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Attention, weekend chefs! Here’s a mouthwatering menu from a pro

Michael Romano, longtime executive chef of New York City’s famed Union Square Café, offers a roster of lip-smacking recipes.
/ Source: TODAY

The weekend is often the time when home cooks pull out all the stops to prepare fancy dinners for family and guests. So what better than to be guided by someone who conjures up culinary magic every day – Michael Romano, executive chef and co-owner of New York City’s Union Square Café? And kitchen newbies take heart: Romano, whose eatery was voted New York's Most Popular Restaurant by Zagat guide readers for an unprecedented seven years, started out making frozen drinks! Here are some super dishes he brought to the show, all from “Second Helpings,” his book of recipes from the restaurant.

Roast Rack of Lamb
(Serves 4)

1 cup fresh bread crumbs1 tsp minced garlic1 1/2 tsps chopped fresh tarragon2 tbsps extra virgin olive oilSaltFreshly ground black pepper2 tbsps vegetable oil2 lamb racks, 8 ribs each1 tbsp plus 1 tsp Dijon mustard

1.  Preheat oven to 425F degrees

2.  In a bowl, combine bread crumbs, garlic, tarragon, olive oil, 1/8 tsp of salt and 1/8 tsp of pepper, mixing with your fingers so that the bread crumbs absorb the oil. Set aside.

3.  In a cast iron skillet or oven proof saute pan, large enough to hold both racks, heat the vegetable oil over high heat until smoking.  Season the racks all over with 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper and sear them in the pan, meaty sides down.  Cook well until browned about 2 minutes. Turn the racks over and cook 1 minute longer.  Place the skillet in the oven.  Roast 9 minutes for medium-rare or 8 minutes for rare.

4.  Remove the skillet from the oven, transfer the racks to a plate and let them rest for 15 minutes, uncovered.  Use a pastry brush or a tsp to coat the meaty side of each rack with the mustard.  Use your fingers to press the bread crumb mixture onto the mustard.  Return the racks to the oven and roast fof 15 more minutes to brown the crust.  Slice between each bone and serve immediately.


Crabmeat and Endive Salad
(Serves 4)

Dressing ingredients1 large tomato1/2 cup mayonnaise1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard2 1/2 tsps fresh lemon juice1 tsp Cognac1/4 tsp kosher salt1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepperPinch Cayenne pepper1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley1 tbsp snipped fresh chives1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon

Salad ingredients1 1/2 tsps olive oil1 cup peeled and chopped celeryKosher salt2 large Belgian endives1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, picked over carefully.Freshly ground black pepper

1. Prepare dressing: Place a fine-mesh strainer over a medium bowl. Cut the tomato in half crosswise and gently squeeze the halves, cut sides down, into the strainer.  Use your fingers or a spoon to scoop out any juice and seeds remaining in the tomato, and strain these as well.  You should have about 2 tbsps of strained "tomato water" in the bowl.  Save the squeezed tomato halves for another use.  Add all of the remaining dressing ingredients and whisk well to blend. Set aside.

2.  For the salad, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the celery and cook for 1 minute, just until the celery is still crunchy but no longer raw.  Season with 1/4 tsp salt and set aside in a large bowl to cool.

Cut away and discard 1/4 inch of stem from the endives.  Pell off and reserve 12 large outer leaves.  Cut the remaining endive cores crosswise into 1/4 inch slices and add them to the bowl with the celery.  Add the crabmeat and dressing, season with 1/8 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper and stir gently with a rubber spatula to combine.  Arrange 3 endive spears in a spoke pattern, with the tips facing out, on each of four chilled serving plates.  Mound equal amounts of the salad in the center of each plate and serve.


Sardinian Ravioli with Brown Butter
(Serves 4)

Filling ingredients1 cup mascarpone (an Italian cream cheese)8 oz. ricotta salata (a Sicilian salted ricotta cheese), grated1 large egg1 tsp black pepper

Brown Butter ingredients

6 tbsps butter2 tsp fresh lemon juice1/4 cup coarse semolina or cornmeal1 egg, beaten1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese

1.  Make the pasta dough and let set for at least 30 minutes, or refrigerate tightly wrapped in plastic overnight.

2.  Combine all of the filling ingredients in a food processor and process until completely smooth.

3.  Lightly flour the work surface.  Cut the pasta dough into quarters and begin working with one of the quarters.  Knead the dough thru the pasta machine to flatten and stretch.  This should take about 10 times through the pasta machine.  The sheet of dough should be smooth and elastic and measure about 30 inches long, 5 inches wide and 1/16th of an inch thick.

