I am not the type of cook to get loopy about big name chefs, and particularly not their glossy cookbooks. But there’s always an exception to sweeping statements like that and this is a whopper. When I first started cooking, it was for a good but smaltzy Italian family restaurant. Then I graduated to regional and seasonal cooking with the original queen of Italian cooking in America, Marcella Hazan. But all of them pale next to my exuberance for Mario.
Mario Batali that is, and his latest book, Molto Italiano. Not only does this book bring Italy to your doorstep but Batali honors the simplicity of Italian cooking across its regions without watering them down. He makes you believe that fresh food is the only way to cook as well as the easiest. And the variety is endless.
While I love the classic Italian food exalted by Hazan and her home region of Emilia-Romagna – Parmesan cheese, Balsamic Vinegar, Prosciutto and Parma Hams – I have always loved the more rustic Sicilian flavors of sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and fresh fish. Mario covers them all and with loving attention to detail, both in the recipes and his descriptions of sampling the dishes across the regions.
This simple preparation of oranges is the perfect example; the additions of balsamic vinegar and cracked pepper heighten the sweetness of the fruit and make you feel like you’re siting in Palermo with the sun reflecting off the sea on your upturned face.
Clementines, Sicilian Style
4-5 clementines, peeled and separated into sections
2-3 teaspoons good aged Balsamic Vinegar (mine is 4 years, about $6 for the bottle)
2 teaspoons sugar
Toss sections with sugar and vinegar well. Spoon into martini glasses or small bowls and grind fresh pepper on top and serve.