Mario Batali is one of my favorite American chefs for his often bold but always sensible and original way to introduce Italian cooking to the non-Italian public. In this book, Italian Grill, more so than in others, he shows his competent perspective on Italian food, based on real understanding of its basic principles – simplicity of preparation enhancing the natural flavor of the food.
Barbeques and outdoor grilling and are not as big in Italy as they are in other parts of the world, like in United States for example; but before pasta and tomato sauce became heralds of Italian cuisine, for centuries in Italy there was (and still is) a great tradition of grilling meat, poultry and vegetables, which much contributed to make Italian food so appreciated and famous around the world. In this regard, in the beginning, Batali gives a beautiful introduction to Italian grilling and its distinctive characteristics, such as no use of any thick sauce but just very light marinades, and how it “is all about nuance and minimal interference with the flavor of the primary ingredient.” His Fiorentina steak recipe is a great example and true to tradition: no sauce or marinade, just a rub with fresh herbs, a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. The recipe is truly a flavorful and tasty “glory of Tuscan cooking”, as he calls it, especially when choosing the best cuts of beef.
The book goes over some always useful grilling basics, and a summary of Italian ingredients and techniques, and subdivides the rest of the book in six sections of grilled, fire and spit roasted delights, from antipasti to fish and poultry, to meat and vegetables. The Vegetables section is actually my favorite, the recipes are singular and delicious, like Asparagus with Lemon-Prosciutto Vinaigrette or Sweet Potatoes in Cartoccio (wrapped in foil with onions and olive oil). I also appreciated the words spent by Batali in the section introduction emphasizing the importance of shopping for produce at farmer’s market or farm stands on every possible occasion, as the choice of in-season vegetables is always key for best results.
However, the main reason for deciding to include Italian Grill to my collection of cookbooks was the section called Pizza and Flatbread. I was looking for an alternative to stove oven for baking pizza, with close enough results to those obtained with the traditional direct-heat method of a brick oven. I browsed through the different recipes and images of Pizza, Crostini, Focaccine, Piadine e Schiacciate (different regional names and types of flatbread) and their dough, and I was hooked. Cooking pizza alla piastra (on a flat griddle over the grill) is now my new way of preparing this favorite of mine, in less time and with great results.
What else to say? The illustrations throughout the book are beautiful and inviting, the instructions are clear and comprehensive, and the variety of recipes is such to please any palate, taste and level of skill at the grill.
I definitely recommend Mario Batali, Italian Grill cookbook, available at Amazon.com.
Note: this book is part of my own personal cookbooks and I was not compensated by the publisher for this review.