Mario Batali

RECIPE: Asparagus Wrapped in Pancetta with Citronette

WHEN ASPARAGUS SEASON COMES AROUND, I particularly like this antipasto from Mario Batali’s Italian Grill. (It makes a delicious lunch, too.) No grill? No problem. Just place the wrapped asparagus spears on a baking sheet and broil in your oven about 3 inches from the heat for 5 to 10 minutes, turning a few times.
 
 
Serves 4
 
2 pounds asparagus (12 to 18 stalks per pound)

4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1½ tbs finely chopped fresh thyme
 
1. Snap the tough bottom stalks off the asparagus. Unroll the slices of pancetta and lay them out on a work surface. Lay an asparagus spear on a slight diagonal across the bottom of one slice and roll it up, covering as much of the stalk as possible but leaving the tip visible. Place on a tray or small baking sheet and repeat with the remaining asparagus. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour (this helps the pancetta adhere to the asparagus).
 
2. Preheat a gas grill (or your oven) or prepare a fire in a charcoal grill.
 
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the orange zest, juice and mustard. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking until emulsified and smooth. Season the citronette with salt and pepper and set aside.
 
4. Place the asparagus on the grill and cook, turning occasionally, until it is just tender and the pancetta is crisped, about 4 to 6 minutes. (If the pancetta browns too much before the asparagus is cooked, move the spears to a cooler part of the grill.)
 
5. Whisk the citronette again, and pour half of it onto a serving platter. Sprinkle with half of the chopped thyme and pile the asparagus on top. Drizzle with the remaining citronette and sprinkle with the rest of the thyme. Serve warm or at room temperature with a small bowl of coarse sea salt for dipping. 

Best Med Diet Dish at...Lupa

MEDITERRANEANISTA SEEMS TO HAVE SLUMBERED her way through January. Snow, snow, snow. Merry house guests gone. Memories of communal cooking and countless feasts fading.
 
But lunch at Mario Batali’s Lupa Osteria Romana seems to have roused me from my Rip Van Winkle sleep. It was an official Snow Day when our reservation date came up, and we happily padded our way down to the Village—our old neighborhood.
 
Through Washington Square Park.
 
 
Down Thompson Street past the chess store. (They get the prize for cleanest pavement.)
 
 
Past the building that housed a live poultry and rabbit market when we lived across the street above our landlord’s Italian restaurant. 
 
 
Past buried cars.
 
 
And stranded bicycles.
 
 
To the doorstep of Lupa, where a warm welcome—and lovely Mediterranean smells—awaited.
 
 
Lupa is an informal and friendly trattoria, Batali-style—we sat at one of the simple wooden tables in the front (a back room has tablecloths). Down one side is a long bar that I hear gets very crowded on a usual day (i.e. when most of the city’s residents aren’t stuck in snowdrifts). Roman dishes are simple and tasty; we particularly liked the sound of the vegetable antipasti brussels sprouts with apples, for one, or beets with pistachio. 
 
Our Restaurant Week menu started with Lupa’s pasta e fagioli—a puréed white bean soup with escarole and sage, perfect for the snowy day—and a delicious capon & pork terrine with celery mostarda and bitter greens.
 
 
Next came butternut squash farrotto (like a risotto, but made with farro)—a real treat for this farro-loving girl—and branzino with cardoon and potato purée. Finally, fresh ricotta and honey for dessert—a sublime creamy finish to the meal. We drank a lovely dry Frascati —Rome’s signature white wine—and a Chianti-like Morellino di Scansano from Tuscany. The wine list represents all parts of Italy, with half the bottles under $50.  (The Frascati Superiore Cantine Conte Zandotti 2009 is $29, for example, the Morellino di Scansano “I Perazzi” La Mozza 2008, $35.)
 
