Cookbook Tester–Mario Batali’s Italian Grill


Italian Grill by Mario Batali was published a year ago, but as summer and grilling season rolls around again, now seems like a good time to check it out. The book includes recipes for grilled antipasti, pizza and flatbreads, fish and shellfish, poultry, meat and vegetables.

Many of the recipes can be made using a hot cast iron grill pan or broiler inside, so even if you don’t have a grill, you may want to give the book a shot. The recipes are relatively simple, but not dumbed-down. There are long lists of ingredients–each dish employs layers and layers of exuberant flavors–but you’re not called upon to do anything particularly difficult with them. I dragged my grill up to the roof, and tried out two dishes.

The first recipe I tested was the mackerel in scapece with Amalfi lemon salad (above). “In scapece” is similar to a Spanish/Carribean escabeche/escovitch, in the sense that the fish ends up lightly pickled in a flavorful brine, a method that used to be employed to keep the fish from spoiling. I grilled the mackerel and then poured over a warm mixture of red wine vinegar, olive oil, red onion, sugar, thyme and red pepper flakes. Let it sit for 5 minutes and you’re done. The fish was wonderful–the sharpness of the brine offset the rich fishiness of the mackerel.

But the lemon salad was kind of a disaster. In Amalfi, I’m sure they have lovely, sweet, thin-skinned lemons. But unless you have access to particularly good lemons, the salad of sliced lemon turns out almost inedible. Plus, serving it with brined fish means that the plate is way too acidic.

But the recipe for baby octopus with gigante beans and olive-orange vinaigrette (below) is one I’d definitely make again. My fish store didn’t have baby octopus, so instead I bought one very adult 4-pound octopus, and simmered that sucker for about 1 hour 15 minutes, until tender. (You can skip this step with baby octopus.) Then it’s a simple matter of putting the bean salad together, making the orange zest-olive vinaigrette, and grilling the octopus very briefly so it doesn’t get tough. Everything gets tossed together, and it’s a light and flavorful summer dinner.

Get the octopus recipe after the jump.

Baby Octopus with Gigante Beans and Olive-Orange Vinaigrette
Yield: 6 servings
Adapted from Italian Grill by Mario Batali. If you can’t find baby octopus, you can use a full-sized octopus. Just simmer it in salted water about an hour, or until tender, and then cut up the tentacles before grilling.

For the bean salad:

2 (14-ounce) cans gigante beans or butter beans, drained and rinsed
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the vinaigrette:
2 shallots, minced
1/4 cup pitted Gaeta olives
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
grated zest of 2 oranges
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
For the octopus:
2 pounds baby octopus
extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small bunch chives, cut into 1-inch lengths

Preheat a gas grill or prepare a fire in a charcoal grill.

Make the bean salad: Combine the beans, garlic, scallions, thyme, and olive oil in a medium bowl, and mix well. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside. (The beans can be prepared a day ahead, covered, and refrigerated; bring to room temperature before serving.)

Make the vinaigrette: Combine the shallots, olives, vinegar, red pepper flakes, and orange zest in a medium bowl and and mix well. Gradually whisk in the olive oil. Set aside.

Grill the octopus: Toss the octopus with enough olive oil to coat lightly, and season well with salt and pepper. Arrange the octopi on the hottest part of the grill, leaving at least 1 inch between them, and grill, turning once, until crispy, about 4 minutes per side. [Only 1-2 minutes if you’re using adult octopus that you’ve already simmered.]

Mound the bean salad on a large platter. Arrange the octopus over and around the beans. Drizzle with half the vinaigrette, and sprinkle with chives. Serve with the remaining vinaigrette as a dipping sauce.