Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cook Club: Mario Batali's Molto Gusto

Molto Gusto: Pizza


Top Scoring Recipes:  Anjali’s Sunchokes with Walnut Gremolata, Jackie’s Linguine with Lemon, Amanda’s Hazelnut Stracchiatella Gelato, Sonia’s Ricotta Gelato

Lowest Scoring Recipes: Jackie’s Broccoli Rabe Pesto Pennette

Average Score: 3.94 (3.9375)

This month’s Cook Club brought us Mario Batali’s MOLTO GUSTO.  The book is structured on what Mario describes as “the true world of Italian meal ideology” … which apparently is built around vegetable antipasti, leafy salads, cheeses, salumi, pastas, pizzas, and gelati or copette.  The recipes are simple and short with a focus on maximizing the best ingredients.  The recipes are organized by seasonal availability of the produce – perfect for the turn of seasons!  The dishes are perfect for sharing, and as it turns out, were a hit for the most part!  This is one of the highest scoring cookbooks from which we’ve cooked. 

For your cooking and tasting pleasure, here is the recipe for LINGUINE WITH LEMON, which scored a 5 out of 5:

Serves 6

4 lemons, preferably Meyer or Sorrento
Kosher salt
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound dried linguine
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for serving


Grate the zest and squeeze the juice from 2 of the lemons.  Using a sharp serrated or other knife, cut off the tops and bottoms of the remaining 2 lemons to expose the flesh.  Stand each lemon upright on the cutting board and cut away the peel and white pith in strips, working from top to bottom and following the natural curve of the fruit.  Hold the fruit over a bowl to catch the juices and cut down along the membranes on either side of each section to release it, letting the sections drop into the bowl.

Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot and add 3 tablespoons kosher salt.

Meanwhile, combine the lemon zest, juice, olive oil, and butter in another large pot and heat over medium-low heat until the butter melts.  Remove from the heat. 
Drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook until just al dente.  Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water.

Add the pasta and 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water to the lemon juice mixture and stir and toss over medium heat to coat the pasta well.  Stir in the lemon sections and cheese (add a splash or two more of the reserved pasta water if necessary to loosen the sauce) and serve immediately, with additional grated Parmigiano on the side.

And here are all our reviews!  Enjoy!

Vegetable Antipasti

Amanda’s Spring Peas with Mint with Red Wine Vinaigrette
Score: 3.5

This was another recipe that was very easy to put together. I ran into a snag when I was unable to find fresh peas. Apparently, it was a little too early in the season, so I substituted frozen peas. The recipe called for a  medium red onion, which I thought was a bit too much. The onion sort of overpowered all of the other yummy flavors in the dish. I would love to try this recipe again, except with less onion.

Leanne’s Roasted Peppers with Capers
Score: 2.5

The roasted red peppers with capers were good but not great.  I also stuck to the recipe on this one as well, although I used capers from a jar and not salt packed dry ones.  This recipe was really labor intensive because the peppers had to be roasted and then peeled.  Honestly, even if it was less work, I wouldn't make it again.

Anjali’s Sunchokes with Walnut Gremolata
Score: 5.0

I have always wanted to eat a sunchoke since watching the first season of Top Chef when Harold (the eventual winner) made a sunchoke soup! So I had to pick this.  In researching sunchokes, I found out they are related to the sunflower and are a great starch substitute for diabetics. Fun facts!  Anyway, the scary part about this dish was using a mandolin! It asked for thinly shaved pieces and my knowledge of mandolins is that they can quickly lead to accidents! Thankfully, I made it through that experience without injury. The remainder of the prep was a breeze, especially because I have made gremolata several times.  The final result was a hit! Everyone at the party loved the crunch of the raw sunchoke and the saltiness of the gremolata.  It was a great snack for the next few days! I will definitely return to this dish for an easy side or appetizer for a large party.

Lisa H.’s Cherry Tomatoes with Crème Fraiche
Score: 3.0

I’m rating this 3/5 because I thought the crème fraiche was too rich. I thought it was really good without the crème fraiche. It would be really good in the summer with fresh tomatoes. I will definitely make this again.


