One of southern Colorado's oldest markets is Gagliano's Bessemer Mercantile, an Italian shop in Pueblo that has been owned and operated by the Gagliano family since 1923. Anthony, Vincent and Josephine run the show, offering caring service, answering questions and packaging up Italy's finest.
Gagliano's is a small store with a big heart. The little shop is practically stuffed, and its shelves nearly creak under the weight of dried Italian pastas, olive oils and numerous canned specialty products. There's also a bounty of cooking equipment, including panini presses, pasta makers and at least a dozen customized rolling pins for different kinds of bread and pasta. In case that's not enough, T-shirts, key chains and other kitsch round out the collection.
There isn't anywhere to eat, so plan to buy a portable feast and invite some friends over to share the goodness when you get home. You will probably have to do a little light cooking, but it's absolutely worth both the effort and the drive.
Beyond the dazzling array of packages, jars, cans and boxes, you will find an impressive gathering of fresh foods -- at least a dozen kinds of Italian cold cuts (including Prosciutto di Parma for only $17 a pound), fresh mozzarella and ricotta cheeses, hard Italian varieties such as Parmigiano Reggiano, and a nice sampling of olives, including their house marinated cracked Sicilians.
Not to be left behind are the foods made fresh right there at the market, which must be the secret of Gagliano's success and will star on your table when you get them home. We bought fresh marinara sauce, lobster ravioli, olives, Supremo bread and some of their famous homemade Italian sausage, which people report traveling many hours and sometimes across many states to acquire. I brought home both sweet and hot Italian sausages, but felt almost heartbroken to leave the skinny salcicces and stubby kolbasi behind.
Other possibilities abound at Gagliano's. Stuffed shells, manicotti, tortellini and other raviolis are available, as are homemade pizza dough, eggplant lasagna and traditional lasagna that simply need to cook in your oven.
The whole ride home I thought about those sausages in the back of my car, anxious as anything to cook them up. When we got home, we lit the oven, fired up the grill and set the table. Within an hour, we and another couple had begun to gorge on one of the greatest feasts ever to grace my table.
Gagliano's marinara sauce found many homes throughout the meal. It is light and really tastes like fresh, sweet tomatoes with just a hint of salt and Italian herbs. The clean, almost elegant flavors equipped it well to accompany our other treats, whose flavors were more powerful and complex.
Up first, lobster ravioli. The homemade pasta was delicate but springy, and the round, ample pillows were chock full of smooth, sweet lobster meat and little else, so they tasted like lobster. Good all by themselves, we heated the marinara with some heavy cream and made a delicious pink sauce perfectly matched to the pasta, as the cream accentuated the lobster's sweetness and texture.
We buzzed with anticipation as the two big sausage links came off of the grill. From the first bite, we understood why people rave about these beauties. Both hot and sweet possessed a delightful texture that was firm but still smooth. The sweet link was that, thanks to the deep pork flavor and a nice complement of fennel and oregano. With a touch of the heated marinara and some caramelized onions (you'll have to supply these yourself), the sweet sausages achieve what can only be called perfection.
Turning to the hot Italian links, we were pleased by their consistent heat, supplied by visible bits of hot pepper flakes, and the bolder flavors that the spice brought forward. If you have some bell peppers, blacken them completely on the grill while the sausages cook, set them in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic. Wait ten minutes, and then use a paper towel to remove the charred skin. Slice them up, discard the seeds and enjoy them with the hot links.
For a real adventure, pick up some of Gagliano's Supremo bread. This is a house special that can best be described as pizza gone wild: a thin pizza dough, topped with sauce, cheese and a formidable array of meats, that is then rolled into the shape of a big loaf of bread. Bake it in the oven, slice it up, admire the beautiful pinwheels -- layer after layer of dough, sauce and fillings -- then gobble it up. My friends couldn't get enough of this creation, risking burnt tongues and fingers to have slice after slice.
My friends can't wait for me to go back, and I am ready and willing, but not just for the delicious food. The Gaglianos create a friendly, family atmosphere where even the first-timer feels right at home. For more than 80 years so far and 80 years more, I can only say to this beautiful family, benissimo e grazie!
-- David Torres-Rouff
Gagliano's Bessemer Mercantile Italian Market and Deli
1220 Elm Street, Pueblo
Monday-Saturday, 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.