The recipe for the soup was given to me by my very good friend and outstanding chef Joe Romanowski, who most recently owned Bay Avenue Trattoria in Highlands with his beautiful wife Maggie. Joe was a master chef who had a major influence on the careers of many chefs who work at the Jersey Shore.

Unfortunately after losing his restaurant in Hurricane Sandy, and a battle with cancer, Joe passed away earlier this year. His talents, friendship, and camaraderie will be missed. In his honor, The Joe Romanowski Culinary Education Scholarship Fund was founded and a portion of the proceeds from Wednesday’s Cook-Off went to supporting this great scholarship. You can help too by donating at:

Joe Romanowski CESF

PO Box 471

West Long Branch, NJ 07764

I was so happy to be part of this great event. Dennis is no easy opponent, his dishes were amazing. He beat me in the entree category, but I was able to pull off the overall win.

I would like to thank my sous chef and producer Chris Eannucci for helping me cook up a win, all the great sponsors that donated food and helped make this event a BIG success, and of course everyone that came out and the brave souls who tasted and judged our creations.

Kira Buxton Photo
Kira Buxton Photo

Here's my award-winning recipe for the Ribollita Soup and the Mushroom Bruschetta:

Ribollita Soup

6 cups cannellini beans (washed & drained)

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cups diced zucchini

1 1/2 cups diced onion

1 cup diced celery

1/2 cup diced carrots

1 cup diced pancetta (about a 1/4 lb)

3 Tb minced garlic

1/2 head savoy cabbage (washed & cut into 1 inch chunks)

2 cups crushed Italian tomatoes with juice

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

2 cups spinach leaves

10 cups chicken broth

4 cups cubed day old bread (the crustier the better)

2 lb piece of parmigiano rind or 1 cup grated romano

Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper

Over medium flame, heat the olive oil in a large soup pot. Add all the hard vegetables, garlic and pancetta. Cook until soft, about 10 minutes.

Add the cabbage tomatoes, basil and spinach. Add the chicken broth and a good pinch of red pepper flakes, simmer for 20 minutes. Add the beans, bread, cheese rinds. Cook for an additional 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary.

Ladle into bowls, dust with romano cheese and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

Kira Buxton Photo
Kira Buxton Photo

Mushroom Bruschetta:

1 1/2 - 2 pounds of  assorted mushrooms (diced)

4 Tb butter

3 Garlic cloves

Block of good provolone cheese (sliced thin)

1 medium sized baguette or long Italian bread (sliced on the bias about 3/4 inch thick) 

Good quality Olive oil

Salt and pepper

In a small saucepan heat butter and garlic covered on low for 15 mins, turn off and set aside.

In a medium size skillet heat a few Tbs of olive oil over medium heat for a few minutes. Add mushrooms with a pinch of salt and pepper and saute gently until browned. Note the mushrooms will absorb olive oil at first but as they shrink in size they will give it back to the pan. Avoid adding too much extra oil if pan looks dry at first.

Brush the melted garlic butter onto the tops of the sliced bread and arrange on a baking sheet lined with a baking rack. Broil for 1-2 minutes (keep an eye on them don't let them burn). Top with a thinly sliced provolone and return to the broiler for another minute, remove. Spoon the warm mushroom saute over the top and serve immediately.