Mario Batali Talks About His New Cookbook 'Molto Batali'

Mario Batali talks with iVillage about Molto Batali, his latest cookbook on seasonal meals you can share with your family and friends

Italians are all about food and family, so it's a no-brainer that these two things are the focus of Mario Batali's latest cookbook, Molto Batali, Simple Family Meals.

The book includes 120 gorgeously photographed recipes organized into large, seasonal menus designed for family get-togethers of all sizes. Each menu includes an appetizer, meat entree, a pasta dish, simple vegetable sides and a dessert. For large gatherings, you might want to make all five or six recipes (meat, pastas, vegetable side dishes and desserts), or for smaller weeknight meals, you might opt for one or two courses.

Batali is also trying to help families eat better through the Mario Batali Foundation, which aims to "feed, protect, educate and empower children." In celebration of Molto Batali, he will match the first $100,000 in donations made to the foundation after November 1.

Here, he shares his inspiration behind the book, his latest dinner party soundtrack, why you should shop for fruits and vegetables seasonally and more.

Molto Batali is different from your other cookbooks in that it is designed around menus. Tell me a bit about how you came up with the format for this book.
I’d say it’s designed around seasons rather than menus. Each chapter corresponds to a calendar month of the year. I guess you could make the tomato carpaccio in January but it won’t be nearly as tasty as it is in August. The idea is to use seasonal produce throughout the year to the maximum flavor profile.

Shopping at a greenmarket is the ideal way to get a feel for what’s growing at any given time, but many people don’t have access to produce beyond what’s in their local supermarkets. Do you have any suggestions for choosing good-quality fruits and vegetables when you’re shopping in a traditional grocery store?
My advice is to always buy the items that traveled the shortest distance to get to your grocery store. That changes depending on where you live but unless you're in Hawaii, blackberries are likely fresher and more delicious in the summer months.

Obviously, throwing together a four- or six-course menu is nothing for you, but do you have any tips for home cooks who might not be used to cooking multiple dishes at once?
Bring your kids into the kitchen. A lot of these recipes are simple enough to bring in a pint-sized prep cook. My boys love to help in the kitchen and are more invested in the final meal when they participate. 

Menu-making can be challenging for people. We often think of a main dish and then get stuck. Do you have any suggestions on how to come up with interesting dishes to complement an entrée?
That's the beauty of Molto Batali! Each chapter is constructed around a main dish with a dozen or so accompaniments: antipasti, paste, dolci. It's all right there.

When it comes to entertaining, what are some of your dinner party must-haves?
The cocktails and soundtrack depend on the occasion; recently it's been this groovy Apocalyptica Plays Metallica by Four Cellos. I always have a few bottles of white wine, Aperol and a selection of beer in my fridge.

Since we’re getting close to the holiday season, what are some of your favorite things to cook for holiday parties?
I wrote an entire cookbook about holiday meals, but my favorite is the timpano, borrowed loosely from Stanley Tucci's masterpiece, Big Night.

What are some ways to turn the Molto Batali menus into everyday weeknight meals?
My hope is that families take either a meat or a pasta and pair it with a couple of veggie sides. Yes, each chapter composes a menu, probably for a Sunday supper. Mix and match the pieces for everyday use.

How often do you cook with your kids? Are there any recipes in this book they love making -- and eating?
I cook with my kids about once or twice a week; daily over the summer. In my house, the important thing during the school year is to sit around the table together. My boys are big fans of the "Not Baked" Lasagne [in Molto Batali].

What’s your favorite quick weeknight meal that you make for your family?
Sauteed fish with balsamic vinegar or sauce and a simple salad.

You’re such a busy guy. How often are you able to eat dinner with them?
Almost every night of the week. I used to go to work after dinner but because I'm now filming for The Chew, I find myself calling it a night on the early side more and more.

Sample one of the menus from Molto Batali:
Leg of Lamb in Clementine Crust
Cool Chard with Peppery Ricotta
Ziti with Tuna and Salame Picante

Grapefruit and Honey Cake

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