- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2005

NEW YORK — Mario Batali has seven restaurants, three TV shows, two children and one James Beard Foundation award as the nation’s outstanding chef for 2005.

Now Mr. Batali, who also won a 2002 Beard award for best chef in New York City, has written his fourth cookbook, “Molto Italiano,” subtitled “327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home” (Ecco).

It’s a handsome volume packed with the kind of rib-sticking fare familiar to viewers of Mr. Batali’s long-running “Molto Mario” show on the Food Network.

Whether all of the recipes are likely to be embraced by home cooks is debatable; how many Americans make their own sausage or eat lamb sweetbreads?

But in the book, as on TV, Mr. Batali is so persuasive and unpretentious that you just might be tempted to trouble your butcher for ground duck to stuff into sausage casings.

“This is food that can be made at home without too much shopping,” Mr. Batali said in an interview at Otto, the Greenwich Village pizzeria and wine bar that is part of his and partner Joseph Bastianich’s expanding empire. “Once you realize how simple these things are, it’s not very hard to do.”

I settled on two recipes to try first: beef birds and marinated zucchini.

The beef birds are made with skirt steak, an economical cut of meat, though not necessarily a tender one, embellished with two of Italy’s best-known pork products, prosciutto and pancetta.

The meat cooked quickly under the broiler and would have been even better on an outdoor grill — Mr. Batali says skirt is the meat of choice among his Latin cooks, and it’s the only cut of beef he offers from the grill, besides T-bones.

The marinated zucchini put the summer’s bounty of squash and basil to good use.

A make-ahead dish whose flavors meld as it sits in the refrigerator, it would be perfect picnic food.

Beef birds (Uccelletti scappati)

2 pounds skirt steak, about ½-inch thick, cut into 12 4-inch-long pieces

12 thin slices prosciutto di Parma

12 fresh sage leaves

1 pound pancetta, cut into 1-inch cubes (you will need 18 cubes)

6 wooden skewers

Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing, plus 1 tablespoon for salad

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup roughly cut escarole

½ red onion, sliced

Preheat the grill or broiler.

Lay the beef out on a work surface. Cover each slice with a slice of prosciutto, place a sage leaf in the middle of each slice of prosciutto, and roll up, starting from a short side. Thread the pancetta and beef rolls alternately on wooden skewers, using 2 rolls and 3 cubes of pancetta per skewer. Brush the meat with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Grill or broil, turning once, until the beef is cooked medium rare, about 3 minutes per side. Meanwhile, toss the escarole and onions with remaining olive oil and salt to taste. Place on platter. Place the skewers on the salad and season again with salt. Serve. Makes 6 servings.

Marinated zucchini (Concia di Zucchine)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 medium green zucchini (about 1 pound), trimmed and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices

3 medium yellow zucchini (about 1 pound), trimmed and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices

6 medium cloves garlic, finely minced

2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

1 cup fresh basil, cut into chiffonade

2 tablespoons kosher salt

2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

In a deep 10- to 12-inch saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until just smoking. Add 5 or 6 zucchini slices and cook, turning once, until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining zucchini.

In a small bowl, gently stir together the garlic, red pepper flakes, basil, salt and pepper until well mixed. Line the bottom of a deep-dish pie plate with one-quarter of the zucchini slices. Sprinkle evenly with one-quarter of the herb mixture and drizzle or spritz with 1 tablespoon of the vinegar. Continue layering the remaining zucchini and herb mixture with the remaining vinegar. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for 2 hours. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Makes 8 servings

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