Steelers alum Andy Russell is well-known for his charitable efforts, which include a foundation that was established in 1999 to fund health care and human services. His annual golf tournament, the Andy Russell Celebrity Classic, alone has raised more than $6 million over the past 40 years for such programs as Children’s Hospital Free Care Fund and Hillman Cancer Center.
This time of year, the problem of childhood hunger is especially dear to his heart with a cause he’s championed since 1997: Taste of the NFL, the annual food-and-wine event for football fans on the eve of Super Bowl.
TNFL’s “Party With a Purpose” pairs chefs and players from the 32 NFL cities with great food and fine wine to raise money for hunger-related charities, including the Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. The event will be held on Feb. 6 at the legendary Cow Palace, an indoor venue just outside of San Francisco.
It’s a pricey affair (tickets are $700, or $1,000 for a VIP table for 10), but attendees’ generosity goes a long way toward filling hungry bellies across the nation. Proceeds from the event benefit food banks in each of the 32 NFL cities and Canton, Ohio, home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Since its inception in 1992, the event has raised more than $22 million.
Fans who aren’t lucky enough to have tickets to the Super Bowl also can donate to the cause through TNFL’s online “Kick Hunger Challenge” in which all the dollars raised go to each team’s hometown food bank partner.
Hunger is a growing concern. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the number of Americans who lack consistent access to adequate food has rocketed to 48 million, and this includes 17 million children. These are the highest levels since the USDA began tracking food insecurity nearly 15 years ago.
Locally, every dollar raised through TNFL provides five meals to needy families, says Pittsburgh food bank CEO Lisa Scales. That’s 100,000 meals, “which goes a long way to ensuring that families in our area have nutritious meals to eat.” To date, the event has raised more than $140,000 for the food bank, which serves 120,000 each month. This year’s goal is $20,000.
Mr. Russell, who was part of the linebacking corps of the famed “Steel Curtain” defense during the 1970s, has been the face of the Pittsburgh Steelers at TNFL since 1996. For the eighth consecutive year, he’ll be paired with Downtown’s Bigelow Grille chef Anthony Zallo, who this year will celebrate Pittsburgh’s culinary roots with homemade pierogies.
The chance to hobnob with a popular Hall of Famer while sampling gourmet Western Pennsylvania eats always guarantees long lines at the Pittsburgh booth, says Mr. Russell. But Mr. Zallo, he adds, who has to drive cross-country with his menu ingredients and then cook it on-site for party-goers, actually does all the work.
“I just sign autographs and talk to fans,” Mr. Russell says.
He got the job by happenstance. When the event started in 1992, the Steelers were represented by Ray Mansfield, with whom Mr. Russell was drafted in 1963, and traveled, hiked and canoed around the world with after their retirement in 1976. In 1996, Mr. Mansfield died while hiking in the Grand Canyon, and because they were such good friends, organizers asked him to take over. “And I have been there ever since.”
If you cannot make it to San Francisco, you still have a chance to meet and break bread with Mr. Russell. As part of its annual online auction benefiting the Kick Hunger Challenge, the food bank will auction off a private wine dinner for two couples with the Pro Famer and his wife, Cindy, at their Pittsburgh home. A few other ex-Steelers will be there, too. (To bid, go to pittsburghfoodbank.org/kickhunger.) Other auction items include two tickets to a Steelers game with an overnight stay at the Double Tree, North Shore, a private tour of Heinz Field’s Grand Hall and autographed memorabilia.
The Steelers, Mr. Russell notes, aren’t just a nation — they’re a global nation, with fans all across the world. That so many fans help raise money to fight childhood hunger is proof that his hometown is incredibly special.
“I really do believe in this cause, and appreciate all the Steelers fans who do, too,” he says.
Gretchen McKay: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.
Smoked Gouda and Winter Root Vegetable Pierogies with Braised Short Rib Pierogies
Chef Anthony Zallo of Downtown’s Bigelow Grille will mark his eighth consecutive appearance at Taste of the NFL with the pierogi. This time he’ll pair the veggie-stuffed dumplings with braised short ribs.
For short ribs
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon paprika (not hot)
1 tablespoon curry powder (preferably Madras)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
4 to 4¼ 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 celery ribs, chopped (1½ cups)
2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California
1/4 cup chopped garlic (5 to 6 large cloves)
1¾ cups beef broth
2 (12-ounce) bottles stout such as Mackeson or Guinness
2 (15-ounce) cans 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 root vegetable filling
1½ cups root vegetables ( a mix of parsnip, celeriac, turnip. rutabaga, carrot, potato)
6 ounces shredded smoked gouda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 or 2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
Put oven rack in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Stir together brown sugar, paprika, curry powder, cumin, pepper, salt, and mustard in a small bowl until combined. Pat ribs dry and arrange in 1 layer in a shallow baking pan, then generously coat all sides of ribs with spice mixture. Marinate, uncovered and chilled, 1 hour. Wash leeks in a bowl of cold water, agitating water, then lift out leeks and drain in a colander.
Heat oil in pot over high heat until hot but not smoking and quickly brown ribs on all 3 meaty sides (but not bone side), without crowding, in batches if necessary, about 1 minute per side. Transfer meat to a large plate, then add leeks, carrots, celery and bay leaves to pot. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
Add broth, beer, and tomatoes with their juice; then add ribs with any juices and remaining spices accumulated on plate and bring liquid to a boil, uncovered. Cover pot and transfer to oven, then braise until meat it is very tender, 2 to 2½ hours. Skim off excess fat from surface of sauce. Discard bay leaves.
While ribs are cooking, make dough. Put flour in a large shallow bowl and make a well in center. Add water, egg, oil, and salt to well and carefully eat together with a fork without incorporating flour. Continue stirring with a wooden spoon, gradually incorporating flour, until a soft dough forms. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead, dusting with flour as needed to keep dough from sticking, until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes (dough will be very soft). Invert a bowl over dough and let stand at room temperature 1 hour.
For filling, peel vegetables and cut into 1-inch pieces. Cook vegetables in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until tender, about 8 minutes. Drain vegetables, then transfer to a bowl along with cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg, and mash with a potato masher or a handheld electric mixer at low speed until smooth.
When mashed potatoes are cool enough to handle, spoon out a rounded teaspoon and lightly roll into a ball between palms of your hands. Transfer 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 pierogies, halve dough and roll out 1 half (keep remaining half under inverted bowl), on lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 15-inch round (1/8-inch thick). Do not overflour surface or dough will slide instead of stretching. Cut out 24 rounds with lightly floured cutter. Holding 1 round in palm of your hand, put 1 potato ball in center of round and close your hand to fold round in half, enclosing filling. Pinch edges together to seal completely. If edges don't adhere, brush them lightly with water, then seal; do not leave any gaps or pierogi may open during cooking. Transfer pierogi to a lightly floured kitchen towel (not terry cloth) and cover with another towel. Form more pierogies in same manner.
Cook onions: In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, stirring occasionally, until they turn a golden color, about 15 to 20 minutes. Keep warm.
Bring a 6-to 8-quart pot of salted water to a boil. Add half of pierogies, stirring once or twice to keep them from sticking together, and cook 5 minutes from time pierogies float to surface. Transfer as cooked with a slotted spoon to onion topping and toss gently to coat. Cook remaining pierogies in same manner, transferring to onions.
Serve with braised short ribs.
— Anthony Zallo, executive chef, Bigelow Grill