White Bean Salad Bruschetta
Rachel’s White Beans Bruschetta
Score: 4.0

Surprisingly good!  So hearty!  Rachel served this dish at our DC cook club party, and here were some of the comments from the night:  “This was one of my favorite dishes of the evening!  I could have certainly eaten the white bean salad without the bread – it was rich and full of great flavor.”  “Complex flavors and spicy.”  “Very good!  Hearty, yummy.”

Broccoli Rabe Bruschetta
Sonia’s Broccoli Rabe Bruschetta
Score: 4.0

This dish was a nice twist on the traditional tomato bruschetta.  The topping came together quickly; the broccoli rabe didn't need quite as long as directed.  I added a squeeze of lemon juice to the greens while it was cooking, which helped balance the bitterness and I felt that that water was completely unnecessary, as I had quite a bit remaining that needed to be drained.  The ricotta salata was a nice color contrast to the bright green, and added a bit of nice flavor. Parmesan would also be nice.  Overall, this was a solid, easy appetizer that I would serve again.

Sonia served this at our DC cook club party, and here are some of the comments:  “This bruschetta turned out so pretty.  The ricotta salata grated on top of the broccoli rabe was a great complement to the strong taste of the broccoli rabe.”  “Great, wonderful flavors.”  “Nice flavor, yummo!”  “Yummy.”  “The broccoli rabe had an excellent flavor, would make at home.”  “Yummy, a great surprise.”

Amanda’s Onion Ragu Bruschetta
Score: 4.0

This recipe was very similar to the vidalia onion confit I made from Bon Appetit Y'all. The only difference was the Mario Batali recipe included garlic, and the only seasonings were salt and pepper. The recipe was very easy to put together and took very little hands on time. I did make a small modification to the recipe, which I thought improved it quite a bit. The onions were a bit bland after being cooked with water, salt, and pepper, so I added some balsamic vinegar, and let it simmer and reduce. This was a big improvement, and I highly recommend adding balsamic or red wine in place of the water.


Radicchio and Ginger Salad
Rachel’s Radicchio and Ginger Salad
Score: 4.0
Warning: only for people who like strong flavors J And DC Cook Club comments:  “I never would have thought to put radicchio and ginger together, but I loved the flavors.”  “Great to have a salad with the heavier pasta dishes.” 

Winter Caprese Salad
Monica’s Winter Caprese Salad
Score: 4.2

I loved this caprese!  It took a little more work on the front end than I would like for a quick caprese after work, though, so I might save it for dinner parties or special weekend dinners.  The tomatoes were chewy and a little hard to bite through, but the caprese was too big for one bite, so I ended up eating these messily with my hands for dinner and with a fork for cutting the leftovers at work for lunch the next day.  The fresh pesto was luxurious, but this would be easy enough to make with store-bought pesto, too.  The agrodolce was a great, new take on the tangy-sweet-acidic flavor that balsamic vinegar usually provides to a caprese, and it was quick and easy to make.  (Check out Monica’s extended review on her blog!)


Lemon LinguineJackie’s Linguine with Lemon
Score: 5.0

I was really excited to make this dish.  The steps and ingredients were quite simple (lemon, olive oil, butter, garlic, parm cheese), but the flavors were bright, robust, and a perfect way to welcome in Spring.  I was surprised by Mario’s use of the actual lemon wedges in the dish, but I really liked the added oomph of lemony flavor that the slices infused in the dish when it was cooked all together (otherwise, it would be lemon zest and lemon juice).  Mario suggests serving this immediately after making… I ended up serving it quite a bit later for our cook club party, but all the flavors were still there. Rach and I did taste a bit of it right after it was cooked, and it definitely is quite wonderful when “served immediately.”  Jonathan and I then tried the leftovers the next day (with some rotisserie chicken) and it was fabulous then too.  Would definitely make again!

