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The Paella Challenge Returns to the Pearl March 15.

The sixth annual Corona Paella Challenge, hosted by La Gloria’s chef Johnny Hernandez returns to Pearl on March 15 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Corona Paella Challenge is March 15.

The Corona Paella Challenge is March 15.

The celebration happens rain or shine (as folks who remember last year’s cold but cozy gathering already know) and will showcase the delicious food and wine of Spain, traditional sangria, a variety of craft and imported beers, and live entertainment perfect for the entire family. Presale tickets to the event are $65. Admission for individuals under 21 years of age is $25. Tickets can be purchased at and will also be available for $75 at the door, if the event is not sold out.

Can’t wait until the competition for some paella? Make your own. You don’t need a fancy paella pan. You don’t even need rice, as this recipe from Giada De Laurentiis demonstrates. There are a lot of ingredients, but the dish comes together easily and the flavors will win you over to pasta in your paella.

Noodle Paella

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 sweet Italian sausages, casing removed (about 12 ounces)
1 skinless boneless chicken breast (about 6 ounces), cut into 3/4-inch cubes
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning
6 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 medium fennel bulb, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, diced
3 (8-ounce) bottles clam juice
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon finely crumbled stem saffron
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 Turkish bay leaves
8 ounces spaghetti, broken into 1-inch lengths
8 ounces halibut fillet, cut into eight 1-inch cubes
12 small littleneck clams, scrubbed
12 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh Italian parsley

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a 6-quart Dutch oven. Add the sausages and stir, breaking up the sausages into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until cooked through, about 4 minutes. Add the chicken, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Cook until the chicken is no longer pink on the outside, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the chicken and sausage to a medium bowl, using a slotted spoon.

Add the garlic, fennel, onion, bell pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to the pan. Cook until almost tender, about 5 minutes. Add the clam juice, tomatoes with juices, paprika, saffron, cayenne and bay leaves. Add the spaghetti and cook, uncovered, until almost tender, stirring occasionally, about 9 minutes. Return the chicken and sausage to the pan. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Add the halibut, clams and shrimp. Cover and cook until the clams open, 4 to 5 minutes. Discard any unopened clams. Remove the cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer gently until fish, shrimp and chicken are just tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and discard. Season with salt and pepper. Mix in the parsley and serve.

From Giada De Laurentiis/Food Network


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Luca Della Casa’s Star Is Shining

Think TV doesn’t change a person? Ask Luca Della Casa, who recently spent a season on the cooking show, “Food Network Star.” He emerged from the show in second place, as the runner-up to cowboy chef Lenny McNabb, and he says the experience has helped him become “a better version of myself.”

It’s not just talk. Those who knew Della Casa before the show can sense a difference in the way he carries himself. There’s a greater poise in his manner as he sits down for a chat or greets his customers. His face is more open and welcoming, as he flashes his now-famous, dimpled smile. There’s more of a connection when he carries on a conversation. And, yes, it’s all because of being on TV week in and week out for an entire season.

Luca Della Casa sits down for a talk at Nosh.

Luca Della Casa sits down for a talk at Nosh.

It wasn’t easy work. Della Casa wasn’t used to being “judged so directly,” as he calls it. When a Bobby Flay or an Alton Brown takes you to task with a camera rolling, it’s tough. So, the Italian chef who runs the kitchens at Silo Alamo Heights and Nosh on Austin Highway had to learn not to take everything on an emotional level. “I learned to accept criticism in a more constructive way,” he says.

He also had to learn how to keep his energy levels up because there might be a long lull between shots. He drank a lot of coffee, which wasn’t always the best answer because “I would get nervous waiting,” he says. That came out when he had to pour a sauce over a dish he had to prepare for the judges, and his hand started to shake so badly that Brown reached out to steady it. “I wanted to stop it, but there was no way,” he says.

Then there is the stress, part of which comes from the whole setup. “TV is unreal,” Della Casa says, adding that during the filming of “Food Network Star” “there were hundreds of people around us at every turn. It was worse at the very beginning because there were so many of us.”

Still, “Food Network Star” fans could see Della Casa’s progress happen slowly but deliberately. It began after he got kicked off early in the process because he had failed to connect with the camera while cooking. His food, as local fans will attest, won raves, but he just didn’t raise his head as he prepared his food. So, he went to the online redemption show, “Star Salvation.” After several weeks of winning those judges over with his panini, his culinary skills and his engaging personality, he earned his way back onto the main show.

