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Mario Batali’s Americana

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Wondering how to make some Amish beef and noodles? A famous Kentucky horse race pie? Perhaps a tater tot hotdish? For these and 247 other favorites from around the country, you can check out Big American Cookbook, the latest by renowned chef, restaurateur, philanthropist, The Chew host, and wearer of orange Crocs, Mario Batali. Known for his Italian food, he’s been traveling around the United States to find all sorts of regional deliciousness.

Batali, who recently cooked for the Obamas’ final state dinner honoring Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, spend time looking for the kind of dishes that show up at church socials and state fairs. He’s coming to the Bay Area to Bay Area tomorrow, Oct. 27, and will be signing his book with a Sharpie. You can guess the color.

Prior to his visit, Batali had some things to say about not being completely exact in recipes, grape-nuts ice cream, and getting goosebumps from New Orleans food.

(Quentin Bacon)

How do you make your recipes simple without dumbing them down?

I generally like to keep an ingredient list manageable. You won’t find any ingredient in this book that you can’t find in your local market. I also like to add suggestions to many recipes either in the form of additions or modifications but these are definitely optional. In Italian savory cooking, recipes are never super exact. I kept at that trend while writing this book.

What do you want people to know about American food that you don’t think they do?

America often gets a bad rap when it comes to food. I want people to appreciate where dishes came from.  The magnificent mix of European, African, and new world gastronomies has left an imprint across the entire country. Over the years some dishes have been altered, but that’s the beauty of America — and our history. For just about every dish in the book, there’s a beautiful story to be told.

Do you have a secret favorite region in the US for their food? The Northwest because you grew up there? New York because you live there?

That’s tough. I love them both but I think somewhere deep in the distance I must have family from New Orleans because I truly adore the cuisine of the Gulf Coast. Just about every time I go there, I discover a new dish that gives me goosebumps.

What makes your book stand out from other books on American cooking?

I like to think of this book as the definitive cookbook on regional American cuisine. What I think makes it particularly special is that many of the dishes celebrate the treasures of Americana — state fairs, shared dishes from church social, and prized specialties from ethnic groups in the melting pot.

A lot of people can be great cooks without being good recipe writers. What makes you good at writing recipes?

Here’s a little secret: Even great cooks who write recipes still need help with recipe editing now and then, especially when it comes to cookbooks.  When I write cookbooks, I keep the home cook in mind and try to avoid overly complicating the language or technique. In other words, I keep it simple.

What are your favorite ingredients in American food?

My favorite ingredients are anything local to the region we’re celebrating. In the northwest pacific, it’s seafood such as salmon and Dungeness crab. In the deep South, it’s barbecue and vidalia onions.

How did you get the number of recipes in the book down to 250? What was the standard you applied?

We started with many more, but I felt 250 was a good number to land on. It was difficult to edit down to that number. I wanted to have at least every state represented — but more so, I wanted to honor each region of the book with a few recipes that show off what they do best and what they are best known for. Some recipes were obvious, like shrimp jambalaya in the Gulf Coast. Others, not so much — like Grape-Nuts ice cream, a popular mix-in in Maine.

Mario Batali will signing copies of Big American Cookbook at Book Passage, 1 Sausalito – San Francisco Ferry Building, Thursday, Oct. 27, 10:30 a.m. and at Terrapin Crossroads
, 100 Yacht Club Drive, San Rafael, 12:30 p.m.

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Emily Wilson

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