'Cake Boss' Buddy Valastro will stop in the Pittsburgh area
Buddy Valastro spends a good deal of his time pondering his next over-the-top dessert creations on his TLC reality television series, “Cake Boss.”
He has thrilled customers with amazing cakes shaped like fire trucks and motorcycles, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and his favorite production, a giant 2,000-pound Transformers cake he created last year for the New York International Auto Show and the upcoming launch of the movie, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.”
But this time of year, the owner of Carlo's Bakery in Hoboken, N.J. turns his attention to not only cakes, but the family meals that make his holiday celebrations special. In Pittsburgh-area appearances Wednesday , he will share his favorite recipes — and some stories of his family traditions.
Many of his reflections — from happy times spent growing up with his extended family, including his Italian-American grandmother, Madeline, to cooking with his wife, Lisa, and their four children today — are included in his new book, “Cooking Italian With the Cake Boss: Family Favorites as Only Buddy Can Serve Them Up” (Free Press, $30).
One of the reasons he wrote the book, he says, was to carry on the family's recipes and customs for future generations.
“‘Cooking Italian' is a tribute to my whole family,” Valastro says.
The baker extraordinaire considers himself an average cook who uses simple recipes, and doesn't mind if he has to substitute ingredients when others aren't available. In his cookbook, he notes possible variations in some of his recipes.
One recipe that is a mainstay in the Valastro kitchen is “Sunday gravy” — a homemade meat sauce with sweet Italian sausage links made in large portions and served with meatballs and braciole. It is a constant for Sunday dinner in the Valastro household served with a variety of pastas, he says.
Several of his recipes are named for family members who first prepared them — such as Nina's Mussels, a classic, breaded mussels dish from his Aunt Nina; Mama's Chicken and Potatoes, a weekly offering of his mother, Mary Valastro, when he was at home, and Grandma Madeline's Sausage Lasagna, which her grandson boasts “is one of the best lasagnas you will ever have.”
Valastro says food doesn't have to be complicated to be delicious, and great dishes can be accomplished when they're kept simple and cooked with love.
For the holidays, he'll be with his family and keeping alive some of their best traditions, along with the memory of his late father, Buddy Valastro, the original “Cake Boss.”
“I remember the day before Christmas, when Dad would go after work to give pies to the homeless shelter,” he says. “It's something I do today with my children. We visit shelters in Jersey City and Hoboken.”
While in Pittsburgh, Valastro plans to demonstrate some seasonal recipes at Market District in Robinson. At the Benedum, Downtown, his show will include a friendly audience competition that includes a family triathlon relay race for prizes, and his decorating techniques “to apply to your holiday cakes Cake Boss-esque.”
After his Pittsburgh engagement, Valastro has tour dates through Dec. 15. New seasons of his TLC shows, “Cake Boss” and “Next Great Baker,” a spin-off in which bakers compete to work at Carlo's Bakery, are getting under way this week.
Candy Williams is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.
Joe's Chocolate Mousse
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 5 to 7 minutes
From “Cooking Italian With the Cake Boss: Family Favorites as Only Buddy Can Serve Them Up”
It's not often that the Valastros take their hats off to another person's dessert, but Joe Park Casino was such a terrific chef that we had to give it up even for the sweet stuff he served at his catering hall. This chocolate mousse was part of the Venetian Hours, when a dessert buffet was served, at the Park Casino. When we were kids, my cousin Frankie and I used to run around eating as many servings as we could get our hands on. It's hard to believe it's made with plain old Hershey's syrup, but it really is a heavenly mousse with the chocolate and cream in perfect balance.
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1⁄2 cup Hershey's syrup
1 tablespoon sifted cocoa powder
1 tablespoon crème de cacao
In a chilled large bowl, whip the heavy cream and sugar with a hand mixer until stiff peaks form. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the chocolate syrup, cocoa powder, and crème de cacao. Divide among 6 glass bowls and chill for 1 hour, or as long as 4 hours, to let the cream set.
Makes 6 servings.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
1 large lemon
4 globe artichokes, about 12 ounces each
3 cups homemade bread crumbs
1⁄2 cup (2 ounces) finely grated pecorino Romano
1⁄3 cup (2 ounces) minced prosciutto
3 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, stems included
1⁄2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1⁄2 cup olive oil
Salt, to taste, if desired
About 1 quart low-sodium chicken stock
12 Parmigiano-Reggiano shards (about 1 ounce), shaved from a chunk of cheese with a vegetable peeler, for garnish
Half fill a large, wide bowl with ice water. Zest the lemon, ideally with a microplane grater, taking care to not remove any of the bitter white pith. Set the zest aside. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the water, catching the seeds in your hand and discarding them.
