Mario Batali is a culinary legend, a bundle of energy who has had enormous impact on America’s culinary landscape. His capacity for activity seems boundless: television including Iron Chef, restaurants spanning the continent, personal appearances, cooking contests, and, of course, cookbooks. But not just any cookbooks, for Batali is an enthusiastic advocate for finding and recording authentic recipes. Batali has become a food historian, preserving the culinary past for all generations.
In Molto Italiano, Batali records local recipes, the city-specific ones that make Italian cuisine so richly varied. Travel twenty miles in Italy from one town to another, and you’ll encounter an entirely new set of dishes. You really cannot compare, you can only enjoy.
This particular recipe is from Brindisi, an historic port city in Southern Italy. You’ve probably heard of Brindisi, but you won’t recall where. At the end of this blog, I’ll tell you.
On our first visit to Italy, Suzen and I actually went to Southern Italy and ate in one of the portside restaurants of Brindisi. I ate fresh anchovies at that little place, so when we saw this recipe which uses anchovies and almonds we were intrigued. That’s an unusual pairing of flavors. Knowing Mario, we expected something awesome. We were delighted with the results. So will you be.
Oh, I almost forgot about Brindisi. Remember the movie, and now television series, Spartacus? Kirk Douglas as the Roman gladiator who kills his trainer and leads a slave rebellion against Rome? His goal was to lead the slaves to freedom by crossing Italy, boarding ships and fleeing back to Greece. The port was Brindisi. Something to contemplate as you eat your anchovies.
St. John’s Eve Pasta
Yield: 4-6 servings
¾ cup sliced blanched almonds
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups fresh bread crumbs
4 salt-packed anchovies, filleted, rinsed, and chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 ½ cups tomato sauce
6-8 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
1 pound lasagnette or pappardele pasta
Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot, and add 2 tablespoons of salt.
Meanwhile, in a 10-inch sauté pan, gently toast the almonds in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat until golden brown.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the almonds to a plate. In the oil remaining in the pan, toast the bread crumbs, stirring, until golden brown and crisp. Combine the bread crumbs and almonds in a small bowl.
Add 2 tablespoons more olive to the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir in the anchovies and crush them into the oil with a fork. Add the anchovies and oil to the bread crumb mixture and season with lots of black pepper. Set aside.
Add the remaining 5 tablespoons olive oil to the pan, add the onion and garlic, and coo gently until softened but not browned. Add the tomato sauce, being to a brisk simmer, and cook until the sauce has reduced by one-third. Add the basil, remove from the heat, and set aside.
Drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook until just al dente. Drain the past well, and toss into the pan with the sauce. Add half of the bread crumb mixture and toss to mix well.
Transfer the pasta to a warmed serving blow. Sprinkle the remaining bread crumb mixture over the top, and serve immediately.
Source: Molto Italiano by Mario Batali
I wasn’t sure how to title this blog. I was tempted to call it the Kitchen Sink Caesar Salad. But I’ve never felt secure with that “kitchen sink” phrase. Now, my personal kitchen sink is clean, and uncluttered, and hasn’t been plugged up for months. Still, the connotations can be less than culinarily pleasing.
And I had a good reason to label this recipe “All In.” I’ve made and eaten Caesar salad hundreds of times. The dish simply fascinates me. It’s one of those “do they have it” recipes I use when checking out a new cookbook.
And, oh, how those recipes can vary. The mythology about how the original Caesar was created is dense, so by now we are not sure even what those original ingredients were. If you scan cookbooks for Caesar recipes, you find significant differences. Some with anchovies, some without. Some with Worcestershire sauce, some without. And there is the issue of hot sauce and whether to use raw egg yolk and … There are a dozen different major variations.
So if you want a good Caesar dressing, an authentic one, what are you to do? This recipe from the Santacafe in Santa Fe is my favorite. Like the “all in” action in poker where you just push all the chips forward on the table, here you are all in with all those possible ingredients. The result is a thick, tangy dressing that will leave your mouth sparkling.
Even when you determine which ingredients to use in your Caesar, as we have here, you still have some room for experimentation. I have used the proportions listed below to yield an excellent dressing. I have also played with some variations. I use fewer egg yolks for a slightly lighter dressing. If your palette loves a tangy bite, you might double the lemon juice or red wine vinegar. This recipe is robust and you can make these variations with no risk. You dressing will still be superior.
The biggest question many people have about Caesar dressing is the anchovies. They can be overpowering. Bottled anchovies are often quite intense in flavor and may be packed with salt and other flavorings that can affect the balance of dressing. I suggest first tasting your anchovies and making an on-the-spot decision about just how much to use. You can always sneak in an additional minced anchovy at the end.
Better yet, look in your market for those packets of anchovies in the refrigerated foods aisle. These packets are wide, flat and covered with plastic wrap revealing a single layer of anchovies. Please try them. In this format, you will taste a pure anchovy flavor, one that is subtle, not strongly fishy. They present a different taste experience and definitely yield a more sophisticated dressing.
For me, a perfect meal is a Caesar salad, a petite steak, and a serious bottle of sparkling wine. This dressing will help make that meal.
Servings: Dressing for 3 small heads of romaine, for 6-8 people
Juice of 1 large lemon
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
7 dashes Tabasco sauce
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 can (2 ounces) anchovy fillets, drained and minced
1 ¼ cups olive oil
4 egg yolks.
In a medium-sized bowl combine the lemon juice, garlic, mustard, vinegar, Worcestershire, Tabasco, salt, half the pepper, and the anchovies. Lightly whisk to blend. Continuing to whisk, drizzle in the olive oil, adding just enough to form a smooth texture. Whisk in the egg yolks. Taste and correct seasoning.
Source: Santacafe in Santa Fe, New Mexico