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Whip up an Italian comfort food feast for $40

Hungry for some Italian comfort food?

That's exactly what Mike Isabella whipped up on "The Early Show on Saturday Morning" in our "Chef on a Shoestring" challenge of making a three-course meal for four on a budget of $40. But Isabella is no stranger to cooking challenges. He's the runner-up on "Top Chef All-Stars."

Isabella was also automatically entered in our "How Low Can You Go?" competition, in which the "Shoestring" chef with the lowest ingredients cost will be invited back to whip up the feast for our year-end holiday extravaganza - and spend as much as he or she wants!

Isabella, who is about to release his first cookbook "Flavors from a Jersey Italian," is also the chef and owner of the recently-opened Graffiato restaurant in Washington, D.C.

Enjoy all our "Early Show" recipes!


Caramelized Butternut Squash
Braised Short Rib Ragu
Spiced Orange Panna Cotta

Caramelized Butternut Squash with Rosemary


  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 sprigs rosemary


1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out and discard the seeds. Place flesh side up on a baking sheet.

3. Drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil and season with the salt. Where the seeds were removed add 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 rosemary sprig to each half.

4. Cover the butternut squash tightly with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until tender.

5. Remove from the oven and uncover. Let cool until you can handle it. Scoop out the flesh of the butternut squash.

6. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Once melted and bubbling, add the cooked butternut squash. Gently tossing around until a golden brown texture begins to form.

7. Transfer to serving dish. This side dish is ready to serve family style.

For Mike's Braised Short Rib Ragu and his dessert recipes, go to Page 2.

Braised Short Rib Ragu with Pappardelle


  • 1 pound beef short ribs (boneless) cut into 2 inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/4 cup finely diced yellow onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 bay leave, dried
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 1/2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 4 quarts water
  • kosher salt to season the pasta water (recommend 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 1/2 pounds dried pappardelle pasta
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese


1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Season the short ribs with the kosher salt and pepper.

3. Heat the canola oil in large heavy bottom pot over medium-high heat. Once oil is hot, sear the short ribs on all sides until golden brown; approximately 2 minutes per side. Remove from the pot and let rest.

4. In the same pot add the onion and garlic. Cook for 3-5 minutes until the garlic is golden; stirring often. Then add the tomato paste and cook for 3 minutes longer.

5. Add the white wine scraping the bottom of the pot to remove all the brown bits. Cook until the wine reduces by half.

6. Meanwhile, tie the rosemary, bay leave and cinnamon stick together with twine to create a bundle.

7. Add the herb bundle, crushed tomatoes and chicken broth; bring to a slight boil.

8. Then add the seared short ribs to the pot, cover with a lid and bake in the oven 2 1/2 - 3 hours until nice and tender.

9. Right before the short ribs are finished cooking; bring the water and salt to a boil.

10.Remove the pot from the oven and take out the herb bundle and discard. Also take out the short ribs and set aside. Let the short ribs cool just enough for you to handle.

11. Shred the short ribs and return it back to the pot over medium heat and stir to incorporate the meat into the sauce.

12. Once the water is at a boil; cook the pasta to al dente. Drain and add the pasta to the ragu along with the butter and 1/4 cup of the grated parmesan cheese. Gently mix together.

13. Transfer the short rib ragu and pappardelle to a larger serving dish and top with the remaining 1/4 cup parmesan cheese to finish. The dish is ready to serve family style.

Suggestion: Make the ragu 1 day ahead of time. Bring the ragu back to the stove top over medium heat. Cook the pasta and combine. Serve as suggested above.

Spiced Orange Panna Cotta


  • 4 envelopes unflavored gelatin (1 ounce)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 quart milk (whole)
  • 1 vanilla bean "scraped for the seeds"
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt (plain)
  • Spiced Oranges (see recipe below)


1. In a large pot, mix the gelatin and sugar. Add the milk and vanilla bean seeds, stir together and let stand for 2-3 minutes. Then place on the stove over medium low heat and bring to a simmer; you see small bubbles start to form around the mixture, approximately 1 1/2-2 minutes.

Stir until the gelatin dissolves and set aside for 3-5 minutes to cool.

2. Pour the mixture into a blender or food processor then add the yogurt. Blend for 20 seconds.

3. Divide the mixture evenly between 6 glass molds. Cover the tops with plastic wrap and chill for several at least 2 hours or overnight.

4. Top with spiced oranges before serving (optional)

Spiced Oranges


  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 5 whole allspice
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 oranges (in segments)


1. Combine the sugar, water, allspice, cloves and cinnamon stick in a small sauce pot and cook over medium heat for around 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. A syrup will begin to form.

2. Remove the spices and discard, then add the orange segments. Reduce the heat to low and simmer together for 10 minutes longer. Remove from the heat and let cool before serving on the panna cotta.

So, how did Mike do in our "How Low Can You Go?" competition?

His grand total was $38.82 - just short of our Leaders Board.

Check out our Leaders Board:

  • 1.Floyd Cardoz $33.54
  • North End Grill
  • 2.Bobby Deen $36.11
  • Food Network Personality & Cook Book Author
  • 3.Fabio Vivani $36.22
  • Café Firenze