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The Best Recipes from 2014


The year 2014 offered plenty of good eats, which made it hard to pick our favorites. Yet here is a collection of what we liked best from the last 12 months. They run the gamut from soup to desserts, and include dishes from local favorite Luca Della Casa, who had a memorable run on “Food Network Star,” and Ross Burtwell, who published his “Texas Hill Country Cuisine” cookbook. There’s even a recipe inspired by the research Bonnie Walker and I made for our “Barbecue Lover’s Texas.”
White Bean Veloute

Chef Hamlet's White Bean Veloute

Chef Hamlet’s White Bean Veloute

Chef Hamlet Garcia, or simply Chef Hamlet to the lovers of TV food programs, was in San Antonio Wednesday as part of a fundraiser for KLRN. The star of “Vme Cocina” presented a cooking demonstration of the various dishes that were presented in a lavish dinner held at La Taquilera del Patron, 17776 Blanco Road.

One of the dishes from his Venezuelan homeland was a velvety white bean soup topped with queso fresco, bacon, chives and the earthy brilliance of a few drops of truffle oil. The soup is easy to make, though it takes a day to let the beans soak.

12 slices of bacon
2 pounds of white beans, preferably soaked in water for 24 hours and drained
2 large ribs celery
1 large white onion, chopped in squares
5 cloves garlic, peeled
Fresh thyme
1/4 pound (1 stick) butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 gallon chicken broth
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Queso fresco, cut into small cubes, for garnish
1/2 cup sliced chives, for garnish
4 tablespoons truffle oil, for garnish

Cook the bacon in the oven or in a pan until it is very crisp. Remove from the pot and save the fat for later. Finely chop or crush the bacon in a food processor; reserve for garnishing the dish.

In a saucepan, add the bacon fat and briefly cook the onion and celery in it; stir constantly without browning. When the onions are translucent, add the drained white beans, thyme, garlic, butter, cream and chicken broth. When the liquid is boiling, simmer the beans for 90 minutes, stirring and mixing the ingredients occasionally in the pot. Add salt and pepper as necessary.

When the beans are tender, remove the pot from the heat and let it stand for one hour. Then, reserve a little of the broth and add the mixture in a blender or food processor; blend until it achieves a velvety texture. Then add the reserved broth and add salt and pepper as necessary to achieve the desired texture or taste.

Garnish each serving with queso fresco cubes, chives, bacon pieces and a few drops of truffle oil.

Makes 4-6 servings.

From Chef Hamlet

Luca’s ‘Franz’ PaninoLuca's PaninoKnown for his work at Nosh on Austin Highway, San Antonio chef Luca Della Casa made it to the finals of “Food Network Star” this year. One of the dishes he made was this panino, which spices up cured Italian meats with a chile paste, mayonnaise and Dijon mustard blend. Then it’s finished off with a caprese treatment, with fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes and basil. The best of both worlds!1/4 cup cut up red onion
1 garlic clove
6 black olives
Salt, to taste
Pinch, black pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons chile paste
Juice from half a lemon
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 baguette
4 slices mortadella
4 slices sopressata
2 slices fresh mozzarella
2-3 slices tomato
Several basil leaves

Chop together the red onion, garlic and black olives; combing this mixture with the salt, pepper and olive oil. Set aside.

Mix together the mayonnaise, chile paste and lemon juice, along with the Dijon mustard. 

Slice a baguette in half, spread with the mayonnaise/mustard mixture, then spread on the chopped onion and olive mixture. Layer on the sliced mortadella and sopressata. Put the baguette in a panini press for 5 minutes. When the panino is ready, add to it the fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil.

Buon appetito!

From Luca Della Casa

Photo courtesy Luca Della Casa/Food Network

Noodles with Walnuts (Gnocchi alla Granerese)

Noodles with Walnuts

Noodles with Walnuts

This Italian dish goes together quickly and makes a great side dish or a meatless main course. You can also serve it year-round.

1 cup ground walnuts
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound Ricotta or cottage cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 pound broad noodles
Chopped walnuts, for garnish

Roll or pound the walnuts and the garlic on a board or in a mortar until a paste is formed. Place in a large bowl. Add the Ricotta and Parmesan cheeses, salt and pepper. Mix well. Boil the noodles in salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain. Add to the walnut mixture and toss lightly with two forks until the noodles are well coated. Place on a heated platter and serve.

Use a few chopped walnuts for garnish.

From “The Complete Round-the-World Cookbook” by Myra Waldo

Bohemia Pork Tinga Tacos

Tinga is a shredded meat dish that’s been braised with chipotle sauce. This pork tinga recipe gets an extra kick from the addition of Bohemia Beer, plus it’s attractive because it’s made in a slow cooker. Just gather your ingredients and let it cook on its own until it’s ready.

