15 Aug Special of the day: This week’s celebrity chef: Mario Batali
According to Mario Batali, “There are two kinds of people in the world: Italians and those who want to be Italian.” And since a great number of the participants in his “Italian Sunday Supper” seminar at the Aspen Food and Wine Classic in June were not, he did his best to help us become more Italian through his compelling cooking demonstration.
Perhaps one of the most famous celebrity chefs working in America today, Mario Batali has nineteen restaurants, nine cookbooks and several television shows under his belt- or rather – apron strings. Batali is host of Iron Chef America and stars on ABC’s daytime talk show The Chew.
Batali’s belief is that “It is more about what you buy than what you cook,” which may be one of the reasons he and business partner Joe Bastianich opened their 50,000-square-foot Eataly, touted as the world’s largest artisanal Italian food and wine marketplace, in New York City in 2010.
Mario’s seminar showcased Italian meatballs made with ground chuck, grated Pecorino cheese, Italian parsley, toasted pine nuts and milk-soaked bread cubes, all carefully sourced by Batali.
Describing what the Italians would do, Batali said they typically have three courses for supper and “eat carbs in a responsible, delicious way.”
As for the pantry, Batali said one of the best things home cooks could do is to throw away all of their old spices and start fresh. Buy smaller portions of spices and toast or grind them for the best flavor, he suggested.
Mario’s meatballs start with ground chuck, not lean ground beef. The fat content in ground chuck makes a better meatball, Batali said. He said you can use any meat: moose or elk, for example and add breadcrumbs to make it more tender. Using old bread works better than packaged bread crumbs and soaking bread in milk helps bind it to the ground meat.
The freshest eggs you can find are at a Farmers Market, where most eggs are as little as three days off the farm, while supermarket eggs can be from 10-12 weeks old, Batali said.
“Buy regular ingredients and make pretty good food or buy remarkable ingredients and make even more remarkable food.”
Using an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook helps to distribute the meatball ingredients perfectly and poaching them in the sauce… “Well, it’s going to make you a hero in your house!” Batali said excitedly.
Batali would serve one meatball per person as an appetizer and never with pasta, which would be a separate course. “Pasta is a sacred place,” Batali said.
Lovingly rolling the meatballs by hand, Batali gathered momentum and launched into a lecture on the therapy that is making meatballs, likening it to a Zen tea service. “Suddenly your mind is unchained and free,” he said, continuing to carefully craft meatballs and slide them into the simmering sauce. “You’re not just making meatballs; you’re making happy, making joy.”
All I have to say is that he was absolutely right. Requiring relatively few ingredients and minimal prep, making Mario’s meatballs was a joy, though I modified mine swapping out a few ingredients and steps from his original recipe to make it easier and more doable for the home cook.
When I was unable to locate ground chuck, I used a higher fat ground beef, and I substituted grated Parmesan cheese for Pecorino. Batali’s advice would be to make your store a better store by telling them you and your friends will buy ingredients they specially stock for you. “Your whole town will think you’re a hero,” he said reminding us once again that “It’s more about shopping than cooking anyway.”
Serve up a Sweet Italian Sunday Supper with this week’s Special of the day: Becoming More Italian with Celebrity Chef Mario Batali and recipe for Italian! Meatballs. Enjoy!
Recipes and food photography by Sydne George
Inspired by Mario Batali
(makes 20-25 appetizer meatballs)
Make the sauce:
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ red onion, diced
28-ounce can organic diced tomatoes
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
In a large saucepan or cooking pot over medium heat, heat olive oil until hot. Add garlic and red onion and sauté until softened. Add tomatoes with sauce, vinegar and sugar and stir to combine. Simmer for a few minutes. Transfer sauce to blender and puree until smooth. Return to heat.
1 ½ tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. Kosher salt
Stir to combine. Return to simmer.
Make the meatballs:
2 cups bread (I used Garlic Sourdough which added great flavor), cut into ¼ inch cubes
½ cup milk
1 pound ground beef (not lean)
2 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
3 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
1 ½ tsp, Kosher salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Pour milk over bread cubes in small bowl and let sit until milk has been absorbed. Combine all meatball ingredients in bowl of electric mixer fitted with dough hook. Mix on low speed for four minutes until thoroughly combined. With wet hands, form small meatballs (about the size of a ping pong ball) and slide into simmering sauce. Repeat, forming all of the meatball mixture into meatballs and sliding them into the sauce. Shake pan occasionally to turn meatballs and cook on all sides. Cook meatballs in simmering sauce for 15 minutes, until meat is cooked through. Serve one meatball per person with frilly toothpicks for the first course of your Sweet Italian Sunday Supper.
Sydne George is a food journalist specializing in recipe development, food writing and food photography. She can be reached at email@example.com . Sydne’s recipes from “Special of the day” are archived at http://sydnegeorge.com/blog/.