Casa Crobu offers some of Denver’s best frozen Italian food
“People have a funny idea about frozen food,” admits Kelly Crobu, owner of Casa Crobu with her husband, Mario. “But if you freeze something good, it’s still good.” Bon barely begins to describe the quality of the food this couple sells, though.
Kelly and Mario are both lifelong service industry professionals who have developed an affinity for the kitchen while working at the front of the house for years – in fact, that’s how they they met. Mario, originally from Sardinia, Italy, made a stint at an Italian restaurant in New York where Kelly was also on staff.
After the two moved to Colorado five years ago, they began to hatch the idea of starting a business where they could share dishes like the Lasagna Bolognese recipe that Mario had learned from the mother of an ex. girlfriend originally from northern Italy, the region known for this dish. They developed a brand image and solidified their recipes while both were still working full time at other jobs.
“It was kind of a little thing for friends and family,” Kelly explains. “But then, with the pandemic, we were both out of work and we just had time to focus on it completely.” The Crobus officially launched Casa Crobu in July 2020.
“I keep telling Mario that if we had done this any other way, we would have been fighting all the time and guessing,” she adds with a laugh. “But now we were forced to do it, and we were able to do it.”
The original concept was inspired by Mario’s experience growing up in Italy. “Her mother, her aunts, the grandmothers — when they make something like lasagna, you only ever make one,” Kelly says. From making fresh noodles to simmering bolognese for hours, cooking a good lasagna is an all-day affair in Italy. Mario’s family would give the extras to friends and family, which is a tradition the Crobus want to carry on.
This lasagna (available in two sizes: small with 2-4 servings for $25 and large with 6-8 servings for $50) has become the company’s bestseller. Customers can order online for delivery on Mondays and Thursdays and goods arrive in a reusable cooler bag. Items can be cooked immediately or stored frozen for future meals.
I fell in love with the process of making lasagna bolognese, with fresh noodles and bechamel (not ricotta, which is an American version of the traditional recipe), years ago, but now I just make it two or three times a year – usually on vacation when I have time to commit. But a little Casa Crobu lasagna cooks in just an hour and twenty minutes and tastes like home (or even better). It’s perfect to have on hand for those nights when you need an easy dinner fix or a gift (especially for new parents) or want to impress a date if home cooking isn’t a thing. your thing.
In addition to lasagna (which is also available in gluten-free and vegetarian versions), Casa Crobu’s options include other Italian classics like spinach and ricotta ravioli and eggplant parmigiana, as well as seasonal dishes such than butternut squash ravioli. But the most unique offerings are Mario’s house specialties in Sardinia.
Culurgiones are stuffed pasta, but “are a bit richer than a classic ravioli,” says Kelly. Halfway between a pierogi, a dumpling and ravioli, they are filled with mashed potatoes with pecorino and a touch of mint, and closed with delicate pleats. “They are from a very small area of Sardinia and we worked with a woman when we were there for a year to learn how to do the closing process, so these are super special. You really can’t find them anywhere else.”
A more well-known classic Sardinian dish is also available: malloreddus alla campidanese. “The noodle is a cross between a cavatelli and a gnocchi,” Kelly describes, “and it’s always made with a sausage and tomato stew… We include a bit of pecorino to finish. It’s like my pasta favourites.”
Kelly estimates that they sell about 200 lasagna noodles a week, all made in a commercial kitchen. “We go through the product pretty quickly,” she notes. “So even if it’s frozen, it was probably made the day before.” She and Mario did most of the work themselves, although Kelly recently took a step back after having a baby. Mario’s brother, who moved from Italy to Denver in September, is now helping out in the kitchen, and they have a few people helping out with deliveries.
But all the work is worth it to be able to have their own business and share recipes they love — a dream many in the service industry have been chasing since the pandemic hit. “I think it’s a story for a lot more people than you realize,” Kelly says. “[Service industry professionals] have always been the smartest and hardest working people. Do you think we’re just gonna sit on our butts watching Netflix?”
Although they no longer dine out every day, Kelly says she and Mario have remained connected to others in the world of food, especially through farmers’ markets, where they have sold their produce during the summer in order to reach new customers. “All of those I met were chefs who had started a business,” she adds. “We’re still in our circle, we’re just redefining it.”