And DC Cook Club Comments: “Very good, tasty.”  “Delish!  Lemon very refreshing.”  “Tasty.”  “Excllent!  Yummy lemon flavor!”  “Loved the lemony flavor – amazing!”  “Excellent!  This was my fave.  I had seconds.”  “Yum!”

Penne all'Arrabbiata
Lisa W.’s Penne all’Arrabbiata
Score: 3.5

My husband and I love arrabbiata sauce with any pasta.  Our fun fact about arrabbiata is that it literally means, “angry,” due to the heat of the chili peppers!  We thought that this recipe was extremely easy to make and very flavorful.   Although we enjoyed this dish, we still prefer Harris Teeter's arrabbiata sauce.

DC Cook Club comments: “Spicy as an arrabbiata sauce should be, but felt like some of the other flavors got lost in the spiciness.”  “Spicy, but good.”  “Spicy!”  “A little spicy but good.”  “A little spicy for my palette.”  “Yum.”

Anjali’s Penne alla Puttanesca
Score: 4.75

So I really wanted the pasta Lisa W. chose (it's my sister's favorite!), but the Puttanesca was also intriguing. It wasn't until I saw the ingredient list that I realized I have never actually had puttanesca! Was I really going to eat anchovies? I was more than a bit scared, nevertheless, I proceeded.  The prep was very simple, but I will say, I have a bone to pick with Mr. Batali.  WHAT are Gaeta Olives? Google didn't know, the men in Jimmy's Food Store (awesome Italian grocer in Dallas) didn't know, and I certainly had no idea.  I decided to subsitite with Green Cerignolas.  Also, he asked for Pomi tomatoes, but I bought canned San Marzano instead.  I was displeased with his level of specificity and lack of explanation, but I was quite pleased with the alternatives I chose.  The dish was wonderfully hearty and savory. Each component added to the flavor explosion, but also aded a layer of complexity. No one even knew the anchovies were there!  I happily ate the leftovers for days! The guests at our Italian feast were also fans.

Pennette with Basil Pesto
Monica’s Pennette with Basil Pesto
Score: 4.8

The only reason this dish doesn't get the full 5 points is that it requires a food processor and fresh basil, neither of which I have on hand all the time.  I used whole wheat pasta and made sure to cook it just to al dente, and the result was fantastic.  The pesto was a salty, garlicky, light but delectable sauce for the pasta.  I usually buy my pesto from the grocery store, but now that I've tasted fresh pesto and realized how easy it is to make, I'll never make pesto pasta with store-bought pesto again.  Considering how easy these ingredients are to keep on hand (minus the basil, which is perishable and pseudo-seasonal), it doesn't make sense to pay for overpriced, preservative-filled pesto at the store when I'm craving a good Italian meal.  It was such a mindless dish to make, too, so it'd be easy to make in a hurry for dinner on a week night as long as you keep the ingredients in your pantry.  I think it'd also work really well with angel hair pasta, so that's what I'll try it with next time.  (And check out Monica’s extended review on her blog!)

Broccoli Rabe Pesto Pennette
Jackie’s Pennette with Broccoli Rabe Pesto
Score: 2.0

I was very sad about this dish.  I had high expectations for it – I always wanted my “own” pesto recipe that I could make again and again.  And I usually really like broccoli rabe.  But this dish was disappointing.  The pesto itself was very bitter and then when mixed with the pasta, the pasta became, somehow, bland and bitter.  It was slightly better as a leftover the next day.  I’m not sure if I ended up using too much broccoli rabe, but either way, I don’t think I would make this again.

DC Cook Club Comments: “A little bland, but good.”  “Slightly bitter but good.”  “A little too bitter.”  “Very good, though the flavor was a little strong for me.”  “Very fresh and summery.”

Leanne’s Pennette with Summer Squash and Ricotta
Score: 4.5

My summer squash pasta was great and got really positive feedback.  I generally stuck to the recipe, although I probably used double the amount of parm that it called for.  The mint was a really nice touch although I was skeptical about how it would work with the dish.  I also couldn't find pennette so I used some form of penne.  This was a really easy recipe and I would make it again.

