Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking
by Mario Batali, Mark Ladner
Publisher: Ecco, Country: US
ISBN: 9780061924323, Year: 2010
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

Patterned after Mario Batali’s New York pizzeria Otto, Molto Gusto takes the focus away from complicated “meat-and-potatoes” Italian dishes and towards simple, easy-to-prepare everyday fare (or as limited by your budget for the deli). The recipes are all approachable and the photographs are inviting, but some readers might be turned off by some extremely simple recipes and the dependence on a specific brand of tomato product.

Full review

Structure of the book

Molto Gusto has 126 main recipes, divided into 7 chapters:
Vegetable antipasti (25 recipes)
Seafood antipasti (5 recipes), followed by a section on meat for antipasti
Bruschetta (10 recipes), followed by a section on cheese with 2 cheese condiment recipes
Insalata (14 recipes)
Pasta (28 recipes)
Pizza (25 recipes)
Gelato (8 recipes) and Sorbetto (4 recipes), with 5 recipes for coppette (coupes).

Most of the recipes have full-page photographs, which appear together in sections. Though the recipes are written in a large font, they are concisely written and two may occupy the same page. At the end of the book there are sections for the glossary and contacts for sourcing ingredients.

About the author

Mario Batali is one of the most respected American chefs specializing in Italian cuisine. He is the owner of fourteen restaurants in the United States and is the author of eight cookbooks, including the James Beard award-winning Molto Italiano. He was also the host and chef of several cooking and travel programs, including Iron Chef America, Molto Mario, and Spain… On the Road Again.

How is this book interesting/special/new/useful?

In writing Molto Gusto, Mario Batali set out to recreate the flavors of his New York pizzeria Otto at home. While it’s not officially the cookbook of Otto, many of the dishes from the restaurant can be found in the book. In the introduction he connects the philosophy of Otto – a fun, casual restaurant that supplies everyday Italian food to the whole family – to healthful and environmentally responsible eating. He takes the focus away from main courses and “meat and potatoes” plates (which are uncommon in a traditional Italian diet) towards plant-based dishes and pasta, the protein coming mostly from small portions of cured meats, cheeses, and grains.

True to this philosophy, the dishes of Molto Gusto consist mostly of vegetables in various forms: antipasti, salads, bruschetta, pasta, and pizza, with maybe a cured meat thrown in for interest. A few recipes are seafood-based, or are simple preparations like truffles, butter or cheese on pasta. The ingredients are usually treated sparsely, relying on the inherent quality of their natural flavors. As a result the recipes are approachable even to those with minimal skill in Italian cooking, and are usually fast enough to accomplish for dinner without any large preparation, with some exceptions (like preserved tuna, or tomato raisins that take four hours to bake). However, though the book is subtitled Easy Italian Cooking, it’s by no means Inexpensive Italian Cooking for at least a few recipes, and relies on a well-stocked neighborhood delicatessen for ingredients like truffles, caviar, bottarga, and the cured meats. However, Batali does use these ingredients to great advantage by handling them minimally and letting them be the stars of the show.

The pasta chapter reads like a “greatest hits” of easy-to-prepare classics such as Carbonara (interestingly presented with the raw yolk plopped on top), Amatriciana, Aglio Olio, Cacio e Pepe, Vongole, Puttanesca, Arrabbiata, Pesto, Primavera, and Papalina. Likewise, the pizza chapter contains old favorites like Margherita, Quattro Formaggi, Napoletana, Pepperoni, Bianca, and Pane Frattau (here transformed from its traditional carta di musica base).

The choices of antipasti and salads encompass the four seasons, from spring peas with mint and cherry tomatoes with crème fraîche and chives to broiled pumpkin with apples and salsify with blood orange citronette. Even the Caprese salad has two versions: a classic version that takes advantage of the summer bounty and another that can be served in winter (using pesto and oven-dried tomatoes). The photography by Quentin Bacon is beautiful and even humble sardines appear inviting and saturated with color.

What problems/flaws are there?

Since the recipes are meant to be prepared quickly, they lack the characteristic layered flavors and depth that some may expect in Italian cooking, like ragùs that are simmered for long hours. As a corollary, a handful of recipes are extremely simple, almost to the point of insult to those who are used to cooking Italian food. For example, the lardo bruschetta basically instructs you to arrange lardo on grilled bread and sprinkle it with salt and pepper.

Batali has a curious dependence on Pomì brand strained tomatoes, which he claims are sold in most grocery stores. It is in fact what they use at his Otto restaurant, but it is by no means common. Having never seen the product, I wondered if I should replicate it by processing San Marzano tomatoes and passing them through a sieve, using a passata, or even American tomato sauce out of a can – three products that have widely contrasting textures. I still don’t know where Pomì falls in this spectrum of viscosity, and neither the internet nor Batali himself are helpful in this regard, and I was hoping he would at least cite a viable substitute. He uses it for most tomato-based pasta sauces and plainly as his pizza sauce, and some might want a more flavorful alternative, or at least to add character to it.

In the section on cheeses, Batali names a few specific brands (Joe’s Dairy Mozzarella based in New York’s Soho area, and Coach Farm Triple Cream from his wife’s family’s farm in New York’s Hudson Valley), which might be irritating to some readers who do not have access to these special cheeses.

Batali uses US customary volume measures throughout, but uses weight for vegetables and cured meats. I would have preferred him to use weight measures for cheeses as well, since they are dispensed this way at the deli and it can be difficult to estimate how much cheese corresponds to a particular volume when shredded or grated.

Who might enjoy/use this book most?

Fans of the Mario Batali franchise will be very pleased with Molto Gusto, especially as it’s patterned after his latest pizzeria, but it’s also an entertaining and useful book for those who want to be able to cook traditional, everyday Italian fare while maximizing use of the neighborhood delicatessen and green grocer.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 3. Recommended – some flaws
Visual appeal: Beautiful
Suitability as a gift: Quite nice
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One Comment

  1. Posted 07 Jul 2010 at 13:10 | Permalink

    Ah, but since I have no neighborhood delicatessen and green grocer, this book would be useless for me. Unless I wanted to spend a bundle ordering ingredients online.

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