$21 Lunch Prix Fixe: Restaurant Week is over at Lupa, but it is now offering a three-course “Roman Style Lunch” for $21. Burrata (fresh mozzarrella with a creamy center) with butternut squash and mint, and Paccheri alla Gricia, pasta with guanciale (Roman bacon made from pig’s jowls), caught my eye. I better hurry back—specific dishes change regularly “inspired by ingredients, seasonality or a regional favorite.” Served Monday through Friday, noon to 3:30 pm. I can also imagine just pulling up to the bar and ordering a glass of wine and a salumi plate or some of those wonderful vegetable antipasti. 
 
Lupa Osteria Romana
170 Thompson Street
New York, NY 10001
212-982-5089
 
(Lunch reservations are much easier to get than dinner, which books up a month out. Some walk-ins, with a wait of course.)

Mediterraneanista's Holiday List, Part 4

KITCHEN SANITY
 
 
THIS IS THE TIME OF YEAR when I find myself drawn to “getting organized” articles, and only my friend Carol W. surpasses my enthusiasm for new calendars, which for at least a few weeks, I deeply believe must be the key to “New Year, New You!” (I save the old ones, too, but that’s another story.) So I want to be sure you don’t miss the Moleskine Wine Journal, not strictly a calendar, but a way to track what bottle was opened when and avoid those annoying conversations with one’s spouse—what was that Tempranillo we liked? No, wait a minute, wasn’t that the one we couldn’t stand? And the Moleskine Recipe Journal, which like the wine journal is slightly bigger than 5" by 8", has room for squiggles and jottings that are sure to guarantee that the recipe comes out perfectly each time. Think of it as scrapbooking for cooks.
 
CULINARY APPS
If your iPhone is what keeps your life together, it can help out in the kitchen, too. Mediterranean diet–friendly recipes, time-savers and an encyclopedia of cheese—apps for all tastes. 
 
Jamie’s Recipes, free, plus add-ons available for purchase 
Jamie Oliver wants to bring his fresh food revolution to everyone’s household. This follow-up to his hit app 20-Minute Meals covers some of the same ground, but wins fans because of its user-friendly interface, healthy recipes, basic how-to videos and shopping lists.  The free download includes a tasting pack of 10 recipes plus 4 videos, with the option to buy 10 additional packs for $1.99 each.
 
Mario Batali Cooks!  $2.99 (holiday special)
Cook along with Mario as he demos the app’s 63 recipes from different regions of Italy. It’s fun and informative: It also includes videos on technique and kitchen basics, plus advice on wine pairings.
 
All 2,000 recipes from the “less-meatarian” maestro’s big heavy book, with quick conversions of recipes into shopping lists and a built-in timer. Latest update includes holiday menus.
 
Fromage, $2.99
History, production info and wine pairings for 750 cheeses.
 
Scales recipes to more or fewer portions, converts to/from metric.
 
Suggests solutions if you’re in the middle of cooking dinner and suddenly realize you’re missing an ingredient. Latest release includes healthy substitutes, too.
 
 Mediterraneanista’s Holiday Gift Guide:
 

Mediterraneanista's Holiday List, Part 3

SIX COOKBOOKS I ESPECIALLY LIKE
These are the books I find myself turning to again and again, despite all the temptations on bookstore shelves. Chefs and scholars, cooks and storytellers, the authors are the perfect guides for anyone setting out to explore the Mediterranean diet. Perhaps someone you know?
 
by Nancy Harmon Jenkins
My navigator and my anchor in all things Mediterranean. I like her common sense, her knowledge and perspective on the Mediterranean diet and her dishes. And she tells it all so beautifully.
 

by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox
OK, so I try not to cook out of this book every night, but it’s hard to resist because the dishes are exciting—and doable—and Jenkins, chef-owner of Porchetta and the just-opened Porsena, writes intelligently so you’re always learning—about cooking, ingredients, culinary traditions—as you go along.
 
by Martha Rose Shulman
This Martha’s recipes were my early inspiration for a new (for me) Mediterranean way of eating. Thank god they’re now in a book so I can throw out my stained computer printouts from her online column—and keep wowing my guests with the cooking.
 
