Cooking From ‘Molto Batali’—We’re Going to Need a Bigger Pot

As promised in my post about the book yesterday, here are the two recipes I prepared from Mario Batali’s newest, Molto Batali(Ecco, 2011). I selected them from the November chapter—the book is organized by months of the year, to suggest and encourage seasonal cooking—but one of the luxuries of being a California cook is such boundaries aren’t as absolute as they are for those in harsher climates. (Something I do not take for granted, not even for a second.) But it is November, the time of year when I look forward to hauling out the heavy-artillery cookware, even though warm Santa Ana winds bluster the sycamore leaves and there are still tomatoes turning from green to red in the garden. 

The pasta, with Savoy cabbage and gorgonzola, is the sort of thing I’d make in any season, on any weeknight… no exotic ingredients and no extensive prep, but yet, classic. Curly Savoy cabbage is indicated, but I see no reason regular cabbage couldn’t be used—it’s just as sweet and tender after cooking. There’s a touch of caraway, so good with cabbage, that adds to the Tyrolean/Northern Italian feeling—I’d picked up a little fresh caraway seed from the Savory Spice Shop, whose new, second location I wrote about earlier this week.

The soup, with collard greens and borlotti or cranberry beans, in keeping with the aforementioned, anticipated cool-weather cooking, is rustic and hearty. And, like everything else in this book, almost shockingly voluminous. Do NOT ignore the 8-quart-pot instruction, I’m just saying. I cooked cranberry beans from Napa’s famous heirloom-bean savior Rancho Gordo, but an easier alternative would be canned from Carmelina Brands. (You can read what I’ve written in Taste of Orange County about Mission Viejo-based Carmelina here.) It seemed logical to me to garnish with a little grated parmesan, though not mentioned in the book—follow your own inclination on that matter.

Penne with Savoy Cabbage and Gorgonzola

(Makes 8 to 10 first-course, or 6 main-course servings)

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 cups finely shredded Savoy cabbage, about ½ head

2 teaspoons caraway seed

8 ounces gorgonzola cheese, crumbled, at room temperature

1-1/2 pounds penne pasta

¼ cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

Salt, freshly ground black pepper

Boil 8 quarts water and add 2 tablespoons salt.

In 14-inch sauté pan, heat oil over medium-high heat, until smoking. Add cabbage and caraway seeds. Cook until cabbage is light golden brown and softened, about 4 minutes. Reduce heat to low, add half the gorgonzola, and stir. Remove pan from heat.

Cook penne in boiling water until nearly done. Ladle ¼ cup pasta cooking water into cabbage mixture. Drain pasta, and add to pan. Over medium heat, add remaining gorgonzola, parsley, generous grinds of black pepper, and toss until coated. Serve immediately.

Collards and Borlotti Soup

(Makes 8 to 10 first-course, or 6 main-course servings)

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 onions, diced

4 carrots, diced

4 celery stalks, sliced ¼-inch thick

6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 bunches collard greens, coarse stems discarded, sliced crosswise into ¼-inch ribbons

2 bay leaves

Big pinch red pepper flakes

2 cups or 1 15-ounce can chopped tomatoes

4 quarts boiling water

2 cups cooked or 1 15-ounce can borlotti or cranberry beans, rinsed if canned

Salt, freshly ground pepper

1 pound short ziti or other small soup pasta

Parmesan or other grating cheese, for garnish

In 8-quart pot, heat oil over medium-high heat, add onions, carrots, celery, and garlic. Cook until softened. Add collard greens, raise heat to high, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add bay leaves, red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons salt, several grinds pepper, and boiling water. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer until collard greens are tender, about 45 minutes. Greens must be extremely tender; if still raw-tasting, cook up to 15 minutes longer.

Add beans and bring to boil. Taste and add salt if necessary. Add pasta to boiling soup and cook just until done. Season again with salt and pepper, and allow to rest off heat for 5 minutes. Remove bay leaves, and serve in shallow bowls.

Garnish with parmesan or other grating cheese if desired.

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