A couple of weeks ago I introduced you to Silvia Baldini, a local chef and caterer who would be appearing on last Tuesday’s April Fool’s Day episode of "Chopped," Fake Cake, Real Stakes, vying for the coveted Chopped title and $10,000. She had to convince hosts Marc Murphy, Maneet Chauhan, and Chris Santos that she had what it took. As always on this show, looks can be deceiving, and April Fool's proved to be no exception to this culinary trickery. Disguised as desserts, the competitors had figure out how to repurpose the foods served up to them.
And soon the 4 contestants were off ... starting with a 20-minute appetizer round and a mystery box that among several items contained Chicken Wings (really Rice Crispy like treats w/hot sauce in disguise), Italian Sausage, onion, and cauliflower (disguised as sheep!) From this clever culinary April Fool's hodgepodge Chef Silvia created a dish of sweet & sour noodles and caramel sausage using soy sauce, dashi and lemon. She made it through to the next round.
Next was the 30-minute entree round where the contestants were to use a Layer Cake that was really meatloaf, Spaghetti Squash, and Green Beans (fondant) in disguise, along with an Ice Cream Sundae that made a perfect cover up for mashed potatoes and gravy. From this trickery Chef Silvia made British meat pie with boiled squash using lemon rind, mint and beef broth. It was touch and go there for a brief moment as Chef Silvia completely forgot to salt her dish! Nevertheless the chefs loved her idea and Silvia successfully made it to the third and final round - The 30-minute dessert round where the foolishness continued!
Here the Grilled Cheese was really pound cake and frosting in camouflage. The Milk was buttermilk, the peas and carrots were candy and the Tomato Soup was a clever front for strawberry soup.
And suddenly the Salt Incident was just fleeting moment of the past. Marc Santos and Chris Murphy both proclaimed that her Canederli with Macerated Strawberry Soup was one of the best desserts that they had ever had in the Chopped kitchen. She was then proclaimed the winner of the $10,000, and the newest "Chopped" champion.
Canederli are bread dumplings, a regional specialty of northeast Italy where they are served as a first course or dessert. Considered part of 'cucina povera', they are made of simple and inexpensive ingredients including stale bread moistened with milk or cheese bound with eggs and a small amount of flour. This tasty treat exemplifies Chef Baldini’s signature “chic and simple comfort” cuisine, a style rooted in making beautiful food to share with loved ones.
The victory is extremely important to Chef Baldini who told me that she left behind a successful career in advertising to follow her dream of becoming a chef. She hopes this win this win is the first of many small steps for women in food industry. “I have to admit, it feels great to win against three much younger, accomplished, hipster chefs!” And maybe, hopefully, she can make another dream come true one day and she'll find herself on the set of Top Chef!
Chef Silvia Baldini plans to use her $10,000 in winnings to create an educational food program that will teach people how to cook and share food based on her philosophy that food is more enjoyable "when we are well-versed in its origins, culinary history, and traditions."
A few fun facts that Silvia shared with me:
- She had to meet the other 3 chefs at a secret location in Manhattan.
- She out of the Chopped Kitchen after midnight.
- Canederli is her favorite dessert and she was so happy to be able to make them on National TV.
- Contestants have less than 5 minutes to look at the pantry and inspect the extra ingredients.
- She has enough salt at home to last me for a decade!
BALSAMIC STRAWBERRY SOUP AND SWEET CANEDERLI
For The Canederli:
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter
1 lb fresh ricotta, drained
2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup stale bread cut in small pieces
1 cup bread crumbs
For the Strawberry Soup
3 pints strawberries, hulled and quartered (about 6 cups)
½ cup sugar
4 tablespoons aged balsamic
For The Poaching Liquid
4 cups of water
1 lemon, juice and zest
1 stick cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon cloves
4 tablespoons sugar
1 small piece of cheese-cloth and string
½ teaspoon salt
For the Strawberry soup: gently mix the strawberry, sugar and balsamic vinegar in a bowl and set aside to macerate for at least ½ an hour.
For the dough: Put the ricotta into a large bowl, and stir to loosen it and break up lumps, then blend in the eggs, the vanilla and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Sprinkle the flour on top, and fold it in gently, add the stale bread. The dough will be stiff and somewhat sticky. Put in the refrigerator for at least half an hour. When cold, shape the dough in small balls with wet hands, or a spoon. Keep on a lined tray in the fridge until ready to cook. Toast the breadcrumbs in a pan with the butter, add cinnamon and sugar.
Prepare the poaching liquid by boiling the water with the lemon juice, the zest, the sugar, and the salt. Tie all the remaining ingredients in the cloth and place in the poaching liquid. Simmer.
When ready to cook, gently place the Canederli in the poaching liquid and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes. Roll in the toasted breadcrumbs. Serve on the strawberry soup.