“You need the scatter pattern right there,” says Mario Batali to the guy standing next to him, whose hand is poised over a platter of monster veal shanks.
“You need the scatter pattern,” repeats Jimmy Fallon, sprinkling salt from two feet above the meat. “I’m telling you right now, this osso buco is amazing already.”
The adorably boyish talk-show host is in the kitchen with his superstar-chef friend for a private Italian-cooking lesson. Fallon has an avid interest in food: On Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, he has made salmon carpaccio with expert fish chef Eric Ripert, and he’s coaxed The Rolling Stones’s Keith Richards into disclosing his passion for growing lemons. (Fallon even got a few from Richards and sprouted the seeds; he now has two “Keef lemon trees” in his office.) His favorite recent purchase is a cast-iron skillet for making the perfect grilled cheese. “I really geeked out, went to every website to research. The skillet came pre-seasoned, but I seasoned it anyway; put flaxseed oil on it, baked it upside down in the oven, then more flaxseed oil. My grilled cheese is completely rad now.”
The pair became good friends five years ago, when Fallon was searching for a golf partner and a mutual friend recommended Batali. The following summer, they took a golf trip to Ireland. “It was epic,” says Fallon. “I had one of the best Italian meals of my life there, but not at a restaurant. We cooked. We went to a store in Dublin to get a grill pan—and there’s a Mario Batali aisle. I said, ‘You have to buy your own pan; I have to see this happen.’ The woman at the counter did a double take, then she shoved the pan in a bag. It’s like going sneaker shopping with Michael Jordan. You have to buy the Air Jordans.”
“We stayed at a place in Killarney called Aghadoe Heights, perhaps my greatest hotel room of all time,” adds Batali. “It came with a full, fresh keg of Guinness. We had a bartender come up and calibrate the tap.”
When the friends meet in the kitchen, the first thing they do is compare outfits. Fallon is wearing a checked flannel shirt; Batali has on a vest with the logo of his TV show The Chew. “It’s very NYC woodsman,” he says. Fallon then shows off a photo of his hard-to-get Nike SB Dunk Tiffany sneakers. He jokes that he’ll text the picture to Batali’s 14-year-old son, Leo, who wants a pair, too. “I’m going to caption the photo, ‘The power of being a grown-up,’” says Fallon.
Batali begins the cooking class with pasta. “Here’s the most important thing about boiling dried pasta,” he says in a serious voice, handing Fallon the package of fettuccine. “Read the directions on the box and follow them.” “I need my glasses,” jokes Fallon as he dumps the pasta in the water. “Now, gently stir the pasta with those tongs,” instructs Batali. “Tong those strands, Fallon, to keep them separate.”
When it’s time to drain the pasta, Batali tells Fallon to reserve a little of the starchy cooking water. “A ladle of pasta water in your sauce makes it more viscous,” says the chef. “It changes the whole game.” “Dude,” replies Fallon. “It’s all about the viscosity. We should get that printed on T-shirts.” He adds the pasta and water to the sauce, a mix of crumbled spicy Italian sausage, onions and ribbons of boiled green cabbage. “As you may have guessed, this is the Irish boiled dinner with pasta, an ode to Jimmy’s heritage,” says Batali. He selects a noodle and gives Fallon the opposite end, and they slurp toward each other, re-creating the famous scene from Lady and the Tramp.
The next lesson is braising; Fallon will practice by making osso buco. Batali puts him in charge of browning the veal shanks. “The shank is the calf,” Batali tells his friend, pointing down at his own large legs. “Mine would be excellent.” He instructs Fallon to sear the meat on the stove until it’s deeply, darkly caramelized, to seal in the juices. “It can’t be this easy,” marvels Fallon. “But it is this easy.”
After Batali puts the veal in the oven, the men make gremolata, spiking the classic citrus-and-herb topping with horseradish. “Pass me the zester,” says Batali. “And when I say zester, you say, ‘Zester? I hardly’” “Even know her!” Fallon chimes in, with his best Austin Powers accent. The pair crack up.
The last lesson: mini calzones. Batali loves the versatility of the pizza-dough base. “Once you’ve made it six times, you own it, and you’re the master of yeast,” he says, sprinkling flour on the work surface and setting out a ball of the dough. “But you have to be ready to get dirty.” He and Fallon pick up small handfuls of dough; on the count of three, they clap; flour flies everywhere.
Batali: You could buy the dough at your local pizza shop if you want. You tear it into little pieces, roll it into little balls, and this is what you get.
Fallon: So you go to your pizzeria and you go, “What’s up, my man?”
Batali: Yeah, you say, ‘I need a little bit of dough.’ So gently, with the fingertips, roll it into a piece about as big as a large sand dollar. Go to the edges and flatten them down first, because you don’t want a big dough situation.
Fallon: You don’t need a rolling pin for this?
Batali: You could use one, but we’re much more tactile, which is why the ladies love us.
Fallon: Because they know we’re not afraid to use our hands.
Batali: Now, you can make these calzones with any variation of these three fillings: There’s pesto, pepperoni and ricotta.
Fallon: Let’s do all three!
Batali: Alright. The trick is balance. You’d think abbondanza would be better, but more is not better. More is actually worse.
Fallon: More is worse. It’s like making the right sandwich.
Batali: Exactly. Too much stuff, it seems like it’s a good idea. But it’s not. OK, grab some pepperoni.
Fallon: Two peppys?
Batali: I’d say four peppys.
Batali: And then flatten it out so the filling goes almost to the edges. Now the fold. The world famous Batali-Fallon fold.
Fallon: People have blogged about this.
Batali: Yes they have.
Fallon: They’ve created Tumblr accounts.
The little, crispy fried calzones are delicious, stuffed with creamy ricotta and salty pepperoni. Fallon chooses one with green basil pesto peeking through the side. “I like this little guy,” he says. In fact, he likes it so much that he makes more for friends at home that night, with dough he bought from the pizzeria down the street.
Superchef Mario Batali gives late-night host Jimmy Fallon a complete Italian cooking lesson, from braising meat to stuffing calzones.