Working with 1 artichoke at a time, cut the stem from the bottom so that the artichoke can stand upright. Set the artichoke on a cutting board on its side and use a sharp, heavy chef's knife to cut off the top inch or so, removing the thorny top. Use a pair of kitchen shears or clean, sharp household scissors to snip the thorns from the remaining leaves. Spread the artichoke open and use a spoon to scoop out the hairy choke from the center. Discard. Transfer the artichoke to the acidulated ice water to keep it from discoloring and repeat with the remaining artichokes.
Put the bread crumbs, pecorino Romano, prosciutto, garlic, parsley, red pepper, pepper, lemon zest, and olive oil in a large bowl and stir. Taste and add salt, if desired.
Working with 1 artichoke at a time, remove the chokes from the water, let them drain briefly, then pat them dry with paper towels. Working over the bowl, spread the artichoke leaves open like a flower and spoon a generous amount of breading into the center, working it behind the individual leaves with your fingers and letting any excess breading fall back into the bowl.
Set the chokes upright in a wide, heavy pot that holds them snugly and for which you have a tight-fitting lid. Pour stock into the pot, until it reaches about one-third up the sides of the artichokes.
Bring the stock to a boil over high heat, cover the pot, and lower the heat so the liquid is just barely simmering. Cook until a center leaf pulls out of an artichoke with ease and the flesh is fork-tender, for 30 to 35 minutes.
Use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer the artichokes to a serving plate or platter. Serve warm or let cool to room temperature. Garnish each artichoke with 3 shards of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Makes 4 servings.
Prep time: About 1 hour 15 minutes
Cook time: About 5 minutes
Contrary to popular belief, gnocchi are not that difficult to make. The main thing is to not overwork the dough, which will cause the gnocchi to become leaden and gummy. Gnocchi are so soft and delicious that you can simply toss them with a simple tomato sauce, or with melted butter and minced herbs.
3 large Russet potatoes (about 2 1⁄2 pounds total)
1 to 2 cups flour (you may not need it all), plus more for dusting your work surface, divided
2 large egg yolks, beaten
1⁄2 teaspoon fine sea salt
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg, optional
Remove the potatoes from the oven, use tongs to transfer them to the cutting board, and use the knife to make slashes lengthwise across the potatoes. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, press on the ends of the potatoes with your hands to force out the steam. (In order to make less gummy gnocchi, the potatoes need to be as dry as possible.)
While the potatoes are still quite warm, scoop out the potato flesh and rice them in a ricer or transfer to a bowl and mash with a potato masher. Measure out 3 (loosely packed) cups.
Lightly flour a work surface and transfer the 3 cups of potato to the surface. Add 1⁄2 cup flour, gently knead and form into a mound. Make a well in the center and add about 3⁄4 of the egg to the well. Use a fork to work the egg into the mixture. When almost incorporated (the mixture will begin crumbling), sprinkle another 1⁄4 cup flour over the mixture and work it in with the fork, then gently knead together. If the mixture seems too dry, add more of the yolk. Continue just until the mixture comes together in a slightly shiny and fragile dough —adding more flour and egg yolk, as necessary.
Lightly press the dough together into a ball and set it aside. Scrape any stuck-on dough from your work surface, then dust lightly with flour. Working on the freshly floured surface, fold and knead the dough just enough for it to hold together. If the dough is sticky, add a little more flour, but as little as possible; the less flour you add and the less you work the dough, the lighter and more tender the gnocchi will be.
Lightly flour a rimmed baking sheet. Cut the dough into four equal pieces. Working with 1 portion of dough, roll it into a long rope, about ½ inch in diameter. With the bench scraper, cut 1-inch pieces of dough from the rope and place on the floured sheet. These are your gnocchi. The gnocchi may be frozen on the baking sheet, then transferred to a freezer bag and frozen for as long as 1 month. There is no need to defrost the gnocchi before cooking them.
To cook gnocchi, bring a pot of salted water to a gentle boil over high heat. Add the gnocchi. They are done after they bob to the surface and then cook for 1 additional minute, for about 2 minutes total for fresh gnocchi, for 3 to 4 minutes for frozen. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the gnocchi either to mixing bowls to gently toss with other ingredients, to pans-full of sauce, or directly to serving dishes.
Makes a generous pound of gnocchi, enough to serve 4 to 6 people.
