Rocco DiSpirito:Chef On A Shoestring

An Afghan police stands guard in front of presidential election posters on the street in Kabul, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009. Later, gunfire and explosions reverberated through the heart of the Afghan capital Wednesday on the eve of the presidential election after three militants with AK-47s rifles and hand grenades overran a bank. Police stormed the building and killed the three insurgents, officials said. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer) AP Photo/Kevin Frayer

The Saturday Early Show's Chef On A Shoestring this week is a familiar face on television.

Rocco DiSpirito is a host on two Food Network shows,"Melting Pot" and "My Country, My Kitchen." He is also executive chef at the acclaimed New York City restaurant, Union Pacific.

As usual, he took the challenge to create a delicious three-course meal for four:

Yellow Pepper Soup; Braised Skirt Steak Forestiere; and White Chocolate Risotto for dessert.

Here are his recipes:

Yellow Pepper Soup
Serves 4

Ingredients:
4 yellow bell peppers
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup pear juice
1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar, or white wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

*Optional: sour cream or creme fraiche for garnish

Method:
Roast peppers over a medium-low flame, or under the broiler, until the skins blacken and char. Cool peppers in a closed paper bag. When the peppers are completely cool, peel, remove the seeds, and chop coarsely.

Puree peppers in a blender until smooth. Pass the puree through a wide mesh sieve into a pan over medium-low heat. Add 1 1/2 cups water, pear juice, mustard powder, vinegar, and then add salt, and pepper to taste.

Heat, stirring until warmed through. You can garnish the servings, if desired, with a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche.

Braised Skirt Steak Forestiere
Serves 4

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds skirt steak
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 yellow or white onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, chopped
3 cups white button mushrooms, quartered
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 bottle inexpensive red wine
2 cups crushed tomatoes
4 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped

Method:
Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

In a large, oven-proof casserole, melt two tablespoons of butter over medium heat until the butter starts to foam. Season the skirt steak on both sides with salt and pepper. Brown the steak in the butter (you may need to cut it into 2 or 3 pieces as necessary to fit into your pan). It will take approximately 8 minutes to brown. Don't crowd the pan - work in batches if necessary.

Remove the skirt steak to a platter. Add the remaining butter, and the onion, garlic, and mushrooms to the casserole. Season well with salt and pepper and cook the vegetables until softened. Add the brown sugar and stir until the sugar melts.

Add the red wine to the casserole and bring it to a simmer. Place the steak back into the casserole with the vegetables. The liquid should come halfway up the sides of the beef; add water if necessary. Cover the casserole and place it in the oven to cook for approximately 45 minutes.

Remove the casserole from the oven and add the crushed tomatoes and the tarragon. Bring the mixture back up to a simmer and then put it back into the oven. Cook, covered, for an additional 45 minutes or until a fork inserted into the beef meets no resistance.

If the liquid looks too soupy, remove the meat and reduce the liquid over medium-high heat until it has thickened. Serve the steak in individual portions with plenty of the sauce and the vegetables.

Buttered Egg Noodles

Ingredients:
salt
1 1/2 cups egg noodles
3 tbsp. softened butter
freshly ground pepper
3 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley

Method:
Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt it well. Add the egg noodles and cook until al dente. Drain in a colander and transfer to a platter. Add the butter and toss until coated.

Season the noodles with salt and pepper and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with Steak A la Forestière.

The dessert is basically a rice pudding, made with the type of rice used for risotto. It includes a white chocolate ganache (pronounced gahn-ASH). A ganache is a rich icing or filling made with semisweet chocolate and whipping cream. It's is often poured over cakes or tortes as a glaze. Here's the recipe:
White Chocolate Risotto
Serves 4

Ingredients:
For the ganache:
1/2 cup white chocolate (chips or chopped from a block)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
For the risotto:
3/4 cup arborio rice
2 1/2 to 3 cups whole milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split


Method:
Place the white chocolate in a heavy mixing bowl. Meantime, bring the heavy cream to a boil in a saucepot. Pour the cream over the chocolate. Let this sit for a minute and then stir until the chocolate has melted and mixture is homogenous. Add the butter and stir. Refrigerate for approximately 30 minutes until firm.

Combine the rice, milk, sugar, and the vanilla bean in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Stir frequently until the rice is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add in the white chocolate ganache a little at a time, stopping when the risotto is as sweet as you like. Remove the vanilla bean, split it open and using a dull knife, scrape the seeds into the pudding. Serve warm.


Here are Chef DiSpirito's tips on melting chocolate properly:

Melt slowly - Chocolate is an emulsion; unless handled carefully, the fat will separate. For this reason, it must be melted very slowly, preferably in the top of a double broiler set over, but not in, hot water. Ideally you only melt about half of the chocolate in the double broiler, then remove it from the heat, and stir until the remaining chocolate is melted.

Watch the temperature - Dark chocolate should never be heated above 120 degrees because it will turn grainy. Beware of getting any liquid into the chocolate as it melts. A drop of water added by mistake or present in a damp pan can cause the chocolate to seize and harden.

White chocolate tends to solidify easily when melting. Too much heat will transform the proteins in the milk additives and causes lumps. Melt chopped white chocolate in a double broiler over warm water; don't allow the chocolate to heat above 100-degrees. Stir often.

Note: White chocolate is not true chocolate because it does not contain any chocolate liquor. It is actually a blend of whole milk and sugar, cooked, condensed, and solidified. In the best brands, some cocoa butter is added to enhance the flavor. Other additives include: whey powder, lecithin, vanilla, and egg whites. The finest quality white chocolate contains the highest proportion of cocoa butter and thus lists that ingredient first on the label.

Rocco DiSpirito's restaurant Union Pacific has earned rave reviews since it opened in 1997. He was named in 1999 as a "Food and Wine" magazine's Best New Chef. He received a three-star review in "The New York Times" in 1998.
  • Tatiana Morales

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