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Batali cookbook celebrates healthy home cooking

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Grand Central Life & Style
'America Farm to Table' by Mario Batali and Jim Webster
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Kelly Campbell
Mario Batali

If celebrity chef and restaurateur Mario Batali’s Christmas dinner is anything like his Thanksgiving feast at home in northern Michigan, it’s going to be a delicious holiday.

For Thanksgiving, his meal took a Sante Fe spin, including turkey with a kick — with guajillo-pepper glaze — and side dishes featuring hominy and hatch-green chile salad, creamed kale, and sweet potato tamales with cumin, creme fraiche and truffle honey. For dessert, pumpkin pie gave way to wife Susi’s cranberry upside-down cake and a sour cherry tart with bacon crust.

“For Christmas, the dinner is more traditional,” says Batali, whose food column runs in the Trib twice a month. “But I like to throw in some curveballs to keep things interesting. There will always be a Feast of Seven — or at least three or four — Fishes, and a few varieties of pannetone, which we like to top with mascarpone and homemade Michigan cherry jam.”

There’s no doubt that Batali is happiest when he’s being creative in the kitchen.

In his latest culinary adventure, he digs into the roots of healthy home-style cooking with a cookbook that celebrates the contributions of the American farmer.

Besides his day jobs as a co-host on “The Chew” on ABC and running several restaurants, Batali is promoting his new book, “America Farm to Table: Simple, Delicious Recipes Celebrating Local Farmers (Grand Central Life & Style, $35). He will visit the Market District store in Robinson on Dec. 16 to sign copies and meet with his fans.

Batali was an advocate for the “farm-to-table” concept before it became fashionable.

“Serving local, often organic and seasonal ingredients is suddenly very popular across America,” he says, “but this recent trend has actually been years in the making. Farmers provide a way for chefs and businesses to offer fresher seasonal produce with far more variety and allow consumers to connect with how and where their food is grown.”

For his book, Batali teamed up with Jim Webster, a writer, editor, writer and blogger with The Washington Post. Webster provided the personal stories of farmers all over the country. Batali came up with recipes for dishes to showcase their produce and product specialties.

Batali and Webster had met at a NASCAR race in Texas after Webster, a home cook, won Batali’s grilling challenge contest.

“I realized that Jim has a passion for food and cooking even before I met him. His submission of Pig-Stuffed Pig-Wrapped Pig was inventive and fun,” Batali says. “But once I met him and got to chat more about food and ingredient ideology, I knew we were on the same page.”

They kept in touch and the concept of doing a cookbook together “came to life more or less organically.”

The farmers’ stories they documented ranged from Pierre Monnat of Seattle, who produces fava beans and lamb, to Jim Crawford of Washington, D.C., who grows corn, broccoli and strawberries. Batali came up with Lamb Shank Sloppy Joes and Fava Bean Guacamole for Monnat, and Chilled Sweet Corn Soup and Salmon with Strawberry Salsa for Crawford. Twelve cities and 12 farmers followed, yielding more than 100 homegrown recipes.

Batali was most captivated by Jeff “Smokey” McKeen from Pemaquid Oyster Farm in Maine.

“He’s an oyster farmer, and his whole operation was fascinating to me. His oysters are just so darn good to eat but are also the very definition of sustainable agriculture,” the chef says.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from “America Farm to Table,” it’s in the pride of the farmers who live off the land. And if there’s a moral to their story, it has to be the importance of the human touch between the farmer and the cook.

Batali concludes that “to eschew the machine-made and the mass-produced in favor of handmade is the very best recipe of all.”

Candy Williams is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

Potato-Crusted Eggplant and Angel Hair Turrets

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup instant mashed potatoes (flakes)

1 eggplant, cut into 14-inch-thick rounds

12 yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, sliced

2 oil-packed anchovy fillets, plus 1 tablespoon of their packing oil

1 can (28 ounces) San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand, with their juices

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste

Water, for cooking pasta

Kosher salt, to taste

1 package (1 pound) angel hair pasta

12 cup mozzarella, cut into small cubes

Fresh basil leaves, torn

14 cup red pepper jelly

In a large saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Line a plate with paper towels.

Place the eggs in a shallow dish, and the instant mashed potato flakes in a second shallow dish.

Dip the eggplant slices into the eggs, letting any excess drip off, and then dredge them in the instant potatoes, shaking off any excess.

Fry the eggplant for 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Transfer to the paper towel–lined plate to drain.

In a large pot or small Dutch oven, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until it is slightly softened, for 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the garlic, anchovies, and tomatoes. Season with the red pepper. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, allowing the flavors to come together.

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and season with salt. Cook the pasta for 1 minute less than instructed on the package.

Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat (you can wipe the pan clean that you used for the eggplant) and add a few ladlefuls of the pasta sauce. Add the pasta and cook for a minute; remove it from the heat and add the mozzarella. Stir until the cheese is just melted and holding together.

Using an immersion blender, carefully puree the remaining tomato sauce in the pot.

Scoop a ladleful of the tomato sauce on a plate and spread to create a bed of sauce. Top with a slice of eggplant.

Top with a twirl of pasta and some basil.

Add another layer of eggplant, then pasta (a little less than the bottom layer) and basil, then top with an eggplant slice, a smear of pepper jelly, and some more fresh basil.

Drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Potato and Salami Cheesecake

3 pounds waxy gold potatoes, such as Yukon Gold

Water

4 tablespoons ( 12 stick) unsalted butter, divided

1 cup fresh bread crumbs, toasted in a saute pan until light golden-brown, divided

4 large eggs

12 cup whole milk

14 cup fresh ricotta

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

12 pound sweet Italian salami, cut into 14-inch dice

1 bunch fresh flatleaf parsley, finely chopped ( 14 cup)

4 ounces Asiago, grated

Place the potatoes in a saucepan and add water to cover them. Bring the water to a boil and cook the potatoes until tender, for about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, butter the bottom and sides of a 12-inch springform pan with 2 tablespoons of the butter, and dust the bottom and sides with 14 cup of the bread crumbs.

In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the milk and ricotta and mix; set it aside.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Drain and peel the potatoes and pass them through a food mill or ricer into a very large bowl.

While the potatoes are still warm, use a large rubber spatula to fold in the Parmigiano, then add the salami and the parsley and stir just enough to evenly mix. Gently stir in the egg mixture; do not overstir; just bring it all together.

Place half of the potato mixture in the prepared pan and gently smooth it to the edges.

Sprinkle the grated Asiago over the potato mixture to within ¼ inch of the outer edge, but not over. Top with the remaining potato mixture and carefully smooth it over with a wet spatula.

Sprinkle it with the remaining 34 cup bread crumbs and dot it with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter.

Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until light golden brown on top.

Remove it from the oven and let it rest for 20 minutes.

Unmold it onto a serving plate and cut it into wedges like a cheesecake to serve.

Makes 8 servings.�

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