Notorious egos and generally making a spectacle of oneself kinda bore me, so it’s little surprise that I don’t share many New Yorkers enthusiasm for the orange clog man himself, Mario Batali. Sure, I’ve watched his Food Network show dozens of time and even found myself humming along to his opening music, yet all of this brouhaha around Del Posto as the ultimate embodiment of foodie excess has nauseated me. Even if I had the spare change for a $90 rack of lamb, I’d never spend it there, or on that, no matter how great those party-favor breadcrumbs are. So, it surprises me as much as it may you that I’ve eaten there not once, but twice in the last month, and loved every last bite of it.
Of course, I am not eating at the restaurant proper, but one of the best kept secrets on 10th Avenue — the Enoteca inside. Forty-one dollars buys you four courses, and an extra nineteen buy you a sommelier chosen wine pairing for each course. (Try not to groan when they bring you a Bastianich wine. I swear, it’s very good.) The food is some of the best Italian I’ve had in this city, comparable only to Al Di La in Park Slope, and it impressed both my parents when we went for their anniversary and Alex’s family, for his father’s birthday. I’ve tried the veal ravioli with cauliflower, gnocchi Bolognese, pork marsala and even a teeny, tiny whole chicken–no eggplant parmesan or meatballs as far as the eye can see. I may be tired of this guy’s overexposure, but the food goes a long way towards making up for it.
Suddenly, the Batali name is not just associated in my mind with unscheduled drop-ins and egregious consumption, but good, no great food. Thus, when Julia Moskin (we love her here, by the way — remember this?) spent this Wednesday trying to cure us of this ridiculous notion that one should only cook with expensive wine–bravo!–and ended it on a Batali note, I knew it would be just matter of days before I made his risotto al Barolo, but uh, with some $10 sangiovese, and only in the double-digits because we wanted to drink it, too. Be not turned back by its muddy, beige color and the low-quality of these snapshots (hey, we were trying to get to the eating!), it’s actually a lovely, subtle pink and utterly delicious. We had it with some green and white asparagus, a mixed salad and yet another Batali inspiration–green crostini, though taken in an entirely different direction by me. His recipes are unfussy and, thus far, absolutely perfect and I suspect I’ll be using them again and again.
Anyway, that I’ve had my great confessional, this is probably a good time to admit that I’ve also been coveting his both his risotto pot and grill pan. I think they’re absolutely stunning. Also, those wooden spoons. Not the Crocs, though. A girl’s gotta draw the line somewhere. Fortunately for us, though, it’s after the risotto.
Risotto al Barolo
Adapted from Mario Batali
Yield: 6 to 8 first-course servings.
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 cup Barolo or other dry red wine
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade, or low-sodium, canned
3 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, more for serving.
1. In a wide, deep skillet, heat oil until very hot but not smoking. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened and translucent, 8 to 10 minutes. Do not brown; reduce heat as needed. Add rice and stir with a wooden spoon until opaque and slightly toasted.
2. Meanwhile, heat the stock in a saucepan and keep it just below a simmer. Add wine and a ladleful of hot stock and cook, stirring often, until liquid is absorbed. Continue stirring and adding hot stock a ladleful at a time, always waiting until liquid is almost completely absorbed before adding more. Cook until rice is tender and creamy but not mushy, about 20 minutes. Toward the end of cooking time, rice will quickly soften, so stir constantly and taste often. Turn off heat and stir in butter. Stir in cheese and serve with additional Parmesan.
Sort of wildly interpreted from Mario Batali
Note: We updated this recipe in April 2009.
1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
1 cup large green pitted olives
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
1 15-ounce can of artichoke hearts, drained
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 large slices of crusty bread
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. In a food processor, process the garlic, olives, capers, artichoke hearts and olive oil to a coarse paste.
2. Toast the bread on the oven rack for 6 minutes, or until crisp and browned. Spread the olive paste thickly over the toasts and serve.
Do ahead: The olive paste can be refrigerated for 2 days. Let return to room temperature before using.