At F&W, we’re endlessly fascinated by all things Italian—the food, the wine, the chefs. And one Italian chef we’re always fascinated by is Mario Batali. So for our Italian wine issue this month, we invited him to be our first-ever guest editor. Mario contributed his gargantuan talent throughout the issue: He interviewed writer Jim Harrison for “Hungry Crowd,” divulged his favorite restaurants in Italy for “Where to Go Next” and gave his buddy Jimmy Fallon a private cooking class. He even showed me how to make our cover dish, pasta with blistered tomatoes, so I could share his best tips with you.
What I Learned from Mario
1. Buy cherry tomatoes on the vine, place them in a 425-degree oven and blast them for 25 minutes. “You grab the stem end, and pfut!, the skins come right off,” says Mario, though we leave them on for this pasta recipe. This method redeems any out-of-season tomatoes.
2. Mario sometimes uses a single ingredient both during the cooking process and at the very end. For example, in our pasta recipe, he tosses in a little chopped parsley with the vegetables as they cook because, he says, “I like the cooked, muted flavor of parsley.” Then, “I add more at the end, for brightness.”
3. It’s always better to have the sauce too tight (or reduced) than too wet. When Mario’s sauce is ready to take off the heat, it looks like a limp and lovely vegetable stir-fry.
4. The make-or-break moment is when you’re coating the pasta with sauce. You want to do it the way you’d coat lettuce with salad dressing: Lightly! For maximum control, add the pasta in batches to the pan containing the sauce, instead of vice versa.
5. For a wine pairing, Mario rejects all reds—too tricky with the blanched asparagus in the sauce. “I’d open a bottle of white that has some acidity to drink with this vegetable pasta, like a Friulano from northern Italy,” he says.
Mario on His Favorite Color
One last question I had to ask Mario: Do you think you’ll ever get tired of the color orange? Mario answered swiftly, “Do you ever get tired of being happy? Orange makes me happy.”