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A Chef's Motto: Simplicity

Susan Spungen, founding food editor and editorial director for food at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia for 12 years, is the Chef on a Shoestring this weekend on The Saturday Early Show. She's putting together a three-course meal for $40 or less.

In her cookbook, "Recipes," she presents her own easy ideas for cooking simple food.

"Recipes" is organized by technique, explaining why sautéing is great for two or four but, hen feeding a crowd, braising is the better choice.

"Prepare" focuses on the basics, from making vinaigrette to roasting garlic and peppers. "Chop" includes not just salads, but gazpacho and a Provençal sandwich that requires knife skills. "Sauté" explains how to pan-sear fish and make a layered omelet.

"Grill" shows proper techniques for cooking scallops, asparagus, and steak over an open fire. "Roast" offers the perfect roast chicken and a roasted squash salad. "Bake" features a variety of pizzas as well as mushrooms baked in parchment paper. "Simmer and Braise" coaxes the most flavors from soups and lamb shanks. Finally, there's "Indulge," a selection of desserts from simple brownies and peach melba to a fruit crisp and a rich chocolate cake.

Here is Susan Spungen's menu for Chef on a Shoestring:

Apple And Fennel Salad
Rigatoni With Squash And Caramelized Onions
Baked Pears With Red Wine

RECIPES:

Fennel and Apple Salad
(Serves 4)

Ingredients
2 medium fennel bulbs (about 1 pound trimmed)
1 small crisp red apple
4 celery stalks
Juice of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Method

  1. Trim the fennel so that a few inches of the stalk remain to use as a handle when slicing. Set aside fronds, if any. Quarter the apple, then cut out the core and set aside.
  2. Slice the fennel very thin on a mandoline into a large bowl. Slice the celery on an angle on the mandoline, and then the apple, both into the bowl. Pinch off several fennel fronds and add to the bowl.
  3. Squeeze the lemon over the salad. Add the oil, then salt and pepper to taste, and toss well. Divide the salad into 4 equal servings and place on plates, stacked high. Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of the cheese over each salad. Garnish with additional fennel fronds and serve immediately.
Rigatoni With Squash And Caramelized Onions
(Serves 4 to 5)

Ingredients
Kosher salt
1 pound small rigatoni
1 large butternut squash (about 2 pounds total)
To save some prep time, buy the peeled and cubed butternut squash from the supermarket produce section.
2 1/4-inch-thick slices pancetta (about 2 ounces total), cubed
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 large onion, cut in half lengthwise and thickly sliced
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 teaspoons rosemary leaves, finely chopped
3/4 cup Golden Chicken Stock or vegetable stock
3/4 cup heavy cream
About 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 pound Italian fontina, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and the pasta to the water. Cook the pasta according to package directions, stirring occasionally, until just short of al dente; the pasta should still be white at the center when cut in half. (It will continue to cook in the oven.) Drain and rinse the pasta; set aside.
  2. While the water is coming to a boil, cut the squash in half crosswise, separating the neck from the ball. Peel and seed both halves of the squash. Cut into 3/4-inch chunks and set aside. Cook the pancetta in a 12-inch sauté pan (preferably non-stick) over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until crisp and brown, about 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate, and set aside.
  3. Leaving 2 tablespoons of fat in the pan, add the garlic and sauté until golden brown, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add the butter and onions and cook until golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, season with salt and pepper. Add 1/4 cup water, cover, and cook for 5 more minutes. Remove the onions from the pan to a large bowl and set aside.
  4. Add the oil, squash, half of the chopped rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to the sauté pan and cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until tender when pierced with a paring knife, about 10 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer and cook over medium heat. Cook until the squash has absorbed most of the liquid and is quite tender, 8 to 10 minutes, and the liquid that remains in the pan has thickened. If the squash is not tender add some additional water and continue to simmer until tender. Add the cream and bring to boil. Boil for 1 minute; remove from heat.
  5. Transfer the squash to a large bowl and cool slightly, stirring occasionally. Add the pasta, half of the onions, the pancetta, 1/2 cup of the Parmigiano, the fontina, and the remainder of the rosemary. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir gently to combine thoroughly. Transfer to a 4-quart baking dish and spread the remaining onions over the top. If baking right away, proceed to step 6. Otherwise, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to bake. The pasta can be made to this point up to one day in advance.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle the remaining Parmigiano over the top and transfer to the oven. Bake for about 45 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the sauce is bubbling. Serve immediately.
Roasted Pears With Red Wine
(Serves 4)

Ingredients
4 Bosc, Bartlett, or Anjou pears, stems intact
Pears that are just beginning to ripen are perfect for this recipe. When shopping for them, test their ripeness by applying a little pressure right next to the stem. If it gives a little, they are perfect. If it doesn't give at all, they will be too hard.
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup currants
About 3 teaspoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups dry red wine, preferably a good Italian Chianti
1 bay leaf
2 or 3 cinnamon sticks
Finely ground black pepper
Ricotta (OPTIONAL)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Trim the bottoms of the pears slightly so that they will stand upright and peel the top halves with a paring knife or vegetable peeler. Core the pears from the bottom using a melon baller. Stuff the bottoms with the raisins and currants. (You won't need all of them.)
  2. Arrange the pears in a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Rub the top of each pear with 1/2 teaspoon of butter. Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the pears. Pour the wine into the pan. Add the bay leaf, cinnamon sticks, a large pinch of pepper, and the remaining raisins and currants and place in the oven.
  3. Roast 30 minutes to 1 hour, basting every 10 to 15 minutes, until tender when pierced with the tip of a paring knife. The liquid will become quite syrupy. If the pears are tender before the syrup has reduced, carefully transfer the pears to a large plate and reduce the liquid in a saucepan over medium heat until it thickens. Once thick, return the pears and syrup to the baking pan. As they cool, continue to baste the pears frequently for 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the pears to a platter and pour the syrup and raisins over them. Serve warm with the ricotta in a bowl on the side.

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