Mario’s ‘Molto Batali’

The latest entry in the still-growing, chefs-writing-for-home-cooks category is Mario Batali’s Molto Batali: Simple Family Meals From My Home to Yours (Ecco, 2011). Yet, in this department, Batali comes with real credibility, among more unlikely entrants. Concurrent with expanding his restaurant empire, Mario and his red ponytail have spent the better part of the past 15 years cheerfully, but seriously and intelligently, talking directly to home cooks about Italian cuisine through his television shows and books.

All nine of his books, even The Babbo Cookbook (Clarkson-Potter, 2002), which featured recipes from his New York flagship, share this goal. He’s not jumping on any back-to-the-kitchen bandwagon—Mario was, as I like to say, driving the bandwagon.

The title of the new book, like Molto Italiano (Ecco, 2005) and Molto Gusto (Ecco, 2010) before it, conjures fond memories of his first, best television show, “Molto Mario.” (Which lives on in reruns on the Cooking Channel—I’d be TiVoing like mad if it was on my cable lineup.) “Molto Batali” has a few organizational distinctions, which, while not earth-shattering, telegraph the book’s intentions—for instance, dividing it into 12 monthly chapters encourages seasonal cooking. Then, each chapter’s recipes, taken as a whole, (a soup, three pastas, a meat dish, three vegetables, a salad, and a dessert), constitute a complete, even elaborate menu. Two or three would make a simple weeknight meal. But the third tenet must be something like: Gather a lot of people around your table, because these recipes make a LOT!

In including a single meat dish in each chapter, another message is sent. There is definitely an emphasis on meatless cooking in “Molto Batali” that makes it vegetarian—even vegan, in some cases—friendly. Which is undeniably modern, but too is really just the natural order of things, in Italian cookery. I always recommended Marcella Hazan’s books to vegetarians, for instance, rather than any self-identified “vegetarian” cookbook. (Marcella herself chimed in in agreement on my Facebook page recently. Yes, I almost fainted. Have I mentioned lately how much I love the modern world?) “Molto Batali” fits right in with that idea—just make sure you’ve got a lot of people to feed.

I made a couple of November recipes, which will appear in Taste of Orange County tomorrow.

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