More changes began occurring. His first episode back was in Las Vegas, and he found himself surrounded by gorgeous women who had really taken to his charm, his good looks and his accent. It was something that had not escaped the attention of the show’s third host, Giada de Laurentiis. A sex symbol was being born. He looks back on that episode with a sheepish grin. “I’m flattered,” he says of all the attention. “But I didn’t earn it. It wasn’t anything I did.” He credits his parents’ gene pools with the way he turned out and leaves it at that.

Luca Della Casa thanks San Antonio for the support he's received while he was on "Food Network Star."

Luca Della Casa thanks San Antonio for the support he’s received while he was on “Food Network Star.”

Della Casa gives plenty of credit to his wife, Marcella Algarra Della Casa, for the rest of his success on the show. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her,” he says. Marcella is an attorney who spends her some of her time addressing justices and juries, so she knows something about speaking in public. She drew on her background and Toastmasters to help him before more confident. “She told me, ‘You’ve got to get better at speaking in front of people,’” he says, adding that it helped him find himself in a way that made him become relaxed at ease in front of other celebrity chefs, his fellow contestants and the camera.

It helped that Della Casa is “a quick learner,” as he describes himself. His efforts, combined with his culinary skills, propelled him on to the finals, against McNabb and Nicole Gaffney. The outcome was voted on by viewers of the show, not the judges, and no one knew who would be the winner. “I thought Nicole was my first competition, which shows you what I know,” he says with a laugh. “I’m really happy for Lenny.”

This has been the latest chapter in Della Casa’s culinary journey from his hometown in Torino, Italy to the Canary Islands and then to Texas. “I didn’t go to culinary school,” he says. “I use the memory of certain flavors and I learned from other chefs,” as well as the grandmother he referred to often on “Food Network Star.”

“My food is the sum of all of these,” he says.

Ten years ago, he arrived in San Antonio to work for Massimo Pallottelli at Sage in the Fairmount Hotel. From there, he went to work for Andrew Weissman at Le Rêve and Il Sogno, and then Fralo’s before going to work at Silo and Nosh.

One night while visiting Copa Wine Bar on Stone Oak Parkway for a wine tasting, he noticed a woman who had come in to buy a bottle of wine. That turned out to be Marcella, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Luca Della Casa hopes his appearance on "Food Network Star" brings attention to San Antonio's culinary scene.

Luca Della Casa hopes his appearance on “Food Network Star” brings attention to San Antonio’s culinary scene.

When the opportunity to appear on “Food Network Star” arose, Della Casa pursued it vigorously; but he didn’t tell his boss, owner Patrick Richardson, until he had been accepted on the show. The chef was a bit nervous about that, but Richardson was excited for him and offered his support.

Della Casa is repaying that trust by pouring his energies into his work now that he’s back in town. “My first thoughts are about coming back to the restaurant,” he says. Fall menus are being planned and they could include some of the dishes he prepared on the show, dishes that made an appearance at a special meal Silo offered while the chef was still competing. There might even be a collaborative dinner with one of the other contestants from the show.

As if that’s not enough, Della Casa’s also helping local restaurateur and bar owner Chris Erck of Swig Martini Bar and Viva TacoLand, among other ventures, launch Panzanella Pizzeria, which will feature salads and pizza by the slice. The new eatery will open this fall with two locations, including one next to Erck’s Stay Golden Social Club on Pearl Parkway.

Della Casa is grateful for the encouragement he’s received from San Antonio throughout the “Food Network Season” and after it. “I couldn’t believe the kind of support I’ve received from everyone here and on social networks,” he says. “I feel blessed.”

Is there any more TV in Luca Della Casa’s future? “I’m confident that something good is going to come of it,” he says. “Where I am now is just the beginning.”



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Bibb, Basil and Mint Salad


The flavors of summer combine in this refreshing, simple salad.

Bibb, Basil and Mint Salad

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 head Bibb or butter lettuce, leaves torn
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/3 packed cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/3 packed up fresh mint leaves, chopped

In a salad bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and oil until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Add the lettuce, fennel, basil and mint and toss well.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Adapted from “Giada at Home” by Giada De Laurentiis

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Red Snapper with Fava Bean Purée

Use fresh fava beans when they are available.

Fresh fava beans or frozen lima beans work equally well in this recipe. “Be careful not to overcook the beans, as they can turn an unattractive gray,” Giada De Laurentiis warns. “Red snapper, with its pinkish hue, is a quite flavorful white fish that works perfectly with the fava beans. Finish it off with a drizzle of really good-quality extra virgin olive oil.”