Mushroom Sauce for Gnocchi
Prep Time: About 20 minutes
Cook Time: About 40 minutes (including soaking)
This sauce, which my father used to make, pulls off a neat trick: There's no meat in it, but the texture of the cremini mushrooms and the intensity of the reconstituted dried porcini create a meatlike effect. The magic is in the porcini's soaking liquid, which is like liquid gold: I use it to intensify the sauce. You can use it for the same purpose in mushroom soups and risottos.
This sauce is also wonderful with broad pasta shapes, especially pappardelle.
Note: Mushrooms soak up liquid, so don't clean them in water. Simply take a slightly damp paper towel and gently wipe off any dirt or grit. Some people also use a mushroom brush, but I don't think they're necessary; in fact, I think they tend to break up mushrooms.
2 cups homemade Chicken Stock, or low-sodium chicken broth
1 package (1 ounce) dried porcini mushrooms
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1⁄4 pounds cremini mushrooms, wiped clean, ends trimmed, and thinly sliced (see above)
Kosher salt, to taste
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1⁄2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1⁄4 cup dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc
1⁄3 cup coarsely chopped, flat-leaf parsley
2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon white-truffle oil
1⁄4 cup (about 1 ounce) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for garnish
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Heat the chicken stock in a small pot set over high heat. Put the dried porcini mushrooms in a small, heatproof bowl and pour the stock over them. Let the mushrooms soak for at least 20 minutes to hydrate, then use a slotted spoon to transfer to a cutting board. Coarsely chop the mushrooms, then set aside. Line a fine-mesh strainer with cheesecloth and strain the mushroom's soaking liquid through the cheesecloth into a cup and set aside. (If you don't have cheesecloth, a paper towel or coffee filter may be used.)
Heat a wide, deep, heavy saute pan large enough to hold the gnocchi and sauce over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and heat until it is shimmering, almost smoking. Add the cremini mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until the mushrooms release their juice, it comes to a boil, and nearly evaporates, for about 7 minutes. Stir in the porcini, garlic and red pepper and continue to cook until the mixture is nicely fragrant and almost dry, for 1 to 2 minutes.
Pour in the wine, bring it to a boil, and let it reduce, for about 1 minute. Pour in 1⁄2 cup of the mushroom-soaking liquid, bring it to a boil, and reduce until almost dry, for about 2 minutes.
Pour in another 1⁄2 cup of the liquid, and boil and reduce until almost dry, for about 1 more minute. Stir in the parsley. Taste and add salt, if desired.
Transfer the cooked gnocchi to the mushroom sauce, using a slotted spoon. Raise the heat to medium-high and add another 1⁄2 cup mushroom cooking liquid, stirring the gnocchi to coat it with the sauce. If the gnocchi looks as though it can absorb more stock, add a little more, but take care to not let it become too soft. Fold in the butter and truffle oil.
Spoon the gnocchi and sauce into 4 to 6 wide, shallow bowls or plates and garnish with grated cheese and season with pepper
Makes enough sauce for a pound of gnocchi.
Grandma Madeline's Sausage Lasagna
Prep Time: About 2 hours (includes sauce time; sauce can be made in advance)
Cook Time: About 1 hour 20 minutes (includes 20 minutes resting time)
My Grandma Madeline's lasagna showed off her impeccable cooking instincts: First of all, there was the combination of meats: Beef, pork and veal are the same combination that makes meatballs and meatloaf work because the beef provides flavor, the veal texture, and pork the essential fat that binds it together. To that, she added spicy Italian sausage, which was a stroke of genius, because the sausage fat transmits its spices and flavors throughout the lasagna. And then to provide a wonderful texture, she used a combination of crushed and pureed tomatoes. This is one of the best lasagnas you will have, and the best part is that it doesn't take any more work than making a more traditional recipe.
This recipe uses spicy sausage, but if it's too hot for you, you can use sweet sausage or a combination of the two.
