or peas to the dressing, then toss pasta gently into the mixture.
- Garnish with green onion and serve immediately.
Double Truffle Scallops
This recipe also works with chicken.
- ½ pound fresh bay or sea scallops
- 1 teaspoon Casina Rossa truffle salt
- 1 tablespoon truffle oil
- ½ cup white wine
- Olive oil for sautéing (we prefer butter with the scallops)
- Rinse scallops and pat dry.
- Heat some olive oil or butter in a sauté pan and add the scallops (or chicken pieces). For scallops, sauté briefly over medium heat to keep “rare”; for chicken, sauté until the pieces are nearly cooked through.
- Add white wine and truffle salt. Raise heat slightly; allow liquid to reduce by half. Turn off heat and stir in truffle oil.
- Serve hot over rice or pasta.
RITROVO ARTISAN SALTS
CASSINA ROSSA Saffron & Salt, Sea & Salt, Sweet & Salt, Truffle & Salt
VOLTERRA Fennel Salt
- 3.5-Ounce Jar
$23.95 for Truffle
Purchase online at ChefTools.com
For product information and recipes, visit Ritrovo.com.
Prices and flavor availability are verified at publication but are subject to change. Shipping is additional.