Amanda’s Penne alla Primavera
Score: Day of = 2.0; next day with modifications = 4.0; average = 3.0

I was so excited to try this recipe. I adore Primavera and was so excited to make it. The recipe has several yummy fresh vegetables, which I loved. However, I was very disappointed to see there were no tomatoes in the recipe. I thought that the vegetables would need a bit of acidity to enhance the flavor, which was a correct guess. The recipe was very straightforward and easy to put together, but was seriously lacking flavor. It needed tons more salt and pepper, and, as mentioned before, some acidity, and possibly red pepper flakes. I doubled the recipe to accommodate our 13 person dinner party, and had tons of pasta leftover. The next day, I added stewed tomatoes, and some of my mom's canned tomatoes. It was a great improvement. I will definitely try this recipe again, but with the modifications.


Molto Gusto: Pizza
Sonia’s Margherita D.O.P.
Score: 4.0

The recipe for the pizza dough was very detailed and easy to follow.  I elected to skip the parbaking step, and instead used a pizza stone, which resulted in a crisp thin crust that was chewy but not soggy (a bit of cornmeal on the bottom of the unbaked crust created an extra bit of crunch).  I used premade pizza sauce (Muir Glen) rather than Pomi strained tomatoes.  I added freshly chopped garlic to the sauce, which gave it a great flavor.  The classic Margherita toppings were light and tasted great.  My only complaint was that the crust was slightly salty.  Overall, this was a really quick and easy technique for making fresh pizza.  I used the remaining dough for other combinations of topping, and will be keeping this in my repertoire.

Lisa H.’s Balsamic, Onion, and Goat Cheese Pizza
Score: 3.0

I used store bought pizza dough and then I didn’t correctly read the directions. So, the rating could be 100% my lack of following directions. The best part to me was the balsamic reduction you make for the onions. It was great on a salad and I think the onions would have been great on a salad too. Not bad, I just didn’t care for the combination on the pizza, but I will be making the balsamic reductions again.


Amanda’s Hazelnut Stracchiatella Gelato
Score: 5.0

I absolutely adore gelato, and have always wanted to try making it on my own. One of my favorite flavors is hazelnut stracchiatella, so this recipe was an obvious choice! The recipe itself was very involved, but not as hard to make as I expected. The hazelnuts had to be toasted and then soaked in milk, which gave the gelato such great flavor. Batali suggested chilling the custard for anywhere from 6 hours or overnight, and I chose to let it chill overnight, which also helped intensify the flavor I think. Once the mixture was ready for the ice cream maker, I was a little unsure of how long to let it freeze. The recipe said to use the ice cream maker instructions and vice versa, so I just checked it every few minutes while it was freezing. This is a fantastic recipe if you are not familiar with making gelato. The steps are very well defined and easy to follow. I see more homemade gelato in my future!

Ricotta Gelato
Sonia’s Ricotta Gelato
Score: 5.0

I just got an ice cream maker, so I was excited to try it out with this recipe.  To my surprise, this wasn't an exceptionally difficult undertaking.  I made a couple of changes: replacing the corn syrup with 1/4 cup of sugar and adding a tablespoon of vanilla (I absolutely couldn't resist).  The gelato had a really subtle flavor that was just slightly sweet.  It was very creamy and smooth, and it achieved an appropriate level of thickness without the corn syrup (the corn starch acts as enough of a thickener).  The ricotta gave the gelato a richness, without being heavy.  Huge success!

DC Cook Club comments: “Delicious!  Lots of rich flavor, but light at the same time.”  “Delicious.”  “Very tasty, good flavor.”  “Delicioso.”  “Superb.”  “Yum!!”  “Great!  I had seconds.” “Really simple, fresh, creamy.”

And Sonia made these amazing Lavender Shortbread Bites to go with her gelato. Check them out at her blog!

Oven-Roasted Tomatoes

I couldn't resist including this photo too of Monica's oven roasted tomatoes. Beautiful, no?