1 ½ pounds lean, boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1 ½ inch cubes
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
½ cup Bohemia Beer
1 pound (about 5 medium) red-skinned potatoes, quartered
1 large white onion, sliced ¼ inch thick
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with their juices (preferably fire-roasted)
1 cup chipotle salsa
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt
½ cup crumbled Mexican queso fresco or farmers cheese
1 ripe avocado, pitted, flesh scooped from skin and diced
Warm corn tortillas

Bohemia Pork Tinga Tacos

Bohemia Pork Tinga Tacos

Pat pork dry with paper toweling. Heat the oil in a large, nonstick skillet until hot. Add the pork in a single, uncrowded layer. Cook, turning until brown on all sides, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove pork to a plate as the remainder browns. Afterward, pour Bohemia into pan and boil gently while scraping up all the browned bits from the pan.

Put browned pork and pan juices into a slow cooker. Add the potatoes.

Combine the onion, tomatoes, salsa, Worcestershire and ½ teaspoon salt in large bowl. Mix well. Scrape the mixture into the slow cooker and stir to mix thoroughly.

Cook for 6 hours at the highest temperature. After 6 hours, gently stir the tinga. If it seems really thick, add a little water. Taste and season with more salt.

Serve the pork tinga in a large bowl, sprinkled with fresh cheese and diced avocado. Pass warm tortillas for making tacos.

Makes 4-6 servings.

From Bohemia Beer

 

Brisket Chiles Rellenos

Brisket Chiles Rellenos

Brisket Chiles Rellenos

If you love brisket tacos, odds are good you’ll like another Tex-Mex innovation, Brisket Chiles Rellenos.

As for getting that brisket, you might make your own at home. Just picking up brisket from the local barbecue joints is a good idea, too. We have our local favorites, of course, but now we also crave barbecue from places discovered driving around the state for our book, “Barbecue Lover’s Texas” (Globe Pequot Press, $21.95).

This idea occurred while we were using up leftovers from the mail-order Rustic Iron BBQ in Odessa.

Make these chiles rellenos as you would in the usual Texas style: peel roasted, meaty poblano chiles, stuff with chopped brisket and some cheese, too, if you like. Dip in egg batter, fry and serve with salsa.

One hint: Warm up the brisket, then chop, and stuff into room-temperature chiles before cooking. You want the cheese and brisket filling to be plenty hot. Another hint: If you don’t have time to make your own salsa, try Julio’s. It’s made in San Angelo and is our current favorite ready-made.  (No, they’re not paying us to say that!)

Sausage would work just as well in these rellenos.

2 large chiles poblanos, roasted and peeled, with seeds scraped out (cut a slit the length of on broad side of the chile and carefully pull seeds out or scrape out with a spoon)
8-10 ounces chopped smoked brisket, warmed
2-4 ounces cheese — longhorn, colby cheddar, Monterey Jack, etc. — grated or sliced into narrow pieces
1 tablespoon minced onion
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cooking oil for frying (about an inch to 1 1/2 inches deep in a roomy sauté pan or skillet)
Salsa, for serving

After preparing the chiles, set aside at room temperature while you prepare the brisket. After chopping the brisket, mix with the grated cheese and onion. Then, stuff each pepper with half of the mixture. Press the chile around the filling, making sure you can still close the sliced sides together over the filling.  Set aside on a plate.

Put the oil in a sauté pan or skillet and turn the heat on to medium.  Keep an eye on the oil, you don’t want it to overheat. As the oil is heating, put the egg whites into a mixer, or use an egg beater, and whip the whites up to a fairly stiff peak, but not too dry. Beat the egg yolks in another bowl with a whisk until they lighten in color, at least a minute or so. Fold the egg yolks into the beaten whites and gently combine.

Put the flour into a shallow bowl and add salt, mixing together. When the oil appears hot but not smoking, put a little bit of the egg into it. The egg should sizzle around the edges and fry quickly but not get brown too fast. Put the shallow bowl with the flour and the bowl with egg mixture near the stove.

Carefully put the sliced side of each stuffed pepper down in the flour, then carefully roll around, holding the sliced side closed with your fingers. Then, dip into the whipped egg mixture. Get plenty of the fluffy mixture on the chile, then place it sliced side down into the oil to fry. Repeat with the second chile. You can spoon some of the leftover egg mixture onto the top of the chiles, if you wish. Turn the chiles when you can lift one end and see that the bottom side has turned golden brown.  When they are done, lift the chiles out of the pan, place briefly on some paper towel and then transfer to plates. Spoon over a little salsa and serve more on the side.

