Cary, NC — I was speaking with a friend who’s lived in Cary for many years and we landed on one of my favorite topics, Italian food. It’s my go-to cuisine for a romantic dinner on the town or for homemade recipes with flavors that are deeply rooted in tradition.
In fact, I love Italian food and culture so much that I wish I had some sort of ancestral tie to the wonderful country of Italy. My parents tell me I do not, but until a DNA proves it, I’m an honorary Italian in my book.
In talking with that friend, I received a piece of advice — “You’ve got to shop at Capri Flavors. Trust me.” And so, my journey led me to their doors last week, just off of N. Harrison Avenue by Bass Pro Shops. Two steps in the door and I was in heaven. I saw imported cheeses, wine, pasta, and all the ingredients needed to transport your palate to Italia.
I had to know more about this place, so I reached out to the owners. Here’s what I found.
Family Run Since 1996
Husband and wife, Costanzo and Titina Vuotto started up Capri Flavors 24 years ago and have been in their current Cary location since 2017. The two have lived extraordinary lives, spending the better part of them together and on the island of Capri, a 30-minute boat ride from Napoli, Italy. It was there that both Costanzo and Titina’s families played a major role in defining Caprisian hospitality.
Costanzo’s father, Raffaele, was the first coffee shop owner in the 1930’s to offer his guests outside seating in the famous Piazzetta of Capri, starting a trend that spread to Rome, Venice, Florence and beyond. On Titina’s side of the family, it was her mother, Margherita, who invented the La Caprese salad in her restaurant, “Trattoria Da Vincenzo.” As the family tells it, the salad, now on menus around the world, was originally created so that ladies could “have a nice lunch while still fitting into their bikinis.”
Eventually going into their own hospitality business, Costanzo and Titina opened La Pineta, a small hotel on Capri. Titina went on to publish two original cookbooks and Costanzo’s photography was on exhibit in Rome and Capri. The two came to the U.S. by invitation from restauranteurs and made their home in Rhode Island for a few years before venturing south for a warmer climate.
Bringing a Slice of Italy to Cary
According to the family, one trip to NC Was all it took and “the world-famous Southern hospitality” was enough to convince the Vuottos’ to make their home in Cary.
Capri Flavors offers a wide range of imported Italian products that are difficult to find in the South including fresh Italian meats and cheeses, house-made items such as marinara, pesto and tiramisu, and a huge selection of imported Italian wines.
“I would have to say our most popular products are the wide variety of frozen pastas we carry, our delicious imported Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and of course, the best Italian tomatoes available for sauce-making,” said Laurel Henesy, bookkeeper of the shop.
Operating an Italian Market in a Pandemic
Costanzo and Titina are both in their mid 80’s now and especially under pandemic circumstances, are enjoying some well-deserved free time. Fear not, the business is still in full swing and in the hands of Chef/ Store Manager Anthony Misso and Bookkeeper Laurel Henesy. While Henesy keeps the logistics in order for the shop, she is also an avid Italian cook and runs the shop’s online platforms.
Misso is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and has over 20 years of experience as a pro chef. He makes all of the store’s house-made foods and leads cooking classes. He speaks fluent Italian and loves to help customers with food choices and even family recipes. In fact, on my first trip in, I got all the ingredients I needed to make Chef Anthony’s famous Gnocchi with Pesto Cream Sauce.
I’m telling you, it was one of the easiest yet most delicious meals I’ve put together in my home kitchen and highly recommend to all!
Gnocchi with Pesto Cream Sauce
- 1 lb. Gnocchi, boiled in salted water
- 3 Tbsp. Titino’s Pesto
- 1/2 Cup Half & Half
- 1 Tbsp. Grated Parmesan Cheese
- 1 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Black pepper to taste
- Cook gnocchi as per package instructions, drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water
- In a skillet, combine the pesto, half & half, grated parmesan and olive oil, wisking together until combined
- Add gnocchi
- Cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly, adding a little of the cooking water if the mixture is too thick
- Serve with freshly ground black pepper
Story and gnocchi photos by Ashley Kairis. Recipe by Chef Anthony Misso and photo of Costanzo and Titina Vuotto was submitted.
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