Monthly Archives: April 2017

Angelo Caputo’s Fresh Market, a Love Story

This is a story about my relationship with Caputo’s Fresh Market. I realize that those of you outside the Chicago area will have no idea what I’m talking about, but I will try to paint a picture that gives you a feel for what this store is all about.

It was started in 1958 by Angelo Caputo, an Italian emigrant. He opened a store in Elmwood Park. Illinois that featured fresh produce, meats, and baked goods all with more that a casual nod to his Italian roots. It has now grown to 8 stores.

I first experienced Caputo’s in South Elgin. The array of produce was mind-blowing and there was something about choosing the best Melrose peppers while Frank Sinatra crooned overhead that enhanced my shopping experience. The produce  selection was rivaled only by the vast variety of pastas that spanned almost the entire depth of the store. Then there was the meat counter.. beautiful cuts of meat and a dazzling selection of homemade sausages. It was an Italian girl’s dream come true.

Sadly, a relocation put me farther away from that wonderful store, but as the chain grew so did other opportunities. Though it is not that close to where I live, there is another Caputo’s that is worth the 25 minute drive. We have dubbed the store in Carolstream the “Flagship Store” because it is the newest and the corporate headquarters appears to be right next door.

Carol Stream Store

They pulled out all the stops when they created this not so little gem. The layout is angular with specialty departments nestled along the perimeter. My first visit found me wandering aimlessly and finding things almost by accident. As time has gone on, I have learned to love the angles and alcoves while still discovering something new on each visit.

The produce is still without compare and if you can’t find an Italian specialty item, it may not exist on this side of the Atlantic. All this would make it a destination store, but then there is a little thing called  Bar Angelo, a sleek and simple bar and restaurant just off the produce department. You can get a glass of wine or even a cocktail, if you are so inclined. The simple food menu offers everything from appetizers to pizza and pasta. The prices are great and most everything is scratch made in the kitchen.

On our most recent visit, we had a quick lunch. Arancini stuffed with spinach and ricotta was beautifully presented in a pool of light yet flavorful marinara. We paired it with an order of Calamari Fritti that was tender and flavorful while being en-robed in a crunchy parsley flecked crust. A couple of glasses of truly decent house wine and we were ready to shop for well under $20.00.

I also need to comment on the employees. Either I am there on good days or everyone seems to enjoy their jobs. They are helpful, happy, and easily found (if you’ve shopped brick and mortar lately you know what I mean).  This recent visit put us face to face with a gentleman who makes mozzarella for a living (at least I think so). He was blissfully pulling and knotting fresh “mozz” into bocconcini as he made the perfect recommendation on a Fontina cheese.

Samples? Damn Skippy. There is nothing in the world that can compare to a freshly cut bocconcini that is still slightly warm, silky with brine, that almost melts in your mouth. It is a near religious experience. Did I buy some? Again, damn Skippy, how can one resist.

These little knots of deliciousness became the star of a simple Caprese Salad. There is no need for a recipe. Simply slice the most beautiful tomatoes you can find and layer them with fresh mozzarella. The only adornment is a drizzle of olive oil, some fresh basil, and maybe a bit of balsamic glaze.

This was a magnificent first course that wet or appetite for the main event. Rib Pork Chops (also found at Caputo’s) that had the extra cap of meat and fat similar to beef prime rib. This extra fat made them perfect for grilling and some Spinach and Tomato Pesto  courtesy of Cooking Light Magazine, was the perfect embellishment. A Grilled Green Bean and Potato  Salad was a delightful foil with its rosemary laced mustard vinaigrette.

This is a destination store that we will be visiting more often. If you are in the area check it out, if you’re not, it is worth the trip.

A Tale of Three Dressings (and Their Salads)

Spring is here and thoughts of food often lead to thoughts of lighter meals and to the variety of fresh vegetables that seem to be expanding in availability every day. Peas and asparagus boldly take their place on plates everywhere, and while these are wonderful, it is also a time for all vegetables to take center stage. An easy way to do that is to  have salad as the main dish, and that is what has been happening in Mama D’s Kitchen.

Time for a definition and a short history lesson: Salads are defined as small pieces of food that are mixed with a sauce or dressing. They have been around since early times. Greeks and Romans enjoyed “salata” as part of their meals. That Latin word basically means “salted things” and the vehicle of choice to bring that salt to the food was a dressing, usually consisting of oil, vinegar, and of course, salt. So, I guess that it is safe to say that any food that can be cut into small pieces can be a salad and Dressings are what makes the salad.