For the sauce:
1⁄4 cup olive oil
1⁄2 pound ground (80-20) beef
1⁄2 pound ground pork
1⁄2 pound ground veal
1 pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1⁄2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 can (28 ounces) peeled whole tomatoes with their juices, crushed by hand
1 can (28 ounces) tomato puree
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the lasagna:
2 pounds fresh ricotta cheese
1⁄4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, including stems
2 tablespoons finely chopped basil leaves
1 1⁄2 cups (6 ounces) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided
1 1⁄2 pounds fresh whole mozzarella, grated on the large holes of a box grater (about 2 cups), divided
2 large eggs, beaten
1 pound fresh lasagna sheets, or dried lasagna noodles
Cold water, if necessary
To prepare the sauce: Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the oil and heat until it is shimmering, almost smoking. Add the beef, pork, veal and sausage, and cook until nicely browned, for 10 to 15 minutes, using a wooden spoon or fork to break up and blend the meats. Stir in the garlic and oregano, and cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant, for 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the meat is coated with the paste, for about 2 minutes. Pour in the tomatoes with their juices and the tomato puree, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened, for about 1 1⁄2 hours. Remove the sauce from the heat and let cool. The sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for as long as 2 days or frozen for as long as 1 month. Let the sauce come to room temperature before making the lasagna.
To prepare the lasagna: Put the ricotta, parsley, basil, 1 cup of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, 1 pound of the shredded mozzarella, and the eggs in a large bowl, season with salt and pepper, and blend well.
Cook the lasagna noodles, if necessary. (Fresh pasta and no-cook lasagna do not require any precooking. Dry, curly-edged lasagna noodles need only be par-cooked for 3 minutes in boiling, salted water.) Drain the noodles, rinse in cold water, and pat dry with paper towels.
Position a rack in the center of the oven. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Spread 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom of a 9-by-13-by-2-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Line the bottom of the dish with overlapping noodles. Spread 1⁄3 of the cheese mixture over the noodles, sprinkle with a little Parmigiano-Reggiano and shredded mozzarella, then top with 1 1⁄2 cups of the sauce and another layer of noodles. Repeat this layering sequence twice, finishing with a layer of pasta and 1 1⁄2 cups of sauce. (There may be some sauce left over; save it for another use.)
Put the remaining 1⁄2 cup of mozzarella and 1⁄2 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano in a small bowl, stir together, and scatter evenly over the lasagna.
Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil, and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the top is golden and crisp around the edges and the filling is bubbling, for about another 20 minutes. Remove the lasagna from the oven and let rest for 20 minutes before slicing and serving.
Note: Put a rimmed cookie or baking sheet into the oven under the lasagna pan to catch any spills and boil over.
Makes 10-12 servings.
Prep Time: About 20 minutes, not including resting overnight
Cook Time: About 30 minutes
In this Sicilian dish, named for the pizza maker, the peppers and spices get along with the meat like a match made in heaven and make a big impact. As an added bonus, the different colored peppers look festive. While you can make this dish with other cuts, such as a New York strip, to me it needs to be made with a nice, fatty rib eye and served medium rare.
4 boneless rib-eye steaks, about 12 ounces each, ideally 1½ inch thick
Kosher salt, to taste
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1⁄4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 pound cremini mushrooms, wiped clean with a damp cloth, trimmed and sliced thickly
1 medium-size red onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 large sweet red bell pepper, seeds and stems removed, cut into 1⁄2-inch-thick slices
1 large sweet yellow bell pepper, seeds and stems removed, cut into 1⁄2-inch-thick slices
1⁄2 cup dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc
1 can (28 ounces) whole plum tomatoes with their juices, crushed by hand
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped, fresh oregano leaves
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
The night before you plan to cook, season the steaks with salt, rub with about a third of the garlic, and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Put in a baking dish, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. Let the meat come to room temperature before proceeding.
Heat a wide, deep sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoons of the oil and heat it until it is shimmering, almost smoking. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the mushrooms are nicely seared and begin to give up their juices, for about 3 minutes. Add the onions, red and yellow peppers and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the peppers are lightly caramelized, for 4 to 5 minutes.
Lower the heat and stir in another third of the garlic. Continue cooking and stirring until the peppers are tender, for 4 to 5 more minutes.
Pour in the white wine, turn the heat to high, and bring the wine to a boil. Boil and reduce the wine until it's syrupy, for 1 to 2 minutes. Pour in the tomatoes and their juices and cook, stirring, until the sauce reduces and is thick and flavorful, for about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the remaining third of garlic, the oregano, and the parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the sauce and keep warm.
Heat a wide, deep, heavy sauté pan over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and the butter. When the butter melts and foams, add the steaks without crowding and cook until browned on one side, for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the steaks over, brown on the other side, and continue cooking until cooked to desired doneness, for 3 to 4 more minutes for medium rare, for 5 to 6 minutes for medium, and for 7 to 8 minutes for well done.
To serve, put one steak on each of 4 plates and smother with sauce, making sure you get a good mix of vegetables in each serving.
Makes 4 servings.