4.  Sprinkle a sheet pan with the semolina or cornmeal and set aside.

5.  Lay the sheet of dough on the floured work surface and square off the ends with a large kitchen knife.  Brush half the length of the strip with the beaten egg.  Onto that half, using a spoon, spoon the ricotta cheese filling into 2 rows of 5 mounds each.  Each mound should be a heaping teaspoonsfull, and the mounds should be evenly spaced.  Fold the other half of the sheet over the filled side, carefully matching the edges.  Using your fingers, press gently around the mounds of filling to release the air and to seal the sheets of dough closely around the filling.  Cut into 2.5 inch squares.

6.  For brown butter, melt the butter over medium heat in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Pour the butter into a fine-mesh sieve or tea strainer into a small skillet, add lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Set aside.

7.  Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil.  Gently place the ravioli into the water and cook the ravioli until the edges of the pasta are tender -- about 4 or 5 minutes.

Warm the brown butter over medium heat and using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked ravioli to a colander to drain.  To serve, place ravioli onto a plate and spoon brown butter over the ravioli, sprinkle with grated pecorino-romano cheese and serve.


Chocolate Pudding Flan
(Serves 4)

Ingredients for caramel
1 cup sugar¼ cup water

Chocolate Custard ingredients3 cups milk1/2 cup sugar1/4 cup premium quality cocoaPinch of salt13 ounces semisweet chocolate, 10 ounces coarsely chopped, and 3 ounces grated4 eggs3 yolks

Arrange four small ovenproof pudding dishes in a baking or roasting pan, which will serve as a water bath.

To make the caramel, stir together the sugar and water in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Set the pan over high heat and, without stirring or shaking, let the sugar cook at a rapid boil for 5 minutes or so.  As the syrup begins to darken, carefully swirl the pan to spread the color uniformly.  When it turns deep amber, remove the pan from the heat and quickly pour 1 tablespoon of the caramel into each mold, completely coating the bottom.  Set aside and let the caramel harden.

Pour the milk into a 3-quart saucepan; whisk in ¼ cup of sugar, the cocoa and the salt.  Bring to a full boil over high heat, whisking frequently to prevent scorching; remove from the heat and immediately add the chopped chocolate.  Whisk steadily until the pieces have completely melted and the mixture is smooth.  Transfer the chocolate base to a mixing bowl and set aside until lukewarm, about 30 minutes.

Arrange a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

In a small bowl, briefly whisk together the eggs, yolks, and the remaining ¼ cup of sugar; then whisk in 1 cup of the chocolate base and continue whisking until smooth.  Pour this chocolate-and-egg mixture back into the chocolate base.  Whisk well to blend and then strain the custard through a fine sieve into a large pitcher or measuring cup.

Pour ½ cup of custard into each dish.  Set the roasting pan on the oven rack and pour in hot water to come halfway up the sides of the dishes.  Cover and seal the pan with aluminum foil.

Bake the flans for 40 minutes, just until they are set on top but still jiggle when gently shaken.  Carefully remove the baking pan from the oven, let the flans cool in the water for 30 minutes, and then refrigerate the molds for at least 2 hours.  You can keep them in the refrigerator, well covered, for up to 3 days.

To serve, dip the bottom of a pudding dish into a bowl of lukewarm water for a few moments, then run the blade of a small knife around the inside edge.  Cover the flan with a dessert plate, invert, and shake sharply to release.  Lift off the dish and serve the flan, along with its caramel syrup.  Repeat with each dish. Sprinkle an equal amount of grated chocolate over each flan and serve.

Excerpted from “Second Helpings from Union Square Cafe: 140 New Favorites from New York's Acclaimed Restaurant," by Michael Romano and Danny Meyer. Copyright ©2001 by Michael Romano and Danny Meyer. Published by HarperCollins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.