by Clifford A. Wright
An 800-page intellectual and culinary feast, indeed. If you like the stories of history—and good recipes to boot, this is the book for you. Wright was inspired to do his culinary study, in part, by Fernand Braudel’s landmark history of the Mediterranean. Now Wright inspires us.
 
by Mario Batali and Mark Ladner
Despite the famous photo of Batali with a string of sausages around his neck, in this book he shares lots of easy-to-make dishes starring vegetables and grains. I’ve especially enjoyed the salads and vegetable antipasti. Not a vegetarian cookbook, by any means, but we hear that’s coming next.
 
by Claudia Roden
Born and raised in Cairo, Roden shares recipes for tagines, eggplant dishes, mezze—all informed by her deep background in Middle Eastern cooking (her 1972 A Book of Middle Eastern Food was a groundbreaker) and the stories she has to tell.
 
 
So many cookbooks, so little time—I know I have so much more to explore. Do you have a favorite cookbook full of recipes for a Mediterranean diet? (With inspired ideas for vegetables and fruits, grains and legumes, and, of course, a great love of olive oil.) Let us know in the comments box below. Here’s what I plan to dig into next. Maybe you already have?
 
Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table
Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking 

 
In case you need other gift ideas with a Mediterranean flavor:
Mediterraneanista’s Holiday List, Part 1
Mediterraneanista’s Holiday List, Part 2
 
 
 

Meatless Monday Cure for Thanksgiving Feast Hangover

 
AFTER THE CORNUCOPIA OF COMFORT FOODS shared at the Thanksgiving table (and in the days that followed), I was in the mood today for something clean and crisp and refreshing. This Shaved Fennel and Apple Salad was the perfect answer. The tart apple and the fennel were fabulously crunchy, and the lemony dressing gave it a nice zing. You can substitute your favorite flavors into the salad. I used parsley today; next time I’ll try a couple of tablespoons of fresh tarragon or mint. And instead of apple, my mother uses Asian pear in her fennel salad—delicious indeed.
 
 
Fennel is popular in the traditional Mediterranean diet—particularly in Italy, but also in France and Greece. It’s full of nutrients—vitamin C, fiber, potassium, as well as various antioxidants and phytonutrients. The Florence fennel is what you’ll see in markets here, with a big white bulb, topped by long stalks and fronds, all of which can be eaten.
 
I think the first time I ate fennel was when my mother served her fennel and pear salad to us on one of my visits home. It’s not a dish she made when we were growing up; she’d learned it later on, from a friend during a long stay in Italy—making it her own by adding the Asian pears. Fennel is very versatile—eat it raw, as called for in the salad here, or steam, braise, grill or roast it (it caramelizes beautifully). Add it to soups and stews, serve over pasta or bake it with fish. This salad, in fact, works wonderfully served over grilled fish.
 
Wild fennel, a different plant, grows all around the Mediterranean; apparently it’s found on this continent in California, British Columbia and in other locales, too—perhaps where homesick Italians have planted the seeds. Once established, wild fennel is prolific. Wild fennel pollen, once known only in Tuscany, is prized by chefs like Mario Batali and Sara Jenkins (who uses it in her porchetta) for the flavor and aroma it brings to a dish.

Eat Less Meat: Sure, But How Do You Get There from Here?

 
BY EATING THE TRADITIONAL MEDITERRANEAN WAY, of course. By now Mediterraneanista’s loyal readers know that the Mediterranean diet includes a lot less meat than many of us are used to. And we know it makes sense, this eating less meat, for all sorts of good health and environmental reasons. But what is less? And how do you get there from here?
 
I remember as a business editor one of the many managerial concepts that floated across my desk was “chunking”—a strategy for managing a big project by, well, breaking it into chunks. If you’re an enthusiastic meat eater who’s interested in moving in the direction of a more Mediterranean diet, “chunking” may be a concept worth reviving. Let’s face it, many of us have eating habits that were formed in households where the dinner menu was Meat Plus (you fill in the blanks, but it often involved potatoes). We may need a little aide-mémoire to adopt a different way.
 
