He's just as likely to be wearing chef's whites as black and gold during the NFL season. But Bethel Park native Anthony Zallo is as huge a Steelers fan as the next guy -- and more than happy to prove it.
Executive chef at Downtown's Bigelow Grille for the last three-and-a-half years, Chef Zallo once again will be cooking for 3,000 of his closest friends, as Pittsburgh's representative at the Taste of the NFL charity event Saturday.
Billed as "The Party with a Purpose," the annual dinner on the eve of the Super Bowl -- No. 20 this year and held at the Fort Worth Convention Center -- pairs chefs from each of the 32 NFL cities and fine food and wine. And we're talking a dedicated bunch: Fans pay anywhere from $500 to $6,000 for a table to attend the star-studded event, which this year will include a performance by country star Martina McBride and a chance to rub shoulders -- and pose for pictures -- with past players such as Steelers great Andy Russell. (This year's event is sold out, but buy tickets for next year at tasteofthenfl.com/tickets.)
Chefs are chosen based on reviews, originality and the quality of their menus. Last year, Chef Zallo -- making his third appearance at the event -- wowed the crowd with perhaps the quintessential Pittsburgh dish: pierogies. He'll work his magic with potatoes again this Saturday, only this time he'll switch from an Eastern European frame of mind to Italian, with gnocchi served in mushroom-gorgonzola sauce.
Gnocchi isn't particularly difficult to make, but it does take some practice to create the pillowy dumplings. At Bigelow Grille, it's Chef Zallo's mother, Claudia, who was born in Ausonia in southern Lazio, about an hour north of Naples, who makes the dough and then rolls it by hand into slender logs that are cut into bite-sized morsels.
Steelers fans, says Chef Zallo, are passionate. "Last year we had people from other countries who wanted their Terrible Towels," he says.
Since 1992, Taste of the NFL has raised more than $8 million, purchasing nearly 72 million pounds of food for hunger-related charities. That includes $43,000 in the last five years alone for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
Super Bowl snacks can be notoriously . . . gassy. The recipes in "The Fart Without Fear Cookbook" (Publishing Works, 2011, $16.95) aim to eliminate badness without sacrificing flavor. This cake-like brownie, from the book's "Super Bowl Touchdown Tooters" menu, is a sweet example.
- 1/2 pound butter, softened
- 5 melted Bakers chocolate squares (1 ounce each)
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 5 medium eggs, beaten
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease 2 small pans or 1 large pan with a little butter.
Put chocolate in your microwave oven to melt it. In a bowl, mix the remaining butter and sugar by hand. Add, one at a time, eggs, vanilla, flour, salt and nuts (if using), then mix. Next, mix in the melted chocolate. Pour the mixture into the pan(s) and bake for 25 minutes.
When ready, cut into squares, serve and eat.
Makes 10 to 12 brownies.
-- "The Fart Without Fear Cookbook" by Wayne Chen & Gary Goss (Publishing Works, Jan. 2011, $16.95)
GNOCCHI WITH WILD MUSHROOMS, GORGONZOLA AND TOASTED WALNUTS
This is one of Chef Anthony Zallo most popular recipes at the Bigelow Grille, so it was an easy decision to make it for this year's "Taste of the NFL" party in on the eve of the Super Bowl, as the representative of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
To avoid making gnocchi that tastes like leaden lumps, be sure to use russet (baking) potatoes, and cook them with their skins on so they don't soak up excess water. The dough should be soft and not sticky.
- 3 pounds russet potatoes
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 extra-large egg
- 1 pinch salt
Boil the whole potatoes until they are tender. While still warm, peel and pass through vegetable mill onto clean pasta board.
Set 6 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. While water is heating, make well in center of potatoes and sprinkle all over with flour, using all the flour.
Place egg and salt in center of well and using a fork, stir into flour and potatoes, just like making normal pasta. Once egg is mixed in, bring dough together, kneading gently until a ball is formed. Knead gently another 4 minutes until ball is dry to touch. Roll baseball-sized ball of dough into 3/4-inch diameter logs and cut logs into 1-inch long pieces. Use a gnocchi paddle or the tines of a fork to create ridges in the individual dumplings; flick pieces off fork onto a well-floured baking sheet.
Drop these pieces into boiling water in small batches (15 or so at a time) and cook just until they float (about 1 minute). Add to sauce and serve immediately, or place on an oiled baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap.
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced shallot
- 8 ounces assorted mushrooms, preferable wild, sliced
- 2 ounces white wine
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 8 ounces good gorgonzola
- 3 ounces toasted, chopped walnuts
- Salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter over low heat in a large pan. Saute garlic, shallots and mushrooms until tender. Add white wine; reduce for about 1 minute. Add cream; reduce for about 3 to 4 minutes while keeping the mixture warm. Stir in gorgonzola. Add cooked gnocchi, and toss well to coat. Top with toasted walnuts.
Serves 6 to 8.
-- Chef Anthony Zallo, Bigelow Grille
Gretchen McKay: email@example.com or 412-263-1419. First Published February 3, 2011 5:00 AM