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Pittsburgh chef Anthony Zallo, former Steelers linebacker Andy Russell will compete in 'Taste of the NFL'

| Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
Former Steeler Andy Russell and chef Anthony Zalloat the 2015 Taste of the NFL
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Former Steeler Andy Russell and chef Anthony Zalloat the 2015 Taste of the NFL

The football game between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers isn't the only heated competition taking place this weekend in San Francisco.

Chefs from each of the 32 NFL cities will be firing up their grills and ovens on Super Bowl eve, Feb. 6, alongside a current or alumni NFL player to compete in the 25th annual “Taste of the NFL — Party With a Purpose” fundraiser, one of many pregame festivities.

Their goal — besides earning bragging rights until next year — is to help make a major contribution to local food banks across the country, including Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

Guests pay $700 for general admission, which includes samplings at food and wine stations, a silent auction, entertainment and the opportunity to meet and mingle with NFL players. New this year is a VIP Experience ticket for $10,000 for a 10-person table, which includes champagne, 90-minute early entry to the party and a chance to bid on an exclusive 25th-anniversary auction item.

Representing the Pittsburgh Steelers at this year's event at the Cow Palace arena in Daly City, seven miles from San Francisco, will be Anthony Zallo, executive chef of Bigelow Grille at the Pittsburgh DoubleTree Hotel, Downtown, and former Steelers linebacker Andy Russell. The two have been participants at the “Taste of the NFL” for the past eight years.

Chef Zallo will serve his recipe for Braised Short Ribs With Smoked Gouda and Winter Root Vegetable Pierogies, with a Don Miguel Gascon Malbec wine pairing. He has become accustomed to preparing his signature dishes in makeshift cooking facilities at the event, depending on each city's venue.

“Generally, they are small, barebones mock kitchens, with 50-plus cooks and chefs trying to feed a few thousand people. We all have a bunch of fun trying to figure it out,” Zallo says.

For the past several years, the chef has driven to Super Bowl cities, transporting his ingredients and supplies to assemble his dish. This week, though, he arranged to ship 1,500 pierogies and some 35 pounds of beef packed in dry ice and booked a Feb. 4 flight to San Francisco.

“Last year, I drove to Phoenix, and it wouldn't have been that much further,” he says, “but I decided to fly. All I'm taking on the plane is my clothes.”

He says he chose his dish in an effort to hold true to the competition theme, “which is a tailgate party with football food that represents your city.” Pierogies and short ribs were an easy choice for the Pittsburgh chef, who will prepare all 1,500 portions for guests.

“We're a meat-and-potatoes town, no matter how you look at it, no matter how many fancy restaurants we have. We know what we like to eat,” he says. He'll also provide a vegetarian option.

Russell will be competing against other players to earn the highest bid for their team's autographed football helmet. He says the Steelers have won the competition the past five years, thanks in part to a generous pre-bid he receives from a friend.

He encourages Steelers fans who aren't attending the Super Bowl to support the team and the city by donating to the Kick Hunger Challenge on the Taste of the NFL website.

“Even a $10 donation means 50 meals for local families,” Russell says. “We have too many people in Pittsburgh who are homeless and foodless.”

Karen Bullock, events and drives coordinator for Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, says the Kick Hunger Challenge and support from the community go a long way in helping to fight hunger in Western Pennsylvania.

“In 2015, we received over $15,000 from the Kick Hunger Challenge, which can provide over 75,000 meals to the people we serve,” she says.

Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

Braised Short Ribs With Smoked Gouda

Chef Anthony Zallo shared his “Taste of the NFL” recipe for Braised Short Ribs With Smoked Gouda and Winter Root Vegetable Pierogies.

For the short ribs:

14 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1 tablespoon paprika

1 tablespoon curry powder (preferably Madras)

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon dry mustard

4 to 4  14 pounds beef short ribs, cut into 4-inch pieces

4 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), chopped (2 cups)

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 medium carrots, chopped (2 cups)

3 ribs celery, chopped (1 ½ cups)

2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California

14 cup chopped garlic (5 to 6 large cloves)

1  34 cups beef broth

2 bottles stout (12 ounces each) such as Mackeson or Guinness

2 (cans (15 ounces each) diced tomatoes

For the dough:

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading

1 cup water

1 large egg

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon salt

For the root vegetable filling:

1  12 cups root vegetables (parsnip, celeriac, turnip, rutabaga, carrot, potato)

Water

6 ounces smoked gouda, shredded

14 teaspoon salt, plus more for cooking water

14 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

18 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the onions:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 or 2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced

To prepare the short ribs: Put an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Stir together the brown sugar, paprika, curry powder, cumin, pepper, salt and mustard in a small bowl until combined. Pat the ribs dry and arrange them in 1 layer in a shallow baking pan, then generously coat all sides of the ribs with the spice mixture. Marinate, uncovered and chilled, for 1 hour. Wash the leeks in a bowl of cold water, frequently agitating the water, then lift them out and drain, using a colander.

Heat the oil in a pot over high heat until hot but not smoking, and quickly brown the ribs on all 3 meaty sides (but not the bone side), without crowding, in batches if necessary, for about 1 minute per side. Transfer the meat to a large plate, then add the leeks, carrots, celery and bay leaves to the pot. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, for about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Add the broth, beer, and tomatoes with their juice; then add the ribs with any juices and remaining spices accumulated on the plate and bring the liquid to a boil, uncovered. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven, then braise until the meat is very tender, for 2 to 2½ hours. Skim off excess fat from the surface of the sauce. Discard the bay leaves.

While ribs are cooking, prepare the dough: Put the flour in a large shallow bowl and make a well in the center. Put the water, egg, oil, and salt in the well and carefully beat together, using a fork, without incorporating the flour. Continue stirring with a wooden spoon, gradually incorporating the flour, until a soft dough forms. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead, dusting with flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking, until it's smooth and elastic, for about 8 minutes. The dough will be very soft. Invert a bowl over the dough and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

To prepare the filling: Peel the vegetables and cut into 1-inch pieces. Cook the vegetables in a large saucepan of boiling, salted water until tender, for about 8 minutes. Drain, then transfer the vegetables to a bowl along with the cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg, and mash with a potato masher or a handheld electric mixer at low speed until smooth.

When the mashed vegetables are cool enough to handle, spoon out a rounded teaspoon and lightly roll into a ball between your palms. Transfer the ball to a plate and keep covered with plastic wrap while making 47 more balls in same manner. There will be a little filling left over.

To form the pierogies: Halve the dough, and keep half under the inverted bowl. Roll out the other half on a lightly floured surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin, into a 15-inch round that is 18-inch thick. Do not over-flour the surface or the dough will slide rather than stretch. Cut out 24 rounds using lightly floured cutter.

Holding 1 round in your palm, put 1 vegetable ball in the center of the round and close your hand to fold the round in half, enclosing the filling. Pinch the edges together to seal completely. If the edges don't adhere, brush them lightly with water, then seal; do not leave any gaps or the pierogie might open during cooking. Transfer each pierogie to a lightly floured kitchen towel (not terry cloth) and cover with another towel. Form more pierogies in the same manner.

To prepare the onions: In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, stirring occasionally, until they turn a golden color, for 15 to 20 minutes. Keep warm.

Bring a 6- to 8-quart pot of salted water to a boil. Add half the pierogies, stirring once or twice to keep them from sticking together, and cook for 5 minutes from time the pierogies float to the surface. Using a slotted spoon, transfer them to the onion topping and toss gently to coat. Cook the remaining pierogies in same manner, then transferring them to the onions.

Serve with braised short ribs.

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