Comfort Food From The Big City

Chef Tom Valenti has been serving up comfort food in New York City for years. As a cookbook author and executive chef of Ouest in Manhattan, he has some great ideas for easy, sophisticated dishes.

As The Saturday Early Show's Chef on a Shoestring, he prepared a meal for four on a budget of $40.

Valenti was trained in classic French and Italian cuisine. He has earned high praise for his bold approach to traditional foods. For more than 15 years, he served bold dishes at restaurants around New York City. He was the executive chef at the acclaimed Butterfield 81 restaurant. In 1998, he opened his own restaurant, Ouest, which has become a foodie hot spot in New York.

Here is the menu for Saturday:
Escarole and Chicory Salad with a Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
Simmered Shrimp Saute with Shiitakes and Scallions
Poached Pears in a Vanilla-Citrus Broth


Escarole: This green is actually a variety of endive but with a milder flavor. Available year-round, it also can be sauteed or used in soups.

Chicory: This green has curly, bitter-tasting leaves. It's also available year-round and is often used in salads.

Shiitake Mushrooms: These caps can be as large as 8 to 10 inches, though 3 to 6 is more common. The stems are extremely tough and are usually removed before cooking or eating. The mushroom's meaty flesh has a very strong flavor.

Poaching: This method cooks food gently in liquid, just below the boiling point. The pears in our dessert are poached in a mixture of honey, vanilla and citrus. The fruit will absorb all of these flavors as it cooks.



2 to 3 escarole hearts, depending on size. Washed and dried and cut into bite-size pieces
2 to 3 chicory heads
4 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/4-inch-wide ribbons
3 tablespoons onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup sherry vinegar
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper


  1. Cook bacon over a medium flame to just crisp, render off all fat. Add onion, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and parsley to the pan and combine well.
  2. Add escarole and chicory to a large bowl, season with salt and pepper and pour warm vinaigrette over the greens, mix well. Adjust seasoning if needed, serve.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus 4 tablespoons chilled and cut into small dice
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 large shiitake mushroom caps, very thinly sliced
Coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 plum tomatoes cut into small dice
3 scallions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced on a bias
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 pound peeled, de-veined and halved large shrimp
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
Big pinch, chopped flat leaf parsley
Big pinch, chopped basil (optional/in season)
Cooked orzo


  1. Melt the 2 tablespoons of room-temperature butter in a wide, deep sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook gently until softened but not browned, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and scallions and cook gently until softened, 3 to 4 minutes.
  2. Turn the heat up to high. Just as the butter starts to sizzle, add the wine. Boil until the liquid has evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth and lemon juice and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the diced cold butter, a few pieces at a time, swirling it in a few pieces at a time. (Do not allow the liquid to boil once the butter is added. The sauce should look like a buttery broth, if it appears thick, add a few drops of warm water.)
  3. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper, and then add them to the pan, making sure to immerse them in the liquid. Cook over medium-low heat just below a simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the shrimp are pink and firm. Add the capers, toss, and cook for 30 seconds. Add the parsley and basil and toss to combine.
  4. To serve, divide among 4 warm bowls of orzo.

3 Bartlett pears, peeled, cored (reserve cores)
1 orange, peeled and halved (peel with a vegetable peeler)
5 tablespoons honey
1 vanilla bean, split and seeded
1 cinnamon stick
1/3 cup sugar
Water, just enough to cover fruit once in the pot
Vanilla ice cream


  1. Put everything, except ice cream, in a saucepan over a high flame, bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce flame to a simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes or until a paring knife can pierce the pear. The pear should offer some resistance. Remove the pears and set aside. Turn flame back to high; reduce liquid by 1/4, strain liquid and return to pan.
  2. Dice pears into small cubes and arrange neatly in the center of 4 bowls. Pour poaching liquid around diced pear and top with your favorite vanilla ice cream.