Makes 2 servings.

From Bonnie Walker

Chicken Breasts with Artichokes (Petto di pollo at carciofi)

“The Venetians have always been meat-eaters. In times past they ate the whole animal, and were thus able to satisfy both their taste and their pockets.”

That quote comes from Roberta Pianaro, who created the recipes in “Brunetti’s Cookbook,” which is based on the popular mystery series.

5 medium globe artichokes
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1  3/4 pounds chicken breast
2 tablespoons white wine
Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Remove the tough stems from the artichokes, trim the tips and peel the stems. Plunge into a bowl of cold water with lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Cut into fine slices, starting from the stems, and place in nonstick pan or casserole with the oil, salt, garlic, pepper and at least 3 1/2 cups of water. Cover and cook over moderate heat for about 15 minutes. Place the 2 chicken breasts at the bottom of the pan among the artichokes and after 2 minutes add the wine and continue cooking. Be careful to not burn the artichokes. When the chicken is cooked, remove and cut into thin slices. Add slices to the artichokes and let season. Drain and serve hot.

From “Brunetti’s Cookbook”

Texas Tarragon Shrimp Scampi with Jalapeño Three-Cheese Grits

Chef Ross Burtwell

Chef Ross Burtwell

This recipe come from chef Ross Burtwell’s cookbook, “Texas Hill Country Cuisine,” and it has quite a lot of Lone Star flavor in it.

Texas tarragon is an herb generally called Mexican mint marigold, but it’s probably used in Texas more than in other parts of the United States. So, we claim it as ours.  If you don’t have any growing in your garden, use a mix of dried or fresh tarragon along with some minced fresh mint or dried mint (spearmint or garden mint, not peppermint).

Shrimp Scampi

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds large Texas wild-caught shrimp, peeled and deveined
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Texas tarragon (Mexican mint marigold), minced
20 grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1/2 cup Texas viognier white wine
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and sliced
Jalapeno Three-Cheese Grits (recipe follows)
2 scallions, green tops only, thinly sliced

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add olive oil. Immediately add shrimp and top with garlic. Shake the pan to keep the shrimp from sticking.

Season the shrimp with salt and pepper, then add the tarragon. Saute until shrimp starts to curl, turn pink and begin to turn opaque in the center.

Add the grape tomatoes (if using) plus lemon juice and zest. Stir. Add wine.

Once the liquid is simmering and the shrimp are about 90 percent cooked through, add butter, shaking the pan back and forth to form a creamy sauce.

Jalapeño Three-Cheese Grits

2 1/2 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup quick grits (not instant)
1/3 cup white cheddar cheese, grated
1/3 cup Texas goat cheese
1/3 cup Asiago cheese, grated
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 fresh jalapeño, finely minced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring chicken stock to a full boil and whisk in grits.

Turn heat down to medium-low; allow grits to simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Remove grits from heat and stir in all cheeses, cream, butter and jalapeños. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Dish assembly: Place a heaping spoonful of Jalapeño Three-Cheese Grits into warm bowls. Ladle shrimp and sauce over the top and garnish with sliced scallions. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

From “Texas Hill Country Cuisine” by Cabernet Grill chef/owner Ross Burtwell with Julia Celeste Rosenfield

Ultimate Creamy Mashed Potatoes

Mashed Potatoes

Who doesn’t want the creamiest mashed potatoes imaginable? America’s Test Kitchen delivers with this recipe.

Why this recipe works: Sometimes we want a luxurious mash, one that is silky smooth and loaded with cream and butter. But there’s a fine line between creamy and gluey. We wanted lush, creamy mashed potatoes, with so much richness and flavor they could stand on their own — no gravy necessary.

For a creamier, substantial mash, we found that Yukon Golds were perfect — creamier than russets but not as heavy as red potatoes. Slicing the peeled potatoes into rounds and then rinsing away the surface starch before boiling helped intensify their creamy texture without making them gluey. Setting the boiled and drained potatoes in their pot over a low flame helped further evaporate any excess moisture. Using 1 1/2 sticks of butter and 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream gives these potatoes luxurious flavor and richness without making the mash too thin. We found that melting the butter and warming the cream before adding them to the potatoes ensured that the finished dish arrived at the table piping hot.

4 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (about 8 medium), scrubbed, peeled and sliced 3/4 inch thick
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
2 teaspoons table salt

Place the potatoes in a colander and rinse under cool running water, tossing with your hands, for 30 seconds. Transfer the potatoes to a large Dutch oven, add cold water to cover by 1 inch, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to heat to medium and boil until the potatoes are tender, 20 to 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the heavy cream and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until the butter is melted, about 5 minutes. Set aside and keep warm.