The dressings I’m sharing today all meet that basic “salata” formula. There is oil and some kind of acid, always vinegar but often some tangy citrus, too. I like my salad acid forward (and a bit lower in fat) so I tend to use a little less than the 3 to 1 ratio of oil to acid. Use the ratio that makes you happy, there are no rules. The same goes for the ingredients you choose…if you like it, use it, if you don’t try something else.

First up is a Beet and Goat Cheese Salad. The leafy base is a Spring Mix so it is seasonally correct in spite of the beets (no rules, remember). Roasted red and golden beets were treated  to a warm vinaigrette. Pancetta fried up in olive oil along with a chopped shallot were the basis of this honey sweetened dressing. My vinegar of choice was Champagne, but white balsamic or apple cider would be just as delicious.

 

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Warm Pancetta and Shallot Vinaigrette

This is great with bacon, too. Add any fresh herbs that tickle you fancy and use the vinegar that you love the most. This is great on any vegetable salad. It is very close to a classic German Potato Salad Dressing.

Ingredients
  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • 4 Ounces Pancetta Chopped
  • 1 Small Shallot chopped
  • 1 Tsp. Dijon Mustard
  • 1 Tbsp. Honey More or less to taste
  • Pepper and Kosher Salt to Taste
  • 2 Tbsp. Chopped Parsley
  • 1 Tbsp. Chopped Fresh Herbs Of your choice, optional
  • 3 Tbsp. Champagne Vinegar Or other vinegar of your choice
Instructions
  1. Heat Olive Oil in a medium skillet. Add the pancetta and cook until it is almost crisp. Add the shallot to the pan and cook for another 2 - 3 minutes 

  2. Add the remaining ingredients and cook for several minutes to blend the flavors. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Toss with the salad of your choice.

As a kind of tribute to “salata’s” Mediterranean roots, the next salad encompasses the flavors of Italy and Greece. Garbanzo beans, feta cheese and olives sit atop Romaine and are dressed with a blend of lemon, garlic, and fresh herbs.

 

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Mediterranean Vinaigrette

A twist on the classic vinaigrette with plenty of lemon and more than a hint of garlic. Add any fresh herbs of your choice. This is wonderful on a Greek salad, but it would be equally delightful as a dressing for grilled vegetable or a pasta salad. It makes a great marinade as well.

Ingredients
  • 1 Medium Lemon Juice and zest
  • 2 Cloves Garlic Grated
  • 1/4 Cup White Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/2 Tsp. Red Pepper Flakes Optional, to taste
  • 3 Tbsp. Chopped Fresh Herbs Parsley, thyme, basil, or you choice
  • Kosher Salt and Pepper To taste
  • 1 Tsp. Dijon Mustard
  • 1/4 Cup Olive oil
Instructions
  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake until completely blended. Allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Finally in a nod to the flavors of the Southwest, a Salad featuring grilled skirt steak, peppers and onions. Fire roasted corn and pepitas joined in as well. This dressing started out as fresh salsa, then lime juice, olive oil and red wine vinegar came on the scene, accompanied by cumin and ancho chili powder.

 

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Salsa Dressing

This starts with salsa, you choose the type. Tangy lime and robust red wine vinegar join forces. Cumin and whatever type of chili powder you love come into play. Add some fresh cilantro or oregano to increase the fresh taste. This makes a wonderful marinade as well as a salad dressing.

Ingredients
  • 3/4 Cup Salsa Any kind that you love
  • 1 Lime Juice and zest
  • 2 Tbsp. Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1 Tsp. Ground Cumin Or to taste
  • 1/2 Tsp. Ancho Chili Powder Or to taste
  • 1/4 Cup Finely Chopped Cilantro
  • 1/2 Tsp. Agave Nectar Optional, to taste
  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • Kosher salt and Pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake until well blended. allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

A few final notes: As I said before, there are no rules for the dressings here. If you like a more homogenized dressing, give the ingredients a whirl in the processor (probably not a good idea for the warm dressing). If you like a touch of sweetness or feel the need to temper the acidity a bit, try Agave Syrup. a little goes a long way,but it can bring just the right touch of sweet to make everything come together.

The weather is getting warmer each day, lighter meals are more appealing and your salad bowl is a wonderful catalyst to meals that salute the season.