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Whenever I pick up a celebrity chef cookbook, I'm always worried that the techniques will be fussy, the ingredients hard to find, and the equipment too expensive. Mario Batali's Molto Batali is thus a breath of fresh air; it suffers from none of these flaws. The cookbook is truly for the home kitchen.
Printed on heavy, glossy paper and filled with stunning photos of almost every dish, Molto Batali is a book you'll turn to again and again throughout the year. In a very brief introduction, Batali explains that this book emphasizes seasonal cooking and features vegetables and grains. Meat plays second fiddle here, making this a versatile resource for both vegetarians and omnivores.
The cookbook is divided by months, starting (naturally) in January. Batali's no-nonsense style is refreshing. Nothing cute here, just good solid recipes with basic ingredients and straightforward directions. All but the most rural of readers will be able to find the majority of ingredients easily. A few, like soft-shell crabs, may be difficult in the heart of the country, but home cooks won't be frustrated by unavailable items.
A couple of things I love: the varieties of pestos, many of which are not herb based, and the desserts, which are blessedly simple in presentation and not too sweet. I also like the easy to follow directions, and it's fun to spot the occasional nuggets of Batali's personality--for example (from his Brussels sprouts with pecorino and thyme recipe):
4 ounces Pecorino Romano, cut into 1/4-inch cubes as best you canThe back of the book contains a glossary of ingredients, a list of mail-order sources, and a very usable index.
Carefully add the Brussels sprouts to the pan (they will cause a spattering ruckus) . . .
Here are some dishes that call to me:
- Rabe, Potato, and Ricotta Ravioli
- Semolina and Lemon Torta
- Wilted Arugula with Pine Nuts and Lemon
- Cellentani with Kale and Sausage
- Warm Polenta with Spinach and Robiola
The other thing I love is that my dishes look pretty much exactly like the photos in the book. The other night, I made a small leg of lamb roast inspired by a recipe in the cookbook; I served it with Batali's turnip recipe, which I followed almost exactly (I threw in a couple of parsnips I wanted to use up). To the left is a photo of my dishes and the photos above and below are scanned from the book (click to enlarge). Not too bad, eh? By the way, if you don't like turnips, try this pesto on potatoes, pasta, or toasted peasant bread.
Turnips in Green Olive Pesto
Serves 8 to 10 as a side dish
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 3 pounds of turnips, peeled and cut into 8 wedges each
- 1 cup pitted large or jumbo green olives, such as Acolana or Cerignola
- 1/2 red onion, chopped
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1 garlic clove
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup fresh marjoram leaves
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- Freshly ground black pepper
Meanwhile, combine the olives, onions, pine nuts, and garlic in a food processor, and blend for 1 minute. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil and blend until it forms a thick, smooth paste.
When the turnips are done, drain them well in a colander and immediately toss them into a mixing bowl. Add the olive pesto, marjoram, parsley, and lots of black pepper, and mix gently. Allow the turnips to cook, and serve at room temperature.
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