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Bringing Italy To Atlantic City

When Chef Luke Palladino graduated from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), he was voted the graduate "most likely to succeed."

That prophecy has come true: He owns three successful Italian restaurants in Atlantic City's luxurious Borgata Hotel, Casino and Spa.

In this week's Chef on a Shoestring, he accepts the challenge of making an Italian meal for four on a $40 budget.

The menu includes salad, Baby-Back Rib Roast stuffed with Sage and Sausage, and Ricotta Panna Cotta Brulee.

His restaurants serve different fares.

"Specchio" presents refined Italian dishes that showcase his artistry; "Ombra" presents the simpler, rustic flavors of the Italian countryside; and at "Risi Bisi," he replicates the style of Italian street food, such as paninis and pizzas.

Believe it or not, he opened "Specchio" and "Ombra" simultaneously in July 2003; "Risi Bisi" opened later.

"I decided early on that it was important to specialize in a specific cuisine and, because of my heritage, I wanted that to be Italian," says Palladino, who remembers family holidays as a procession of food.

To ensure that his heritage was properly honored in his cooking, Palladino enrolled in the CIA, then dedicated himself to becoming an expert in the art of Italian cuisine. To do this, he spent more than three years living and cooking in Italy.

Food dictionary: Piave Cheese: A traditional, Northern Italian cheese. It has the texture of a young Parmigiano-Reggiano, the toasted walnut character of Gruyere and the caramel-like sweetness of an aged Gouda.

Palladino has a very interesting method for preparing the ribs, which involves rolling them up, jellyroll fashion, tying them with twine, wrapping them in foil and then roasting them in the oven. Before being wrapped in foil, the ribs are rolled in a mixture of heavy cream and herbs. This not only adds flavor, it keeps the ribs very moist while cooking.

This pork rib recipe is actually quite simple, but the presentation is impressive. Palladino serves this dish at one of his restaurants, and says that it's a big hit.

RECIPES

Roasted Endive and Fennel Insalata
Serves 4

Ingredients:
4 heads endive, washed
1 T rosemary, chopped
4 T balsamic vinegar (optional: or 2T balsamic vinegar and 2T saba)
1 bulb fennel, washed
1/4 cup Piave cheese
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven at 375 degrees.

1. Cut the endive in half lengthwise and place into a bowl. Top with olive oil, rosemary, garlic and balsamic vinegar (or, optional saba and balsamic vinegar). Season with salt and pepper.
2. Remove endive from bowl and place on a cookie sheet. Roast for approximately 20 minutes until golden and tender.
3. Cut the fennel in half across the hemisphere and slice as thinly as possible (like an onion).
4. Place one head of the roasted endive on each individual plate or put all on a single platter for sharing. Reserve all liquids from endive pan. Arrange the sliced fennel over the top.
5. Drizzle the warm oil and herbs that collected in the endive pan over the salad.
6. To finish, shave the piave cheese over the top.

Standing Baby-Back Rib Roast, Stuffed with Sausage, Honey Glaze, Stone Ground Polenta
Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 racks baby-back pork ribs (about 2 lbs)
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup stale Italian bread (with a large crumb, such as ciabatta), broken into rough pieces
1/2cup milk
1 lb pork sausage made without fennel
1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped
*1 sprig fresh sage, chopped (*optional)
1 cup cream
2 T extra virgin olive oil
butcher's twine for tying ribs
aluminum foil

Pre-heat oven at 300

1. Lay out the racks of ribs on a cutting board and cut in half. This should leave you with about six ribs per piece. Season the ribs on both sides with salt and pepper.
2. Pour the milk onto the stale bread in a bowl.
3. Remove sausage casings and break up the sausage into the bowl with milk and bread. Add half of the rosemary and sage.
4. In a separate bowl, mix the remaining rosemary and sage with the heavy cream and extra virgin olive oil; season with salt and pepper.
5. Lay out the four rib sections with the outside or convex side of the ribs facing up.
6. Divide the sausage mixture between the 4 ribs, placing a spoonful of the mixture on top of each rib.
7. Roll the ribs like you would a jellyroll.
8. Tightly tie a piece of butcher's twine around the center of each rib.
9. Lay out four large pieces of aluminum foil.
10. Roll the rib rolls in the cream and herb mixture. Then place each rib onto a piece of foil and roll foil tightly folding each end.
11. Place the wrapped ribs, standing upright on their ends, into a roasting pan and roast for 2 hours at 300F.
12. Remove ribs from the roasting pan and let rest for 10 minutes. Unwrap the ribs and cut the twine from each one.
13. Place ribs back in a 400F oven, top with half of the glaze and brown to a deep color, about 10-15 minutes.
14. Place the finished ribs on a bed of polenta and top with remaining glaze.

Rib Glaze:

Ingredientas:
1 T extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic sliced
2 T chopped fresh rosemary
**1 sprig fresh thyme (optional)
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 T red wine vinegar
1 T lemon juice
2 T honey (Chef Palladino suggests using Chestnut Honey if available)
2 T butter

1. In a small pan heat the olive oil until hot. Add the garlic, rosemary, thyme and red pepper flakes and fry for a few moments.
2. Add the vinegar and lemon juice to the pan and reduce by half.
3. Add the honey, simmer until slightly thick. Add butter and season with salt and pepper.
4. Use glaze as directed above.

Polenta:

Ingredients:
2 cups boiling water
salt to taste
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2cup polenta
1 T butter

1. Add salt and oil to the boiling water.
2. Reduce the water to a gentle simmer and add the polenta while whisking to prevent lumps.
3. Cover the pot and simmer on the lowest setting of your stove for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.
4. After 30 minutes, stir in the butter and keep covered in a warm place on the stove until ready to serve.

Ricotta Panna Cotta Brulee

Ingredients:
3/4 cup heavy cream
12oz package cream cheese
3/4 cup (6 oz) ricotta cheese
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
**1 tsp almond extract or 2 oz. Amaretto liquor (**optional)
3 eggs

Special Tool Required: kitchen torch

Preheat oven at 300 degrees

1. In a mixing bowl fitted with a paddle, mix the cream cheese and sugar until smooth.
2. Add the ricotta cheese, vanilla and the optional almond extract or Amaretto liquor.
3. Scrape the bowl with a spatula and add the eggs, mixing until combined.
4. Divide mixture between four bowls/ramekins or one large bowl.
5. Place bowls into a larger, shallow pan. Fill pan with a couple of inches of warm water.
6. Bake in this water bath, covered with parchment paper, until set or until the dessert's middle does not jiggle when touched. Baking time will vary greatly, depending on how deep or shallow your dish is.
7. Cool in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.
8. Top each dessert with a thin veil of sugar and burn with a torch until golden and crunchy

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