Ex-Steeler Russell, Bigelow Grille chef lead 'Taste of the NFL'
By Candy Williams
Published: Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
One thing is certain about former Steelers linebacker Andy Russell and chef Anthony Zallo, who'll be in New Orleans this weekend for the Super Bowl festivities: They got game.
Specifically, it's Rabbit Sausage With Heirloom Apples and Crispy Spaetzle. Zallo will be preparing plenty of it, enough to feed the nearly 2,000 people expected to attend this year's “Taste of the NFL” event Saturday at the New Orleans Convention Center.
The duo is teaming for the sixth consecutive year to represent the Pittsburgh Steelers at the charity event known as The Party With a Purpose. Held the night before the Super Bowl, the party's goal is to raise money for food pantries throughout the United States, including the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
For an entry fee of $600, participants can stroll through 32 food stations – one representing each NFL team – meeting and taking photos with players and coaches and sampling the chefs' featured dishes and wine pairings.
Zallo, of Bethel Park, is confident his menu choice will be well received. At the Bigelow Grille, Downtown, where he is executive chef, a version of the rabbit sausage recipe is on the menu and is a favorite among his clientele.
“Surprisingly, any time we do any game meat in the restaurant, it's popular with our dinner guests,” he says.
He prepared 344 pounds of the homemade sausage in 4-foot to 5-foot-long links to take on the 16-hour road trip to Louisiana, along with 40 pounds of apples, 3 gallons of homemade apple butter for garnish and 7 pounds of spaetzle.
“Friday is our ‘Taste of the NFL' chefs and players meeting. It's a big night for us,” Zallo says.
Saturday, he plans to arrive at the convention center early to prepare his food well in advance of the event that opens at 5 p.m. for VIPs and 6 p.m. for the public.
“From 6 to 10 p.m., it's nonstop. It gets pretty intense,” Zallo says. His dish will be paired with a New Zealand wine — a 2011 Whitehaven Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
While the chefs show off their culinary skills, their NFL teammates will compete to earn the highest bid for their team's autographed football helmet in the annual helmet auction. The Steelers helmet, signed by fellow Steelers alums Jack Ham and Jack Lambert, has been the winner of the contest for three straight years.
Russell says his winning strategy – which raised $12,000 last year – involves having a friend start the bidding high. He adds his own incentives, which include club seats to a Steelers game and dinner at the Bigelow Grille.
“Other teams are starting to get smarter,” Russell says. “Last year, a San Francisco 49er who's a current player added a week on an island to his team's signed helmet. We still beat them. Steelers have the greatest fans, the best there is. It's truly a global nation.”
Steelers fans who won't be in New Orleans for the Super Bowl can support the team with a donation through the NFL's Kick Hunger Challenge, he says. Details are at www.tasteofthenfl.com.
Candy Williams is a contributing writer to Trib Total Media.
1 1⁄2 pounds pork shoulder
1 rabbit, about 21⁄2 pounds cleaned weight
1⁄4 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1⁄4 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground garlic
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 24 millimeter length of hog casing
Cut the pork into cubes. Add the pork to the rabbit meat and grind fine; after grinding, add the seasonings and mix thoroughly. Cook a small piece and taste for salt, adding more if needed.
Fill into the casing making sure to fill evenly.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup milk, plus more if needed
1 teaspoon salt, plus more for the spaetzle wanter and to taste
4 tablespoons of butter
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Beat the eggs and set aside. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, milk and salt and mix well, add the eggs and continue to mix until the dough is smooth. If needed, you can add more milk. The consistency should be like a very thick pancake batter and not too runny. Let the dough rest for 1 hour.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and, using a spaetzle maker or potato ricer, pour the dough a little at a time (in batches) through the holes and into the water. The spaetzle will cook quickly and are done after about 5-6 minutes, or when they float to the top of the water. As you remove them from the water, dip them in cool water to keep them from sticking.
Brown the butter in a pan and saute the spaetzle until the edges are crispy and a nice golden brown color. Finish with the parsley and salt and pepper to taste.
Roasted Heirloom Apples
6 heirloom apples (sweet or tart)
3 tablespoons of butter
1⁄4 teaspoon chopped sage
1 teaspoon apple-cider vinegar
1⁄4 cup apple cider
Wash and core the apples, then cut into 4 wedges. Heat a heavy saute pan and add the butter and apples. Roast on high heat for about 4 minutes. Add the chopped sage, cider vinegar and apple cider, and cook for an additional 3 minutes.
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