 
So here are some chunks to get you closer to the Mediterranean way:
 
Meatless Monday, which I’ve written about here before, is a great example of a manageable chunk. You have six days to plan for one day of meatless eating. Since standard dietary recommendations call for no more than 18 oz. of meat a week, Meatless Monday works out perfectly. Three ounces a day, which is a portion or serving size, plus one day off. And you get the week off to a good start. (The Meatless Monday organization reports that “studies suggest that we are more likely to maintain behaviors begun on Monday throughout the week.”)
 
Learn to cook two or three meatless main dishes you love, so they become second nature, just the way the Meat-Plus concept once was. Most important, this flips the idea around from denying yourself meat to treating yourself to a different kind of delicious meal—a joy-of-eating concept Mediterraneanista likes a lot. I didn’t start out with the goal of “eating less meat.” I just became seduced by the adventure of discovering just how delicious and satisfying the traditional Mediterranean way of eating could be. Roast vegetables is one of my simplest favorites. If you enter “vegetarian” in the Mediterraneanista search box at right, you’ll find others.
 
Be a vegetarian before dinner. Over the long term, this is much easier to keep top of mind than tracking your meat intake meal by meal. (I don’t know about you, but I find the whole tracking thing gets tiresome pretty quickly, although it can be useful as a way to learn exactly what you are eating or spending now.) Cookbook author and New York Times columnist Mark Bittman has written about how a mostly-vegan until dinner approach works for him in Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating. He’s never doctrinaire about it, and makes it seem doable and adaptable.
 
Chef Mario Batali, who offers vegetarian dishes for Meatless Monday at all his restaurants, recently surprised a few people when he said he was working on a vegetarian cookbook and is now “vegetarian all day until dinner, and I try to eat no meat whatsoever on Monday and Tuesday.” Perhaps that helps explain why there’s 45 pounds less of him—and counting. Actually, his cookbook Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking very much reflects a traditional Mediterranean table and includes a lot of fabulous meatless dishes in it already.
 
Make meat a secondary ingredient on your plate, not the centerpiece. That helps the portion size make a lot more sense. Because, yep, as I wrote yesterday, 3-4 oz. is actually the suggested serving of meat to be eaten at a meal. That’s a piece about the size of a pack of cards, a useful way to visualize it, I find, when I’m eyeballing meat purchases for a family dinner or dinner party. Some of you are probably thinking, 3 ounces of meat could look pretty lonely in the middle of a plate. True, if it’s at the center of that plate. Instead, think of a stir-fry, for instance, that’s three parts vegetables, one part meat. Or a whole-grain rice pilaf for four in which ½ pound of ground lamb adds fabulous meat flavor. Last week, I made a Turkish eggplant dish (more about that soon) that used ½ pound of lamb in the stuffing for four eggplants. Delicious!
 
Use legumes—beans, lentils—and grains like farro to give some of the textural and nutritional satisfaction of meat—they’re high in fiber and protein. Throw them in soup or salads or stews. I’ll write soon about how to make this super easy. I’m branching out from my favorite farro salad to learn more ways of incorporating this incredibly tasty grain into more meals, and I’ll keep you posted on that, too. 

Bon appetit—Mediterranean style! 

Eataly Coming to New York: First Look

I WAS WALKING ALONG 24th Street last week and peeked in the window at Eataly, the 50,000-square-foot food hall Mario Batali is opening with partners Joe Bastianich, Lidia Bastianich and others.
 
 
Batali has described it as a “temple” to Italian food. It will have all sorts of food departments—butcher, fishmonger, greengrocer, bakery, cheese, dried goods, salumi—as well as restaurants and snack counters. A sign outside quotes Fellini: “Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” Sounds good to me.
 
 
The original Eataly, a Slow Food heaven in Turin, opened in 2007, followed by branches in other Italian cities and in Japan. We’ll all get to experience New York’s Eataly for ourselves on Tuesday, August 31 at 4 pm. To whet your appetite, here’s a preview from Eater.
 
See you there!
  
Eataly
Fifth Avenue and 24th Street 
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