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Meal Fit For The Obamas, On A Shoestring!

The president-elect and his wife ate here.

Tony Mantuano, chef of Spiaggia, can make that boast about the restaurant he co-owns, the only four-star eatery in Chicago, and a favorite of Barack and Michelle Obama.

In fact, that's where they decided to celebrate Barack's victory on their first post-election date night.

But his political connections aside, Mantuano was the Early Show Saturday Edition's "Chef on a Shoestring" this week, accepting our challenge to try to make a scrumptious holiday meal for four on our budget of only $40.

The dishes all come from the cookbook he wrote with his wife, Cathy, "Wine Bar Food: Mediterranean Flavors to Crave with Wines to Match" (Clarkson Potter).

Mantuano was named Best Chef: Midwest 2005 by the James Beard Foundation.

His menu Saturday:

  • Whipped Baccala on Crostini
  • Flaming Anisette Shrimp
  • Pasta with Spinach, Pecorino Romano Cheese and Black Pepper
  • Mascarpone Cheese-Filled Dates with Chocolate & Espresso


    Baccala: Baccala is Italian for salted cod. Usually, the salted fish is soaked in water for several days prior to use, with the water changed every four-to-five hours to reduce the amount of salt.

    Crostini: Meaning "little toasts" in Italian, crostini are small, thin slices of toasted bread that usually brushed with olive oil.

    Pecorino Romano: In Italy, cheese made from sheep's milk is known as pecorino. Most of these cheeses are aged and classified as hard, granular and sharply flavored. Aged pecorinos range in color from white to pale yellow and have a sharp, pungent flavor. The best known of this genre is pecorino romano, which comes in large cylinders with a hard yellow rind and yellowish-white interior.

    Mascarpone Cheese: Hailing from Italy's Lombardy region, mascarpone is buttery-rich double-cream to triple-cream cheese made from cow's milk. It's ivory colored, soft and delicate, and ranges in texture from that of a light, clotted cream to that of room-temperature butter. It's versatile enough to be blended with other flavors and is sometimes sold sweetened with fruit.


    Whipped Baccala on Crostini

    4 ounces (1/4 pound) salt cod, soaked* and cut into 2-inch pieces
    1 small yellow potato, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
    1/2 small onion, roughly chopped
    1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
    1 cup whole milk or more to cover
    1 baguette
    3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

    Combine the cod, potato, onion and garlic in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add enough milk to cover.

    Simmer, covered, until the potato is tender, about 30 minutes. Let cool.

    Slice the baguette into ½-inch thick slices and toast lightly.

    Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cod, potatoes, onion and garlic to a blender or food processor and process until smooth adding the extra virgin olive oil and enough poaching liquid until the cod is creamy and smooth, the consistency of mashed potatoes.

    Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.

    *Buy the salt cod in its dried state. Soak the cod in water in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days, changing the water at least twice a day to remove excess salt. Rinse the reconstituted fish and pat dry before cooking.

    Flaming Anisette Shrimp

    1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
    1 potato, cut into cubes
    3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
    1 jalapeño, thinly sliced
    Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
    2 ounces Anisette
    1/2 lemon

    Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil.

    Blanch the cubed potatoes in the boiling water for 5 minutes or until tender. Drain and set aside.

    Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. After 1 minute, add the olive oil.
    After another minute, add the garlic, and brown for about 1 minute.

    Add the jalapeno and the shrimp and sauté for 3 minutes.

    Add the potatoes and season with salt and pepper and sauté for 1 additional minute. Add the anisette.

    Stand back and carefully hold a lit match to the juices to flame the dish. As the flame begins to die down, squeeze the lemon over the shrimp. Serve immediately.


  • Pasta with Spinach, Pecorino Romano Cheese and Black Pepper

    3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
    10 ounces fresh spinach stems removed
    1 pound linguine or spaghetti
    2 cups freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
    Freshly ground pepper

    Heat the olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until browned on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes.

    Add the spinach and cover with a tight fitting lid. Cook until wilted, about 4 to 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave covered on the stove.

    Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta to the pot and cook, stirring frequently until the pasta is al dente, about 2 minutes fewer than what is recommended on the box.

    Before draining, remove 1 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and transfer to a large bowl.

    Add the reserved pasta water to the spinach, stirring to loosen and separate the leaves. Discard the garlic.

    Add the spinach, 1-1/2 cups of the grated cheese to the pasta and season generously with pepper.

    Toss well to combine and allow the pasta to absorb some of the sauce. Transfer the pasta to a platter.

    Top with the remaining ½ cup of Pecorino Romano cheese and more freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately.

    Mascarpone Cheese-Filled Dates with Chocolate & Espresso

    8 fresh dates
    2 ounces (1/4 cup) mascarpone cheese
    1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, grated

    Cut dates almost in half, but leave connected and remove pits.

    Place the cheese into a pastry bag if desired.

    Pipe or spoon the cheese into each date, filling the cavity where the pit was. Press the date to close somewhat around the cheese.

    Roll the front of the date in the grated chocolate so it sticks to the cheese.

    Place on a serving plate. Serve at cool room temperature.

    Then offer espresso.

    So, how did Mantuano do with our $40 budget?:

    Baccala on Crostini:

    Salt Cod $9.99
    Yellow potato .35
    Onion .28
    Garlic .39
    Baguette $1.89

    Anisette Shrimp:

    Potato .35
    Jalapeno .18
    Shrimp $4.99
    Anisette $1.50
    Lemon .66

    Pasta with Spinach:

    Spinach $1.69
    Linguine $1.49
    Pecorino Romano $4.00

    Cheese Filled Dates:

    Dates $2.99
    Mascarpone cheese $4.59
    Bittersweet chocolate $1.79
    Espresso $2.79

    Final Cost: $39.92!

    Editor's Note: This story was revised Monday, Dec. 15, 2008, at the request of the chef, who corrected some information.

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