Flavor First: A Grilling Bible for Any Season

Mario Batali fires up his Italian Grill with fresh takes on favorites.

| August/September 2008

  • Joe Vaughn

While San Pasqual may be the Patron Saint of cooks, Mario Batali comes in a close second. An Iron Chef who has won numerous "Best Chef" awards, Batali is perhaps best known as the host of the Food Network’s Molto Mario. But that’s just the start of his culinary achievements. Batali has created acclaimed restaurants in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York City; launched his own line of cookware; and owns a vineyard and wine shop. He’s also the author of six top cookbooks, including his new Mario Batali Italian Grill (Harper Collins, 2008).

Italian Grill combines Batali’s passion for Italian food with his love of grilling. The book offers everything you need to know about preparing fresh, delicious food on the grill. From equipment and techniques to safety tips, ingredients and resources, Batali has created an indispensable guide. The enticing recipes feature antipasti; pizza and flatbreads; fish and shellfish; poultry; meat; and vegetables--and the photography is luscious.

Batali acknowledges that "America is a wild world of grill experts … from the Carolinas to California, from Texas to Toronto." But unlike American grilling—which often relies on thick sauces, marinades and baths—Batali’s techniques focus more on ingredients, such as quality olive oil, citrus, wine, herbs, garlic and hot pepper. Traditionalists won’t be disappointed, though. Italian Grill offers plenty of new twists on old favorites, including Batali’s own "kick-ass barbecue sauce," for those who can’t live without it.

Mario Instructs: Cooking on a Piastra

Cooking on a piastra is a time-honored technique throughout Italy, especially in Friuli and along the Adriatic Coast. Alla piastra essentially means cooking on a flat griddle over a hot fire.

Today the free-form sheets of metal used in ancient times mostly have been replaced by griddles of cast iron or another metal. You could use a regular stovetop griddle with a smooth surface, such as the ones sold in housewares shops, some hardware stores and online. A large rectangular griddle that fits over two burners is a good choice. An old-fashioned cast-iron pancake griddle also would work, although these are on the smaller side. Best of all is my piastra (see www.ItalianKitchen.com), which is made of thin but durable, and remarkably light, granite. At 10 x 14 inches, it gives you a generous cooking area.

The advantage of a piastra is its very hot surface—hot enough to make mussels dance when they are tossed onto it. It’s a fun and easy way to cook many foods, from shrimp to flat breads. Be sure to give the piastra enough time to get really hot—let it preheat, covered, on the hot grill for at least 10 to 15 minutes. —Mario Batali



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