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Simple, Rustic Italian Fare, on a Budget

Missy Robbins has received critical acclaim for creating classic Italian specialties with a contemporary twist, as executive chef at the newly-opened A Voce in the Time Warner Center in Manhattan.

Her mantra: keep it simple!

Missy accepted "The Early Show Saturday Edition"'s challenge of preparing a quick and easy Italian meal on a meager budget of $35, as our "Chef on a Shoestring."

And as such, Missy's chef's hat was automatically tossed into our "How Low Can You Go?" competition. The "Shoestring" chefs with the lowest ingredients totals will be invited back to prepare our big holiday bashes at the end of the year.


Ricotta: Technically, ricotta is not a cheese at all, but a cheese by-product. Its name, ricotta, means cooked again, an obvious reference to the production method used to make it. Ricotta is a fresh, soft, snowy white cheese with a rich but mild, slightly sweet flavor. The texture is much like a grainy, thick sour cream. Ricotta is naturally low in fat, with a fat content ranging from 4 to 10 percent. It is also low in salt, even lower than cottage cheese. (Source:

Alla Carbonara: The Italian term describing a pasta dish of spaghetti (or other noodles) with a sauce composed of cream, eggs, Parmesan cheese and bits of bacon. The sauce is heated only until it begins to thicken (2 to 3 minutes). It's important that the pasta be very hot so that when the sauce is poured over it, the eggs will briefly continue to cook. Fresh green peas are sometimes added for flavor and color. (Source: The Food Lover's Companion)

Granita: A frozen mixture of water, sugar and liquid flavoring such as fruit juice, wine or coffee. The proportion is usually 4 parts liquid to 1 part sugar. During the freezing process, granitas are generally stirred frequently to produce a slightly granular final texture. (Source: The Food Lover's Companion)


Baked Ricotta with Chilies, Herbs and Arugula

1-1/2 pound ricotta cheese
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 sprigs thyme, leaves picked
6 mint leaves, torn into small pieces
1/4 pound arugula
4 thick slices country bread
Salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons chili flakes
1/4 cup olive oil plus 1 tablespoon


Starting the night before, drain the ricotta in a colander to get rid of any excess moisture.

Pre-heat an oven to 450°F.

Drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil on top of parchment set on a cookie sheet. Divide the ricotta into 4 mounds and season with salt, pepper, and 1 teaspoon of the chili flakes. Drizzle another teaspoon of oil over the ricotta and place in the preheated oven. Bake until the ricotta is set and slightly browned around the edges.

At the same time as the ricotta is baking, drizzle the bread with olive oil. Toast the bread in the oven until golden. Using a spatula, place the ricotta onto 4 plates. Sprinkle herbs and arugula over the top as well the remaining chili. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Serve with the toasted crostini.

For more recipes, go to Page 2.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

1-1/2 pounds spaghetti
1/4 pound pancetta, small dice
1 teaspoon olive oil
5 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons grated pecorino Romano
3 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano
Cracked black pepper


Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt to taste.

Heat a sauté pan to medium heat and add the olive oil and pancetta. Render the pancetta until the fat begins to melt and the pancetta begins to crisp. Set aside.

In a large bowl mix the eggs with 2 tablespoons of the cheese and the fat from the pancetta. Season heavily with black pepper. Set aside. Put the pasta into boiling water and cook for approximately 8-10 minutes so that it is still al dente. Drain the pasta and reserve the cooking water.

Put the spaghetti into the bowl with the eggs and cheese. Add 2 ounces of the pasta cooking water and mix until creamy.

Divide among 4 bowls and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.

Espresso Granita

3 cups Freshly-brewed Coffee
2 teaspoons Instant Espresso Powder
1/3 cup Granulated Sugar
Pinch Sea Salt


Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and whisk until the sugar is dissolved.

Pour the mixture into a shallow baking dish and let sit out at room temperature until cool.

Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until solid-approximately 6 hours to overnight.

Once frozen, scrape granita with a fork and store in freezer until ready to serve.

Whipped Mascarpone
4 tablespoons Mascarpone
6 tablespoons Heavy Whipping Cream


Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl and whisk gently until mascarpone has softened.

Set aside in refrigerator until ready to serve.

To Serve:
1 Recipe Espresso Granita - scraped
1 Recipe Whipped Mascarpone
1 tablespoon Cocoa Powder


Divide the scraped granite between four serving glasses. Top with a generous dollop of whipped mascarpone. Garnish with a light dusting of cocoa powder. Serve immediately.

So, how did Missy fare in our "How Low Can You Go?" competition?

Baked Ricotta
ricotta cheese $3.89
thyme $0.99
mint $0.99
arugula $3.49
country bread $2.29
total $11.65

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
spaghetti $1.25
pancetta $2.49
eggs $1.19
pecorino Romano $3.69
Parmigiano Reggiano $3.24
total $11.86

Espresso Granita
Coffee $1.19
Espresso Powder $2.69
Mascarpone $4.50
Whipping Cream $1.19
Cocoa Powder $0.99
total $10.56

Grand total: $34.07

Our leaders to-date:

1. Robert Carter $32.24
Peninsula Grill

2. Paul Liebrandt $32.35

3. George Mendes $32.49