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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Cookbook Review: Molto Gusto

Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking, by Mario Batali & Mark Ladner

Summary: "This is what Italian's cook when they only have a half hour or hour to put dinner on the table."- Mario Batali on the Charlie Rose show.

Recommendation: Buy it- Use it- Gift it! (especially at this price!)

Growing up with an Italian side of the family, in a predominantly Italian east coast city, I was fortunate enough to be able to have olives on every fingers from antipasti nearly every morning before kindergarten, and homemade noodles with garlic, butter, salt and pepper (what the cookbook refers to as "Linguine with caciopepe". All this time it had a first name, and it wasn't O-s-c-a-r!) after kindergarten, courtesy of my dad's aunt Kay who usually had a puttanesca sauce cooking on a back burner as well. This cookbook brought up those fond memories, the smells, the chewy consistencies of homemade pasta, and made me long for those days.

Having read previous Mario Batali cookbooks (with rather complex recipes with ingredients I generally don't have), and watched several interviews (Jon Stewart, Charlie Rose, etc.), I was excited to get my hands on this cookbook. Mr. Batali, a Seattle native and Food Network's seemingly retired Iron Chef, wrote this book inspired by real Italian families and the meals they put on the table when they are pressed for time. He has organized the cookbook's chapters in a progression maximizing the seasonal availability of fresh produce, available at nearly every market in America, and are generally very simple to prepare with only a few ingredients. Recipes such as spring peas and mint, penette with summer squash and ricotta, and even the gelatos and sorbettos- emphasize simple preparation, are easy to follow, and scream "gusto." There are very few recipes in this cookbook I would not prepare, or could not prepare with ingredients I have on hand today- how many cookbooks can you say that about?

Our American diet focuses too much on the "meat-starch-veggie" model, and this cookbook shows us that other cultures view meat as a flavoring or integral ingredient rather than the keystone by which we coordinate what else goes on our plate. I believe this cookbook demonstrates a healthier way of filling our gullets by encouraging us to fix several small plates (vegetables, antipasti, pasta), and not gorging on 16 ounces of meat every times we sit down. Thus, noticeably missing for many carnivores will be slow roasted beasts, or grilled chops and steaks. This is not Sunday dinner recipes, but rather delicious every day, after-work-while-kids-are-doing-homework home style eats.

This cookbook highlights recipes from Mr. Batali's latest restaurant, Otto, reportedly (by the chef) a more family focused pizzeria/restaurant. The restaurant and the cookbook even present kid-inspired pizzas.

Speaking of which- how important are pizzas to this cookbook? Not only is there an entire chapter devoted to what I think may be the most popular dish in the world, but it is the only place that a step-by-step photo spread exists showing us exactly how to make something resembling artisanal, gourmet, brick-oven manna from the gods. Having followed a previous Batali pizza dough recipe that wasn't particularly impressive (yet it's in my fridge right now), I think the procedure in this book will allow many home cooks to create the brick-oven flavor in the standard oven and is the only recipe and method you'll ever need.

The book ends with a list of sources for readers to order everything from anchovies to pizza griddles, so even we can do justice to these recipes. Very smart!

Can I say one more thing? The photography (by Quentin Bacon) is A+! I actually began to salivate and get hungry reading this cookbook- even just after dinner!

These are KILLER recipes!- Michael

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