On Your Table: Mushrooms star in TV Chef Nick Stellino’s kitchen

By Cathy Branciaroli, Food Correspondent, The Times

Mushrooms and arugula join together in this easy side dish for a marriage of flavors (photo courtesy Nick Stellino)

“Food is a celebration of life and there’s joy to be found in the kitchen,” according to Emmy-nominated PBS cooking show chef Nick Stellino.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with him about Italian cooking, his passion for teaching his viewers and about his favorite dishes among those to be seen on his new Create TV show, Storyteller in the Kitchen.  Stellino has been cooking on PBS for 25 years and views his mission as inspiring viewers to have the conviction that “I can do this!”.

In new episodes of Storyteller in the Kitchen airing now on Create TV, the How-To PBS channel, Stellino prepares meals in his own kitchen in a relaxed style.  His passion for teaching viewers is evident as he explains the why behind each step in preparing that segment’s dishes.  He even reveals his own mistakes in the kitchen as a way of helping viewers learn.  In a segment about breakfast foods, he speaks about trying to cook pancakes in olive oil – a big no-no.  “In Sicily we didn’t do breakfast in the American style.  Who knew? But explaining about that helps everybody understand.”

The dishes we talked about include Mushrooms with Arugula and a Reverse-Seared Steak.  Stellino is enthusiastic about mushrooms, saying that each has a distinctive flavor it its own.  Even button mushrooms can be a canvas for absorbing flavors of other ingredients and so can stand out, he says.  He feels strongly about using the freshest ingredients, declaring that the best Italian food is prepared with fresh ingredients so they all shine and show off their true flavors.  “Each ingredient should have a voice.  Think about how each contributes to the picture you want to create”, he advises.

For instance, the recipe for the Mushrooms with Arugula dish calls for beech mushrooms which are small slender mushrooms that grow in a bundle.  They are not easily available in this area so Stellino suggests cremini mushrooms instead as a good choice to add flavor.  In this marriage of ingredients, the arugula is wilted in at the end.  It yields a strength to the dish he says, commenting that arugula is not a yielding green.

The reverse-seared New York steak with Port Wine Sauce is first baked in a very low oven then sautéed quickly in a skillet to finish.  The combination of cooking methods yields a very tender piece of meat.  And who can resist a Port Wine sauce?

His words of encouragement?  “Our dinner table is our last tribal meeting ground where we come together as a family. The food we cook is an everlasting soundtrack to the memories we create at that table. Don’t waste those memories on take out food. Make an effort, at least once a week learn how to cook, even if it is a simple plate of pasta. Your children will remember that forever… I know I still do!”

Mushrooms with Arugula
Recipe courtesy of Nick Stellino
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lb beech mushrooms kept whole or cremini mushrooms cut into quarters or stemmed shiitake mushrooms cut into thin slices
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tbs chopped chives
1/2 tsp of Nick’s Magic rub (made by combining 1 tbs light brown sugar and 1 tbs each of salt, pepper, paprika and onion powder)
1/2 tsp chopped garlic
4 oz baby arugula
1/2 tbs softened butter

Pour the olive oil in a nonstick skillet and cook over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes until it starts to sizzle.  Add the mushrooms and flavor with salt and pepper. Stir well and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the chives and stir well before cooking for 1 minute.  After adding the garlic and Nick’s magic rub, cook for 1 minute, stirring well.

Add the arugula and reduce heat to medium. Stir well while cooking for 2 minutes.

Turn off heat and add the butter. Stir until completely melted. Serve this side dish with grilled fish, chicken, or your favorite steak.

Cooking steaks in a low temperature oven before pan sautéing yields a very tender piece of meat (photo courtesy Nick Stellino)

Reverse-Seared Steak with Port Wine Sauce
Recipe Courtesy of Nick Stellino
4 New York steaks, 12 -16 ounces each
2 tbs extra light olive oil
1 tbs of Nick’s Magic Rub (made by combining 1 tbs light brown sugar and 1 tbs each of salt, pepper, paprika and onion powder)
1-1/2 tbs extra light olive oil
2 tbs softened butter
1 recipe Port Wine Sauce
1 recipe Mushrooms with Arugula

Preheat oven to 195 degrees.

Brush both sides of the steaks with olive oil and coat with Nick’s magic rub. Place in the preheated oven for 45 minutes.  Remove the steaks from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes.

Add the olive oil to a nonstick skillet and cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes to bring to a sizzle. Add the steaks and reduce heat to medium. Cook for 4-5 minutes per side.

While turning, add the butter to the pan. As it melts, use a tablespoon to pour the oil and butter mixture over the steaks. After cooking, remove the steaks from the pan and let rest for 4-5 minutes.

Port Wine Sauce
Recipe Courtesy of Nick Stellino
3 tbs olive oil
1/4 cup each chopped onion, carrots, celery and bacon
1/2 tsp dark brown sugar
1 tbs tomato paste
1 tbs fresh thyme, loosely packed or 1 tsp dry thyme
2 cups port wine
1 cup beef stock
1/2 cup tomato sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

Pour the olive oil in a saucepan and place over a medium heat. Add the chopped onion, carrots, celery, and chopped bacon. Stir well and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Add the brown sugar, stir well, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and chopped thyme. Stir well and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the port wine, beef stock, and tomato sauce. Increase heat to medium-high to bring to a boil. Then simmer for 40-45 minutes. Strain the sauce over a bowl with a fine strainer. Use a degreasing cup to remove the grease from the sauce.

Pour the strained and degreased sauce into a sauce pan and reduce by 1/2 over medium heat.  Salt and pepper to taste and the sauce is ready to be serve.

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