Drain the potatoes and return to the Dutch oven. Stir over low heat until the potatoes are thoroughly dried, 1 to 2 minutes. Set a ricer or food mill over a large bowl and press or mill the potatoes into the bowl. Gently fold in the warm cream mixture and salt with a rubber spatula until the cream is absorbed and the potatoes are thick and creamy. Serve.

Makes 8 to 10 servings. This recipe can be cut in half, if desired.

From “The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook: 2001-2015″

Looking for a way to add a little twist to your cranberry sauce? Try this spiky variation, which uses tequila and jalapeños. Best of all, it’s easy to put together.  

Tequila-Jalapeño Cranberry Sauce

Add some tingle to your cranberry sauce with tequila and jalapeños.

½ cup tequila
1 pound fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
¾ cup water
2 fresh sliced jalapeños in thin rings (seed and all)

Heat tequila over medium heat until reduced by half. Place cranberries, sugar, water and jalapeños in the sauce pot. Bring mixture to a boil over medium high heat. Lower the heat to medium-low and stir often. Let cook for about 15 minutes. Take off heat and let it rest for 30 minutes occasionally stirring while resting.

Makes 8-10 servings.

From chef James Draper/Hyatt Hill Country

Two-Ingredient Biscuits

Two-ingredient biscuits

Two-ingredient biscuits

Biscuits are a cornerstone of Southern cooking. But, of course, they should never be hard as a stone; only light and airy will do.

You can do that in your kitchen, using only a couple of ingredients.

In “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking” (Gibbs Smith, $$45), Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart write that “it’s miraculous to make a biscuit with only two ingredients, particularly when making such an impressive biscuit, light and tender, capable of convincing anyone that the cook was born holding a biscuit bowl. This recipe is a good fallback for anyone who hasn’t made a biscuit for a while or has to hurry up and get some baked. If using a cream with less fat (heavy cream has 36 percent), start with less and use only what is needed to make a moist, slightly sticky dough. Half-and-half just doesn’t work well enough to use by itself. This is really and hurry-up recipe, but the directions are detailed.”

2 1/4 cups self-rising flour, divided use
1 1/4 cups heavy cream, divided use
Butter, softened or melted, for finishing

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Selecting the baking pan by determining if a soft or crisp exterior is desired. For a soft exterior, use an 8- or 9-inch cake pan, a pizza pan, or an ovenproof skillet where the biscuits will nestle together snugly, creating the soft exterior while baking. For a crisp exterior, select a baking sheet or other baking pan where the biscuits can be placed wider apart, allowing air to circulate and create a crisper exterior. Brush selected pan with butter or oil.

Fork-sift or whisk 2 cups of the flour in a large bowl, preferably wider than it is deep, and set aside the remaining 1/4 cup. Make a deep hollow in the center of the flour with the back of your hand. Slowly but steadily stir 1 cup of the cream, reserving 1/4 cup, into the hollow with a rubber spatula or large metal spoon, using broad circular strokes to quickly pull the flour into the cream. Mix just until the dry ingredient is moistened and the sticky dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If there is some flour remaining on the bottom and sides of the bowl, stir in just enough of the reserved cream to incorporate the remaining flour into the shaggy, wettish dough. If the dough is too wet, use more flour when shaping.

Lightly sprinkle a plastic sheet, a board or other clean surface with some of the reserved flour. Turn the dough out onto the board and sprinkle the top of the dough lightly with flour if sticky. With floured hands, folks the dough in half and pat it into a 1/3- to 1/2-inch-thick round, using a little additional flour only if needed. Flour again if sticky and fold the dough in half a second time. If the dough is still clumpy, pat and fold a third time. Pat dough into a 1/2-inch-thick round for normal biscuits, a 3/4-inch-thick round for tall biscuits , or a 1-inch-thick round for giant biscuits. Brush off any visible flour from the top. For each biscuit, dip a 2-inch biscuit cutter into the reserved flour and cut out the biscuits, starting at the outside edge and cutting very close together, being careful not to twist the cutter. The scraps may be combined to make additional biscuits, although they will be tougher.

Using a metal spatula, if necessary, move the biscuits to the pan or baking sheet. Bake the biscuits on the top rack of the oven for a total of 10 to 14 minutes, until light golden brown. After 6 minutes, rotate the pan in the oven so that the front of the pan is now turned to the back, and check to see if the bottoms are browning too quickly. If so, slide another baking pan underneath to add insulation and retard the browning. Continue baking another 4 to 8 minutes, until the biscuits are light golden brown. When they are done, remove from the oven and lightly brush the tops with softened or melted butter. Turn the biscuits out upside down on a plate to cool slightly. Serve hot, right side up.

