SPOKANE, Wash. - Mifflin County native Paula Mannino, now of Spokane, Wash., was named the second runner up in a national cooking competition held this month in Beverly Hills.
She was one of three cooks selected from about 400 entrants in the second annual LG Electronics "Taste of Something Better" competition. The cook-off was judged by Food Network notables Sept. 5 at the "Taste of Beverly Hills" wine and food festival.
She submitted her original recipe for chicken cacciatore, and a required essay connecting the recipe to the theme of a "Taste of Something Better," in July and was notified a short time later that she was one of three finalists chosen to attend the event. The cook-off was filmed and will be broadcast on CNN in October.
Photo submitted by PAULA MANNINO
Mifflin County native Paula Mannino, now of Spokane, Wash., appears with Ted Allen, host of the Food Network’s ‘Chopped,’ and one of a panel of judges at the LG Electronics ‘Taste of Something Better’ competition Sept. 5 in Beverly Hills. Other judges were Tim Love, the season two winner of ‘Iron Chef America’; ‘Top Chef’ winner Michael Voltaggio; and ‘Top Chef Masters’ fan favorite Ludo Lefebvre. Emcee was Sissy Biggers, who has been featured on the Food Network’s ‘Ready, Set and Cook!’ and ABC’s ‘Extreme Makeover.’
It should come as no surprise to those who knew her when she lived in the area that she selected an Italian recipe to make for the competition.
The daughter of the late Angelo and Margaret Mannino, Paula graduated in 1963 from Chief Logan High School. She was known for her singing ability for which she often made local appearances, participated in state chorus, was the third runner up in the local Junior Miss contest and was asked, based on her singing ability, to enter the Miss Susquehanna contest, a preliminary competition for the Miss Pennsylvania pageant.
Mannino lived for many years in State College before retiring to Washington state with her husband, Clay Ruud.
Mannino's Italian heritage - her mother's family came from Abruzzo, a region east of Rome, and her father's family came from Sicily -influenced her desire to cook, as well as to teach and write about Italian cuisine.
Mannino teaches Italian cooking classes in Spokane as a hobby. She explained: "It's like an addiction - I have to be cooking. But it's just the two of us now, and my husband is a small eater. I thought, 'how can I cook more without having people in all the time?' So I started classes for anyone interested, and now just for groups on request." In fact, she wrote her award-winning recipe for one of her cooking classes.
Mannino is also writing a cookbook to document the recipes she has created from memory. The catch is that there were no written recipes from family members, so she has had to develop her own.
"I started to recreate recipes so I could put them in book form," she said. "I have hundreds of recipes recreated from memory and skill. I've written everything down now to leave a legacy."
Mannino has been cooking since she was 7 years old and said her sister has confirmed that she has "always put my own twist on recipes." She said she can also taste a dish at a restaurant and then recreate it at home.
The special twist Mannino put on her chicken cacciatore recipe was to pair it with polenta, not the usual and expected pasta.
Mannino's ability to create recipes comes naturally, something she attributes to her heritage. She said she read in a book about Italian cooking that the people of the Abruzzo region - where her mother's family lived -were masters at blending spices.
She noted that the traditional chicken cacciatore recipe calls only for oregano, but in her award-winning recipe, "I use a blend of spices - thyme, rosemary and oregano. That's what the people of Abruzzo were known for."
Mannino shares two original recipes, the Chicken Cacciatora with Polenta she prepared at the cook-off, and her version of Chicken Piccata.
The literal translation of this country dish is "hunter's chicken." There are many variations on the theme, as originally it would have been made with whatever ingredients were on hand once the hunter returned with the fowl, Mannino said. "The polenta makes this dish special," she said.
3 to 4 pounds chicken legs, thighs or breasts (cut in half), or any combination (choose small pieces)
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 slices lean bacon, cut into small pieces
1 cup yellow onion, chopped
3 large cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 (28-oz.) can good quality whole peeled tomatoes with juice
1/2 cup chicken broth (you can add more later, if needed)
2 roasted red peppers, purchased in jar, sliced into thin strips
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
6 cups water
1 bay leaf, broken in half
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 3/4 cups coarse polenta (also known as cornmeal or corn grits)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
Dash of freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pat the chicken dry and season the chicken on all sides with salt and pepper.
In a 10-inch skillet, brown the bacon in the butter until almost crisp; add the onions and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until onions are softened and starting to color, about 5 minutes. Puree the tomatoes, then add to the above mixture and cook over medium to medium-low heat for about 5 minutes to thicken. Remove from heat and set aside.
Working in batches and using a large, oven-safe skillet, saute chicken pieces in olive oil over medium-high heat until well-browned on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes. You do not want to cook the chicken through; it will finish cooking in the oven. Remove chicken to a plate and pour off the fat.
Pour the wine into the skillet, increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, stirring to pick up any browned bits on the bottom. Add the broth, peppers, rosemary, oregano and thyme, then the bacon, onion, garlic and tomato mixture. Return the chicken to the skillet, bring to a boil, stirring the mixture.
Transfer the skillet to the pre-heated oven and cook until the chicken is tender and the sauce has thickened, about 40 to 45 minutes. There should be enough liquid to almost cover the chicken. Add water, if necessary.
To make polenta, use a large, deep, heavy saucepan. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Add the bay leaf, salt and olive oil. Reduce heat to medium and very slowly start adding the polenta, using small handfuls at a time, taking several minutes to add the entire amount. Simmer gently, stirring very frequently. Use a whisk to prevent lumps. (Pay attention to the edges of the pan as you stir; this is where it will stick and scorch first.) As it thickens, in about 20 minutes, you may want to change to a large, wide spoon or paddle to make it easier to stir. Be careful you don't burn yourself. The polenta has a tendency to act like an erupting volcano as it is cooking. When the polenta is very thick and smooth, remove from heat and stir in butter, cheese, garlic and pepper.
Remove the bay leaf and pour the polenta out onto a large platter, top with chicken pieces and spoon over sauce.
Serves 6 to 8.
This is a quick and delicious way to make a wonderful Italian chicken dish, Mannino said. It is especially good when served with a side of spaghetti with marinara sauce.
8 boneless and skinned chicken breasts (about 2 pounds)
1/3 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine, or water
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 medium lemon with rind, very thinly sliced
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed
Pound the breasts to about 1/4-inch thick between pieces of waxed paper or plastic wrap. Combine flour, salt, paprika and pepper, and use to lightly coat chicken.
Heat a large skillet to medium-high and saute chicken breasts in olive oil, a few at a time, until golden brown. Remove breasts from the skillet and add the wine (or water) to deglaze the pan.
To deglaze, add the wine or water to the skillet and using a wooden spoon or spatula, stir to loosen the browned bits. Add the lemon juice and return the chicken to the skillet, placing a lemon slice between each breast. Heat until sauce thickens. Sprinkle with parsley and capers and serve.
Brett Youmans, of Reading, was named "America's Best Amateur Chef" with his recipe, "Orange-Scented Lamb Skewers atop Watercress and Roasted Fig Salad with Baked Goat Cheese." The other finalist was Lou Kostura, of Belmont, Calif., with his recipe for "Crab Stuffed Tenderloin." Their recipes and scenes from the cook-off may be found at www.lg.com/us/appliances/tosb/index.jsp.