One of the world’s most exuberantly creative Chefs is Mario Batali – and what a life he has led!
So let’s look at the book that tries to capture his insane love of food – and then let’s have his famous linguine recipe!
Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by
Bill Buford (Author) – Published in 2006
My good friend Leslie had reminded me that I hadn’t focused on “Heat” – and I rectified that a couple of months ago, because this might be one of the ALL-TIME BEST BOOKS about food – the love of it, the mystery behind it, and the Chefs who make it so – no more so than legendary Mario Batali!
Bill Buford—author of the highly acclaimed best-selling Among the Thugs—had long thought of himself as a reasonably comfortable cook when in 2002 he finally decided to answer a question that had nagged him every time he prepared a meal:
What kind of cook could he be if he worked in a professional kitchen? When the opportunity arose to train in the kitchen of Mario Batali’s three-star New York restaurant, Babbo, Buford grabbed it.
“Heat” is the chronicle—sharp, funny, wonderfully exuberant—of his time spent as Batali’s “slave” and of his far-flung apprenticeships with culinary masters in Italy.
MARIO, HIS SCOOTER AND HIS ORANGE CLOGS!
Mario Batali is legendary for flying through lower Manhatten on his scotter, sporting his signature orange clogs – and Buford’s attempt to keep up with him – in every way imaginable – makes for an hilarious adventure.
In a fast-paced, candid narrative, Buford describes the frenetic experience of working in Babbo’s kitchen: the trials and errors (and more errors), humiliations and hopes, disappointments and triumphs as he worked his way up the ladder from slave to cook. He talks about his relationships with his kitchen colleagues and with the larger-than-life, hard-living Batali, whose story he learns as their friendship grows through (and sometimes despite) kitchen encounters and after-work all-nighters.
Among my favorite anecdotes: the night that Batali and his business partner Joe Bastianich had a business dinner in Italy – just the two of them – that lasted six hours, and they consumed 12 bottles of wine between them!
Or how about this anecdote from the book: one morning Mario woke up after an all-night party binge – in soaking wet swim trunks. The trunks weren’t his, and he was in a house that didn’t have a pool!
Bill Buford captures these stories with an affection that is unmistakable, and also captures the world of working in a high end restaurant – and don’t miss the part that highlights the Author’s attempt to butcher an entire pig by himself – in his apartment!
Linguine with Clams from Babbo, via Bill Buford
small pinch chopped garlic
small pinch red chili flakes
medium pinch finely chopped onion
medium pinch pancetta
“slap of butter” (a couple tablespoons)
“splash of white wine” (1/4, perhaps)
4 ounces pasta
1 big handfuls clams (cockles, the little ones, are preferred)
…begin by roasting small pinches of garlic and chili flakes and medium pinches of onion and pancetta in a hot pan with olive oil. Hot oil accelerates the cooking process, and the moment everything gets soft you pour it away (holding back the contents with your tongs) and add a slap of butter and a splash of white wine, which stops the cooking. This is stage one.
In Stage two, you drop the pasta in boiling water and take your messy buttery pan and fill it with a big handful of clams and put it on the highest possible flame. The objective is to cook them fast–they’ll start opening after three or four minutes, when you give the pan a swirl, mixing the shellfish juice with the buttery porky white wine emulsion. At six minutes and thirty seconds, use your tongs to pull your noodles out and drop them into your pan–all that starchy pasta water slopping in with them is still a good thing; give the pan another swirl; flip it; swirl it again to ensure the pasta is covered by the sauce. If it looks dry, add another splash of pasta water; if too wet, pour some out. You let the whole thing cook away for another half minute, swirling, swirling, until the sauce streaks across the bottom of the pan, splash with olive oil and sprinkle with parsley.
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