Variations:

  • For Sour Cream or Cream Cheese Biscuits, substitute 1 cup sour cream or cream cheese for the heavy cream. Bake 8 to 10 minutes. This makes a moist biscuit.
  • For Yogurt and Cream Biscuits, use 1/2 cup yogurt and 3/4 cup heavy cream or half-and-half.
  • For Yogurt Biscuits, add 1 teaspoon salt to the flour and 1 cup plain yogurt for the heavy cream. Add a bit of milk or cream to moisten if a “drier” yogurt is used. Yogurt biscuits are a bit “bouncy.”
  • For Strawberry Shortcake, add 1 or tablespoons sugar to the dough. Line a cake pan with parchment paper. Pat the dough into the lined cake pan. Bake as above. Remove from the oven, brush the top with butter, and turn upside down on a rack to cool slightly. When cool. slice in half horizontally. To serve, sandwich with sugared strawberries and cream or serve a bowl of each separately.

Makes 14 to 18 (2-inch) biscuits.

From “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking” by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart

Triple-Threat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Triple Threat Chocolate Chip CookiesPack a box of these cookies for your loved one in lieu of store-bought treats. That little bit of personal effort makes a gift a whole lot better, and this recipe from Pastry Queen Rebecca Rather and Alison Oresman is one of the best.

1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup chopped walnuts
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coasely chopped
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/3 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups semisweet or milk chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange the pecans and walnuts on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast for 7 to 9 minutes, until golden brown and aromatic. Cool the nuts completely.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats, or grease generously with butter or cooking spray.

Melt the butter, bittersweet chocolate, and unsweetened chocolate in a small saucepan set over low heat. Stir occasionally, watching carefully to make sure the chocolate does not burn. Remove the pan from the heat to cool.

Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar in a large bowl on medium speed about 3 minutes until fluffy.  Add the vanilla and melted chocolate. Beat on medium speed about 2 minutes, until the dough is thick and glossy. Add the flour, baking powder and salt to the chocolate mixture, stirring just until incorporated. Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes, which makes it easier to scoop.

Use a 1  3/4-inch-diameter scoop to drop spoonfuls of dough on the prepare baking sheets, spacing them at least 1  1/2 inches apart. Wet your fingertips lightly with water and gently flatted the cookie dough (no need to press hard, just press out the hump). Bake for 10 to 12 minutes before removing them from the baking sheets.

Rather Sweet Variation: Tor Triple-Threat Rocky Road Cookies, a favorite with elementary school kids, add 1 cup quartered mini-marshmallows to the dough along with the nuts and chocolate chips. Bake as directed.

Makes 4 dozen.

From “The Pastry Queen” by Rebecca Rather with Alison Oresman

Doughnut Bread Pudding

Doughnut Bread Pudding

Doughnut Bread Pudding

Rich? Yes. Delicious? How could it not be?

Also, if you’ll notice in this recipe for Doughnut Bread Pudding, it calls for dried fruit. This isn’t the fruit that goes into fruit cakes, and it isn’t freeze-dried fruit, either.  As you’ll see in the instructions, Nature’s Eats of Bourne makes a mixture that you can purchase at H-E-B and it works well in this recipe.  Enjoy!

Pudding:
10 stale glazed doughnuts
1 cup bite-size dried fruit (see note)
1/4 cup slivered almonds (optional)
Zest of 1 lemon
4 eggs, room temperature
2 (12-ounce) cans evaporated milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Whiskey sauce:
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon corn starch
3/8 cup whiskey, divided use
Pinch of salt

Note: Use the dried fruit of your choice, such as raisins, cranberries, blueberries or cherries. Nature’s Eats of Boerne does a Dried Fruit Medley that includes pineapple, apricots, raisins, cherry-flavored cranberries and papaya, all in bite-size pieces.You can find it at H-E-B.

Cut up the doughnuts in a 9-by-13-inch dish. Sprinkle dried fruit, almond slivers and zest over the top and mix in.

In a stand mixer or large mixing bowl, beat the eggs and add the milk, then add vanilla, almond extract, cinnamon and mace. Incorporate thoroughly. Pour over the doughnut mixture. Let set for 15 minutes.

Eight or 10 minutes before it’s ready to bake, heat your oven to 350 degrees. When the dish is ready, place in a larger dish and add water to at least halfway up the sides. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve with whiskey sauce.

