It takes a lot for one book to come and nudge your favorite, olive oil-stained cookbook out of the way—the one you've been using for years, and there is just no way you could replace it. For me, this cookbook was Mario Batali's recently released Molto Gusto. Giada De Laurentiis' Everyday Italian was all the instruction I needed for a long time, and I tended to shy away from new books, fearing it would cancel out what I had learned.
Batali's new cookbook is dramatically different from his previously published ones, and for the better. In his introduction, he mentions that the recipes "are generally so simple that I can for the first time fit recipes on a single page." And the simplicity fits him well— for the food, and for his writing voice throughout each section.
The book also takes an educated look at the way people are eating today, and gives credit to Pollan, Bittman, and Waters. Batali chooses to leave out meat-heavy recipes and instead devotes chapters to seasonally inspired salads, vegetables, bruschetti, pastas, and of course, pizzas.
The un-fussy way he highlights vegetables—like the fresh fava beans with ricotta salata and a lemon vinaigrette, or the broiled pumpkin with apples that utilizes fish sauce, sherry, and sage—are creative without being pricey or unapproachable. Meat isn't completely left out; he has a chapter on antipasti (mainly seafood, which he credits his Seattle upbringing for), which is informative and enticing.
The chapters themselves act as mini artworks, thanks to the beautiful food photography from Quentin Bacon—yes, that's actually his name. The beginning of each chapter has photographs of each dish, before revealing the recipe, which is a wonderful set-up for drooling before reading.
Batali acts as your well-educated friend. He's full of information, and dispenses it in a way that inspires you to cook better, not alienate or intimidate you. He offers interesting advice like the encouragement of toasting the bread for bruschetta a little longer than expected to enhance the flavor, or when putting butter on pasta to use very cold butter and whisk it to make a more sauce-like consistency. Batali is so casual, in fact, that on the first page of the book, when you see him wearing his infamous orange crocs and standing beside a disgruntled bulldog, you know this is a man you can trust.
• Find it: Molto Gusto, $18.98 at Amazon
What cookbook recently took over your rotation?
Katherine Vetrano lives in Portland, Oregon, and is currently enrolled in an MFA program in fiction.
(Image: Katherine Vetrano)