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Kitchen Insider Facebook Chat: Mario Batali on Pasta and His Favorite Things

Food & Wine welcomed chef, restaurateur and TV star Mario Batali to our Facebook page for a chat with fans. Batali shared tips on how to make pasta and reveals some of his favorite tools and restaurants. Here are some of the highlights.

How to Make Pasta

Question: What type of potato do you think is best for making a nice light gnocchi?
Mario Batali: Old russets, never a waxy or "new" potato.

Question: Mario, what is the secret to keeping gnocchi light? Mine are too dense and heavy.
Mario Batali: Work the flour in to the potatoes when they are still warm and do not knead them other than just bringing the dough together.

Question: Chef, I can't seem to get my pasta dough to come together when I use my mixer or by hand most of the time, but some of the time it's just fine. Next time do I just need to keep adding water? Another egg?
Mario Batali: It's better to start a little wetter than a little drier so add an egg and add flour a bit at a time till it feels right.

Question: Is there one tip in making the best spaghetti sauce?
Mario Batali: It's all about the shopping; buy really good San Marzano tomatoes from Campania.

Question: I tend to work with whole milk ricotta and mozzarella cheeses for my lasagna. I know that many people recommend low fat or skim versions, but I fear that the richness of the cheeses will be lost. Do you work with low fat or skim cheese? If you do, what do you add to give that old home quality that we remember from lasagnas of childhood?
Mario Batali: The bulk of the creaminess in my lasagne is from the bechamel which can be easily and tastily made with skim milk, same with the cheeses but I recommend smaller portions rather than trying to slim down the cal count with substitutions.

Question: I've made the orechiette with goat cheese and hazelnuts a number of times and its always great the first night, but it gets greasy the next day. I've tried some hot water to bring it together again. Is there a chef's secret to this?
Mario Batali: Add a little hot water to the pan when you warm it up again it will re-emulsify the sauce.

More Cooking Tips

Question: I'm looking for any good recipes that are low in salt and fat as I recently had a heart attack and need a low salt/low fat diet.
Mario Batali: I find that cutting salt is easy if I use lemon and vinegar to zip stuff up.

Question: Mario, do you have any tried and true venison recipes or is there something special you like to do with venison...like marinating?
Mario Batali: I definitely marinate venison in herbs and oil for at least a day and then i like to sear it medium rare and serve with a spritz of saba.

Question: Hi Mario, I love cooking with soft shell crabs when they are in season but I always end up cooking them the same way, dusted with flour, pan fried, and on a salad or sandwich. Any other suggestions for cooking up some soft shells?
Mario Batali: I love them grilled on a barbecue, no flour, just a touch of cayenne.

Question: I've recently taken a class with a local chef dealing with knife technique and it's improved both my ability and willingness to experiment more in the kitchen on a regular basis. Can you recommend another skill/course that would help the average home cook as much as this one has helped me?
Mario Batali: Basic butchery and baking are two important fundamentals.

Question: I love the idea of simplicity in italian cooking—letting flavors shine. Well, I ADORE scallops—what's you're favorite preparation?
Mario Batali: Sliced thin raw with a squeeze of tangerine and chili flakes.

Question: I'd like to try and cure my own meats...what is a good meat to start with for a first timer?
Mario Batali: A whole muscle like beef bresaola or a duck breast.

Question: I would like to invest in a wonderful aged balsamic vinegar for drizzling. Do you have a preference?
Mario Batali: I like Aceto Manadori and I like Giusti's Aceto Tradizionale.

Question: Italy has so many wonderful wine regions—some aren't as widely known as others. Which is your favorite and what food would you pair with it?
Mario Batali: I love Tocai now— it's called Friulano and I love it with scampi simply grilled with a squeeze of lemon.

The Restaurant Industry

Question: Hi Mario, as a restaurant owner, what is one piece of advice you would give?
Mario Batali: Love the game, love the customer and love your staff.

Question: Chef, I am trying to transition into the culinary industry. I've been working in marketing for the past year and a half in NYC. Any advice for how to break in to my first job in the industry?
Chef Mario Batali: Find a restaurant that you love and offer to work for free for 1 day a week for 6 months and get back to me.

Question: Mario, is there a cuisine which you predict will increase in popularity soon? I've heard that Peruvian food is on the rise, as well as Japanese/Peruvian fusions. Any predictions?
Chef Mario Batali: I think Moroccan and Northern African flavors are on the rise along with freedom in that region.

Batali's Inspiration

Question: Hello Chef! You're an inspiration to me. Would love to know: what inspired you to become a chef?
Chef Mario Batali: I grew up in a family that thought great food was a birthright.

Question: I admire your work—who is the chef you most admire??...
Chef Mario Batali: I generally like all chefs, but I really think Massimo Bottura is rocking right now.

Question: Dear Mario, I've watched and admired you since I was 12. My biggest question: how do you stay passionate about what you do? I love food and beverage, but I don't want to burn out. Can you offer any advice?
Chef Mario Batali: Don't worry about burn out till you feel burnt out, then take a little break and the passion comes right back sometimes I need a half a day off, but usually not.

Batali's Favorite Things

Question: What is your favorite dish you have ever made and why?
Chef Mario Batali: Breakfast for my kids everyday—they never send anything back!

Question: What has been the most gratifying for you since you have done so much for so many people??
Chef Mario Batali: Playing golf with my kids and having happy customers

Question: What's your favorite kitchen tool or gadget?
Chef Mario Batali: The microplane has changed my life.

Question: What is your most used ingredient?
Chef Mario Batali: Extra virgin olive oil, dried pasta and fresh breadcrumbs.

Question: What's more important to you...memorable preparation, or memorable ingredients?
Chef Mario Batali: Ingredients always rule out.

Italy Travel Advice

Question: Which region of Italy do you refer to most for inspiration?
Chef Mario Batali:Emilia-Romagna and the Veneto.

Question: Can you recommend a culinary tour in Italy? Would be nice for the end of our Honeymoon in Italy. Thanks Chef!
Chef Mario Batali: The Amalfi Coast is the most romantic place on earth.

NYC Restaurant Recommendations

Question: What Italian restaurant is a "do not miss" in NYC? I love all of yours and would like to know what you enjoy.
Chef Mario Batali: Anything by Michael White is great. I LOVE Osteria Morini.

Question: Hi Mario, aside from your own, of course, what is your favorite restaurant and what do you order while you're there?
Chef Mario Batali: I love the fried oysters at Pearl Oyster Bar on Cornelia St in NYC.

video Video: Mario Batali

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