To make whiskey sauce: Warm cream, milk and sugar in a saucepan oven medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Meanwhile, a small bowl, whisk together the corn starch and 1/8 cup of whiskey until the starch is thoroughly dissolved. Whisk into the cream mixture and bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the sauce is ready, stir in a pinch of salt and the final 1/4 cup of whiskey. Let cook for another minute over low heat. Serve warm.

From John Griffin

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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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Della Casa, Chris Erck, to Introduce Panzanella Pizzerias


After chef Luca Della Casa’s impressive performance on the just-concluded season of “Food Network Star,” people have been wondering what would be next on his plate.

The answer is Panzanella Pizzeria, a classic Italian pizzeria with two locations set to open in San Antonio this fall.

Luca Della Casa

Luca Della Casa

Della Casa has developed the menu for the place, which is the latest concept from Chris Erck, known for his food and beverage offerings through Swig Unlimited.

The collaboration will bring about the city’s first-ever cafe to grab and go slices of pizza into the wee hours of the night/morning.  Both Panzanella Pizzeria locations will be open until the late hours of the night. This place to grab that late night snack will still offer classic Italian flavors and farmer’s market salads along with a variety of wine and beer to go (growlers, too).

The first location will be at the Icehouse, 401 Pearl Parkway, in the complex that houses the Stay Golden Social Club. The other will on the River Walk next to Swig Martini Bar, 111 W. Crockett St.

In addition to his appearance on “Food Network Star,” Della Casa is known for his work as executive chef of Nosh and Silo on Austin Highway. Previously, he worked for Fralo’s as a consultant and as an executive chef of Il Sogno.

Erck is the owner of Swig, The Worm, Viva Tacoland and the Icehouse.

 

 

 

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Luca Della Casa Continues to Polish His ‘Star’ Role


Luca Della Casa autographs a menu after a special dinner at Silo Sunday.

Luca Della Casa autographs a menu after a special dinner at Silo Sunday.

Sunday’s episode of “Food Network Star” started with four contestants, and everyone knew that one of those would be going home without a pilot for a TV show.

Luca Della Casa poses for photos at Silo.

Luca Della Casa poses for photos at Silo.

But who would it be?

Would it San Antonio’s own Luca Della Casa? Or one of the other contestants, Nicole Gaffney, Lenny McNab and the other Texan competitor, Sarah Penrod?

To get there, the four had to film a short tape introducing themselves and describing the type of show they would like to film for the Food Network.

Della Casa got to watch moments of the episode while preparing a five-course meal for friends and fans at Silo on Austin Highway Sunday. So, while the sold-out crowd cheered and hollered every time he appeared on one of the TV screens situated around the dining room, his team and he were busy dishing up jumbo lump crab ravioli with morels or an insalata di mare with shrimp, calamari, mussels and more. He also presented the Muscovy duck that he prepared for the judges when “Food Network Star” was still filming in Las Vegas.

SPOILER ALERT

What the show’s fans saw on Sunday was a new Della Casa, who was even more charming than before and totally at ease in front of the camera as he spoke about his idea for a show. He easily won the round.

Luca Della Casa and a delighted fan.

Luca Della Casa and a delighted fan.

Gaffney was also declared safe, though her concept of a global seafood show needed work, the judges said. McNab fumbled in his presentation, but he did better than Penrod, who seemed to freeze in front of the camera. Penrod did not survive.

That left Della Casa, Gaffney and McNab, who each got to film a pilot episode for their proposed show. To coach them, Robert Irvine of “Dinner: Impossible” showed up, offering advice or stopping them when they either failed to connect with the camera or started babbling.

Again, Della Casa exuded a heretofore unseen confidence and charisma as he launched in “Luca’s Feast,” a show that presents Italian food as it is cooked around the United States along with a cooking demonstration of one of his favorite dishes. He was focused and friendly with both the the camera and with the chef he interviewed. His dish, a bagna cauda bathed fish, was stunning. His megawatt smile with those dimples set him far apart.

Neither Gaffney nor McNab demonstrated the same polish, in my opinion. But it’s not my opinion that counts. Nor is it the judges’ opinions any more. It’s time for the viewers to get out there and vote in the next few days. Click here to cast your vote for your favorite. You only have until Tuesday to vote. The winner will be announced Sunday evening, when this season of “Food Network Star” wraps up at 8 p.m. CT.

Luca Della Casa

Luca Della Casa

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It’s Down to the Final Four on ‘Food Network Star’


Did San Antonio’s Luca Della Casa survive Rachael Ray, a pair of notoriously finicky eaters and a live camera setup to make it to the final four on “Food Network Star”?

