It is heavy on the veggies; skimpy on the meat.
It is a most unexpected new cookbook from the one and only Mario Batali.
Yes, the porcine prince, known especially for his way of coaxing unforgettable flavors from offal and other esoteric cuts of meat, has written "Molto Gusto'' (Ecco), a cookbook filled with casual, simple fare that puts the spotlight on seasonal, fresh produce instead.
The once portly celeb chef also has reportedly lost more than 45 pounds. He's even become a proponent of the "Meatless Mondays'' movement, which encourages people to eat more vegetables at least one day a week. To that end, Batali has added new vegetarian options at each of his 14 restaurants every Monday.
If you carnivores out there are tempted to stop reading now, you'll end up missing out. This is not a vegetarian cookbook. Indeed, you'll find dishes such as "Lentils with Pancetta,'' "Mussels with Peperonata,'' "Sausage and Pepper Pizza,'' and "Linguine with Squid & Its Ink.'' But the dishes are decidedly lighter, with meat used as an accent, rather than as the star. Even my husband, who would relish eating a big slab of meat at every meal of the day if he could, found himself enjoying a meatless pasta dish from the book far more than he expected.
That dish is "Pennette with Summer Squash and Ricotta.'' It couldn't be easier to make, either. It's such a cinch that you could even whip it up on a busy weekday after work.
Pennette rigate pasta gets boiled in a big pot of water. When it reaches the al dente stage, it's drained, then tossed with zucchini and summer squash slices that have been sautéed in olive oil, as well as a big handful of fresh mint.
Divide the pasta among serving dishes. Top with big spoonfuls of creamy ricotta that's been mixed with olive oil and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. That's it.
It's a dish that tastes of summer. The mint adds lightness to the rich ricotta. The addition of olive oil to the ricotta is genius, lending far more complexity to the fresh, milky taste. Be sure to use a high-quality extra virgin olive oil. When you have a dish like this that has only a few ingredients, you really want to make sure each is top-notch so that they really shine.
From antipasti to salads to pizza and pastas, this book will show you that you don't have to rely on meat to make a dish distinctive and delicious.
Give it a try. If Mario can, so can you.
Read more of what Carolyn has to say about Mario Batali and Molto Gusto on her blog Food Gal.
Pennette with Summer Squash and Ricotta
From Molto Gusto by Mario Batali (ecco 2010)
- Kosher salt
- 1 cup fresh ricotta
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for serving
- 2 to 3 tablespoons warm water
- 1 pound summer squash or zucchini, or a combination, cut lengthwise in half and sliced into 1/3-inch-thick half-moons
- Maldon or other flaky sea salt
- 1 pound pennette rigate
- 6 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh mint
- Coarsely ground black pepper
Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot and add 3 tablespoons kosher salt.
Meanwhile, whisk the ricotta and 3 tablespoons of the olive oil together in a small bowl. Add the Parmigiano, whisking until it is evenly incorporated. Whisk in 2 table- spoons warm water, then whisk in another tablespoon of water if necessary to loosen the consistency.
Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the squash and cook, stirring, until just tender and golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Season well with Maldon salt and remove from the heat.
Drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook until just al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/3 cup of the pasta water.
Add the pasta and the reserved pasta water to the squash, stirring and tossing over medium heat to mix well. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and allow to steam together for 2 minutes.
Stir in the mint, season with Maldon salt if necessary and with pepper, and transfer the pasta to a serving bowl. Garnish with dollops of the whipped ricotta and serve immediately, with additional grated Parmigiano on the side.
Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.