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A taste of Argentina at Caba Empanadas

Caba Empanadas operates out of an elegant black-and-white food truck, the mobile restaurant impeccably clean and stylish. It’s an ideal way to present sophisticated and tasty hand-held fare, and it’s a rare place to experience true Argentine fresh food here in the Rogue Valley.

An empanada is a pastry stuffed with savory or sweet filling that is baked or fried. Empanadas are commonly found in Latin American food cultures, but really the idea of a stuffed pocket is universal and adapted to each national cuisine — think pasty, tamale, calzone, tiropitaki, burek, jalangkote — these are all versions of the hand pie.

What differentiates each and sets Caba Empanadas’ hand pies apart from other exotic turnovers found around the world is the unique combination of spices, the tenderness of its delicate, flaky pastry and its beautiful presentation.

The traditional Argentinian empanada is spiced with chili, cumin, smoked paprika and oregano. Caba Empanadas hand pies are about 5 1/2-inch half-rounds, browned turnovers that are neatly pinched shut with a baked-in embossed Caba logo.

Not content with the everyday, Gerardo De Fusco, chef and co-owner, is known to experiment with new fillings and innovative spices.

For those with a sweet tooth, Caba Empanadas has two purse-shaped dessert empanadas and an Argentinian specialty called alfajores. One dessert empanada is filled with Nutella and banana, and another is stuffed with dulce de leche; the alfajores are cookie sandwiches filled with dulce de leche and rolled in coconut.

“I love food, and I started to blend different concepts, different ingredients,” says De Fusco. “The recipes are from different regions of Argentina and authentic and have my special touch.”

Caba Empanadas can be found at the Ashland Growers Market at the Armory on Tuesdays, at the Medford Growers Market in Hawthorne Park on Thursdays and at special events. Stopping in at the market last week, I tried the spinach and cheese empanada and thoroughly enjoyed the creamy, milky mozzarella taste that bound the fresh spinach. I couldn’t help myself and bit into the round instead of nibbling the corners first.

Caba Empanadas offers a traditional beef empanada, as well as empanadas filled with chicken and with onion and cheese. Also on the menu are Caprese empanadas filled with mozzarella, basil and tomato, and fully vegan empanadas.

At the markets, empanadas are $3.50 each, though some are specially priced at $3.75; sweet empanadas are $3. Finishing off the spinach and cheese empanada, I picked up a half-dozen assorted frozen empanadas to enjoy at home for dinner, along with Wandering Roots spring greens that I planned to dress in a red wine vinaigrette.

For those with a sweet tooth, Caba Empanadas has two purse-shaped dessert empanadas and an Argentinian specialty called alfajores. One dessert empanada is filled with Nutella and banana, and another is stuffed with dulce de leche; the alfajores are cookie sandwiches filled with dulce de leche and rolled in coconut.

Caba Empanadas is never short of Argentina’s signature chimichurri, a sauce of bright green parsley infused with chili oil. Served on the side, this Patagonian region chimichurri specialty is $1.50.

Caba Empanadas started up in the Rogue Valley about three years ago as a little pop-up tent at the markets; the food truck came a year later. This month, De Fusco and partner Laura Demercurio will open a brick-and-mortar version of Caba Empanadas with an expanded menu at 137 S. Central in Medford.

I caught up with Caba Empanadas again at the 110-year anniversary party of Dunbar Farms last week in Medford, where I tasted two of De Fusco’s newest empanadas, one with Malbec beef and another filled with bacon, dates and goat cheese. Both were mouthwatering, perfectly proportioned and delicious, especially so in the warm late-day sun of a Friday, all cares gone just sitting on the deck overlooking the fields, listening to good music and enjoying a glass of Rocky Knoll Claret.

Some of the best Malbec wine in the world is made in Mendoza, Argentina, so it is no surprise that De Fusco chose this wine to braise his organic beef to fork-tenderness. The savory beef, carrots and onion in that empanada lingered in my mind, the flavors amplified by the claret.

“We tried the wines the night before with the regular beef empanada, the classic empanada and the bacon, date and goat cheese empanada,” De Fusco says. “When I take a bite of this [bacon, date and goat cheese] empanada, it woke my desire to have a taste of wine.”

As I enjoyed the late afternoon sun at Dunbar Farms, I found the warm bacon, date and goat cheese empanada both sweet and salty; the chewy bacon and date textures complemented the creamy tang of the cheese. These were rich, extravagant tastes that played well together in my mouth. I too desired wine, and the Rocky Knoll Claret brought lush and juicy fruit flavors of dark cherry and plum. The wine was as well balanced as that empanada, and flawless together.

Caba Empanadas started up in the Rogue Valley about three years ago as a little pop-up tent at the markets; the food truck came a year later. This month, De Fusco and partner Laura Demercurio will open a brick-and-mortar version of Caba Empanadas with an expanded menu at 137 S. Central in Medford. Caba Empanadas will continue at the markets and special events.

For more information on Caba Empanadas and to track its truck at special events, visit CabaEmpanadas.com on the web or on Facebook. The tasting room at Dunbar Farms and Rocky Knoll Winery is open from 4 to 6 p.m. on Fridays, later for special events announced on Facebook.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

Chef Gerardo De Fusco’s Malbec beef empanada, left, and a glass of Rocky Knoll Claret. (Photo by Maureen Flanagan Battistella)