Luca Della Casa

Luca Della Casa

Sunday’s episode of the culinary competition brought a number of challenges to the executive chef of Nosh and Silo as well as the other four contestants who have cooked and charmed their way through Las Vegas before moving on to New York.

SPOILER ALERT!

The first part of the competition had the chefs presenting live spots at various food stands within Chelsea Market. Della Casa was at The Lobster Place where he talked about what summertime favorite he would make with the seafood at hand. His choice was a lobster salad, but he managed to say you could “downgrade” to shrimp, if lobster simply weren’t available. It was a nice display of humor and he managed to stay engaged with his audience of judges.

The other Texan on the show was not so lucky. Sarah Penrod didn’t wear an ear piece, so she didn’t know when she was supposed to start talking. It led to an embarrassing silence that didn’t stop until she just rushed into a spiel about exotic fruits that are available in the summertime. She hadn’t tasted the melon she chose in her hand before, so when one of the judges questioned her about its, she ended up sticking her face into the melon half and taking a bite. It was a genuinely funny moment and probably saved her in this round.

But Nicole Gaffney showed the most poise and ease before the camera, which gave her the advantage going into the next round.

The chefs were headed for Rachael Ray’s talk show, where they would have to address a problem that a series of families was facing. Each would have 3 1/2 minutes to solve the problem while selling themselves to Ray, their assigned family, the audience and the judges.

Gaffney got to pick which chef would tackle which problem. Della Casa had to make a vegetable dish that two picky children would eat. He thought that was easy, because his sister and he gave their mother the same problem. She solved it by making a “risotto” out of cauliflower and topped it with a Bolognese sauce. But the task wasn’t as simple as preparing the dish. The children were on hand, watching the entire demonstration, so they knew exactly what they were being served and they wouldn’t take a bite of it. The judges also wished he had said “meat sauce” instead of Bolognese.

That may have seemed bad, but Gaffney’s dilemma was worse. Her family was looking for a dish that wasn’t the same old meat and potatoes. She prepared a shrimp dish, but the family’s 3-year-old spit it out in horror. And, of course, that clip was repeated several times.

Fan favorite Lenny McNab, with his oversized cowboy personality, won the round by engaging everyone in a budget-conscious dish of chicken thighs. During his presentation, he faced a wardrobe malfunction: His jeans split down the middle, which was mortifying to him, but no one else noticed.

Della Casa was also declared safe, leaving just the three women: Penrod, Gaffney and self-proclaimed “Butcher Babe” Loreal Gavin. Each had her moments, but the judges decided against Gavin, who failed to use her knowledge in her first segment, when she was asked to describe a cut of meat, and didn’t meet the challenged on Ray’s show. She’d been asked to provide a simple meal for a couple, who were eating out too much, but her dish was so elaborate that even she had trouble making it in her demonstration. The couple liked the stuffed chicken breast she made, but you could see that it wasn’t the easy answer they were looking for.

So next week, Della Casa finds himself up against McNab, Gaffney and Penrod, as “Food Network Star” heads into the quarterfinal. How far can he go?

Food Network Star airs at 8 p.m. CT on the Food Network.

 

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‘Food Network Star’ Heads to New York


“Food Network Star” continued to luxuriate in the wretched excess of Las Vegas for one more week. Sunday night’s episode was all about going over the top, which is as far from the unadorned beauty of Italian food  that local contestant Luca Della Casa specializes in.

Luca Della Casa

Luca Della Casa

Would the executive chef of Silo and Nosh make the final cut?

SPOILER ALERT

It was in doubt from the beginning of the show, at least judging by the way in which the episode was edited. For the first half of the competition, the six remaining contestants had to visit a restaurant with an extravagant signature dish, such as a $1,000 ice cream sundae or a $777 burger. Most of the selections were featured prominently, though Della Casa’s trip to a handmade noodle shop, a natural fit for him, didn’t earn much air time.

Then Sarah Penrod and Emma Frisch were named team captions for a cook-off that would feature the chefs of their choosing. Della Casa was chosen last, which placed him on Penrod’s team. Each team had to create their own meal that was supposed to be as lavish as the one they had eaten.

From this viewer’s perspective, neither team accomplished that, with the nadir being an ugly variation on an ambrosia salad that might not even be served at a church potluck.

Penrod came closest to the target with a Wagyu steak and lobster creamed corn, though you can get a similar meal here in town: the Akaushi beef and lobster creamed corn, at Bohanan’s Prime Steaks and Seafood on East Houston Street.

Della Casa made an earthy dish of Muscovy Duck with a sauce inspired by one that his grandmother made. His nerves were on full display and he seemed to have a hard time of serving it. But he did well in sharing his story behind the sauce.