Red Snapper with Fava Bean Purée

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 pounds fresh fava beans, shelled, or 1 1/2 pounds frozen lima beans, thawed
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 (6-ounce) center-cut red snapper fillets

In a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the beans. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the beans are tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Drain the beans and reserve 1 cup of the broth. If using fava beans, when the beans are cool enough to handle, pop them out of their outer pods, discarding the pods. Combine the fava or lima beans and reserved broth in a blender or food processor. Add the mint and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Season the fish with salt and pepper on both sides. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until brown and the center is just opaque.

Divide the fava bean purée among 4 serving plates. Place a fillet of red snapper on top of the purée. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

From “Giada at Home” by Giada De Laurentiis

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Two Cookbooks for Those with Time to Cook, Not Read

Two recent cookbooks demonstrate a trend that’s becoming more popular with those who have little time to cook, yet still want to put something fresh and delicious on the dinner table. They are “The Harvest Eating Cookbook” (Running Press, $29.95) by PBS chef Keith Snow and Giada at Home (Clarkson Potter, $35) by Food Network celebrity Giada De Laurentiis.

What they have in common is that they are both tie-ins to TV shows and feature plenty of pretty pictures of food. Yet neither has little writing in them to rob you of an extra second to spare.

So don’t look for a lot of technique here. Instead look for sound recipes that come together quickly. Snow even provides prep times as well as cooking time, so you can have Roasted Cauliflower on the table in no time. Snow says you should be able to prep the vegetable in two minutes and cook it in 15, so it’s ready in 17 minutes. Whip that up while you’re working on Sautéed Shrimp with Margarita Sauce, which takes 10 minutes of prep time and 25 minutes of cooking.

What is Harvest Eating? Snow answers in his brief introduction: “Harvest Eating is not a fad diet. Rather a lifestyle of cooking and eating using methods that have been practiced for centuries all over the globe. The method is simple: Buy foods that are fresh and in season; then prepare them using whole, natural ingredients produced by farmers, not chemists. If your second-grader can’t read it, you definitely don’t want to eat it.”

Snow breaks down his recipes into the seasons, using an icon to differentiate among the dishes. That doesn’t always work here in South Texas; the better advise would be to use whatever is freshest at the farmers market, mixing and matching what is available now, no matter what the rest of the country is eating.

If I prefer Snow’s work to De Laurentiis’, it could be because so many of the recipes and few tips that the Food Network star seem old hat. “Chimichurri is the A1 sauce of Argentina,” she writes as a preface to one recipe. “Italians love lentils and cook them in lots of creative ways,” she burbles in another. Some of her information is helpful, though: “Leftover caponata will keep, covered in the refrigerator, for up to a week. Toss with warm pasta, serve on top of meat, chicken or fish, or simply serve it with some toasted bread or crostini.”

Essentially, though, the usefulness of “Giada at Home” boils down to whether you like De Laurentiis’ Cal-Ital approach to cooking. After leafing through the book on several occasions, I came to the conclusion that I don’t. A few recipes were intriguing, but more often than not, I kept flipping pages hoping to find something I might make. For every Bibb, Basil and Mint Salad or Red Snapper with Fava Bean Purée, there were too many dishes like the sickly sweet sounding Honey-Balsamic Lamb Chops or the yawn-inducing turkey meatloaf.

No amount of photos of De Laurentiis in her kitchen or dining with friends could make up for the cavernous gastronomic pauses.

Your tastes could be wildly different. Just take the time to leaf through the both books before deciding.

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Roasted Tomatoes with Garlic, Gorgonzola and Herbs

Use plum tomatoes in this recipe.

Use plum tomatoes in this summertime recipe from Giada De Laurentiis. It can be either an antipasto or as a side dish.

Roasted Tomatoes with Garlic, Gorgonzola and Herbs

12 plum tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup plain dried bread crumbs
3/4 cup (3 ounces) finely crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Using a teaspoon or grapefruit spoon, remove the seeds from the tomatoes. Place the tomato halves, cut side down, on paper towels to drain, about 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the garlic, salt and pepper. Using clean hands, gently toss the drained tomato halves in the oil mixture until coated. Marinate the tomatoes for 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a small bowl, mix together the bread crumbs and Gorgonzola cheese.

Place the marinated tomato halves, cut side up on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Fill each tomato half with the bread crumb filling. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tomatoes are slightly softened and their undersides are brown.

Arrange the cooked tomatoes on a serving platter and sprinkle with parsley.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

From “Giada at Home” by Giada De Laurentiis

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