Though a few judges faulted the sauce, his team was declared safe, which meant, of course, that he’d be back another week.

That meant one member of Frisch’s team, which included fan favorite Lenny McNab and Loreal Gavin would be eliminated. In the end, Frisch was let go.

Meanwhile, the chefs move on to New York, where it appears that they’ll take part in a Rachael Ray show. Ray spends a lot of time in Austin each year during South by Southwest. Maybe Della Casa can inspire her to take a drive south the next time she’s in the area.

“Food Network Star” continues next Sunday at 8 p.m.

 

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Luca Della Casa Returns in a Big Way


Luca Della Casa survived “Star Salvation” and headed back to “Food Star Network” on Sunday night.

Luca Della Casa

Luca Della Casa

The executive chef of Silo and Nosh on Austin Highway returned to the main competition just as the show was relocating from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

“I’m not going to be an easy contestant to go against,” he promised.

Della Casa proved true to his word. He won his competition, tying for top spot with Lenny McNab. Of the chefs that remain, McNab and Della Casa have received the most votes in the show’s fan poll. (To cast your vote, click here.)

Chris Kyler was sent home this week.

The competition continues Sunday evening, July 20.

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‘Star Salvation’ Comes to an End


Luca Della Casa, executive chef at Silo and Nosh, faced his last battle on Food Network’s “Star Salvation” Sunday in an attempt to earn his way back to the main competition of “Food Network Star.”

Luca Della Casa

Luca Della Casa

In the first part of the competition, Della Casa was joined by Chad Rosenthal and fan favorite Reuben Ruiz to taste and then describe an omelet that host Geoffrey Zakarian had made. Della Casa won the round, while Ruiz pulled out second place while Rosenthal was sent home.

The second part was a burger battle. Della Casa made a burger with a touch of tomato paste in the meat and toppings that included mushrooms, fontina cheese and avocado. He dubbed it a combination of flavors from his hometown of Italy and his current hometown of San Antonio. Ruiz, meanwhile, made a Miami burger reflecting his hometown in that it had everything from cumin mixed in the meat to fried plantains and a pineapple salsa.

Who won?

(SPOILER ALERT!)

We don’t know. The finale ended with a cliffhanger and the promise that the winner would be in Las Vegas next week with the other finalists who are still part of “Food Network Star.” So, we’ll be back on Sunday to find out more.

To watch the two-part “Star Salvation” finale, click here.

In the meantime, you can still vote for Luca Della Casa by clicking here.

If you’d like to learn a bit of Italian from Della Casa while waiting for the results, click here. He’ll teach you how to say, Che figata! It means “That’s cool!” in English.

 

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Can Luca Della Casa Complete His Transformation on ‘Star Salvation’?


Luca Della Casa, executive chef of Silo and Nosh in San Antonio, continued his path to salvation and a chance to get back on to “Food Network Star” Sunday night.

Luca Della Casa

Luca Della Casa

Did he make it? Click here to find out.

(SPOILER ALERT!!!)

For those who don’t have time or bandwidth to watch the clip, you’ll be pleased to learn that Della Casa did survive, but not as forcefully as he did the week before. The challenge was to create a savory dish with caramels and tell a story that would relate why the dish had personal meaning to the chef.

Della Casa made a surf and turf salad with mushrooms and shrimp as well as arugula, sunchokes and a balsamic vinaigrette. The mushrooms and shrimp are a combination used a lot in his hometown in Italy, so it had some personal relevance, though he said out what what many of us don’t like, which is forcing sugar into a savory dish.

Before the plates were served, Della Casa said he thought the bite he tasted was underseasoned. So did the judges. But Della Casa managed to survive and he’ll be headed for the “Star Salvation” finale, which is next Sunday.

Meanwhile, in the polls, Della Casa is in third place, behind Reuben Ruiz and Larry McNab. To vote for him or your favorite, click here.

 

 

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Did Luca Della Casa Survive ‘Star Salvation’?


Luca Della Casa, known locally as the executive chef at Silo and Nosh, is becoming well known nationally on “Food Network Star.”

Luca della CasaSince he was eliminated from the main competition, Della Casa has been seen on “Star Salvation,” which offers contestants the chance to earn their way back to the main show.

So far, he’s done well, letting his charm and charisma carry him through interviews with the hosts. This Sunday’s competition was all about talking, not about cooking.

How did he do? Click here to find out.

Della Casa is doing well in the fan poll. He has 16 percent, which makes him second only to Reuben Ruiz, who has 21 percent. Lenny McNab is coming on strong with 15 percent. You can vote for Luca Della Casa here.

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