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October 2008 COTM Batali: Vegetable Side Dishes ("Contorni")

October 2008 Cookbooks of the Month:

Mario Batali’s Babbo, Molto Italiano, and Simple Italian Cooking.

Please post your full-length reviews of vegetable side dishes ("Contorni") recipes here. Please mention the name of the recipe you are reviewing and the book and page number, if possible, as well as any modifications you made to the recipe.

A reminder that the verbatim copying of recipes to the boards is a violation of the copyright of the original author. Posts with copied recipes will be removed.

Thanks for participating!

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  1. Broccoli Rabe with Roasted Garlic (Babbo page 204)

    This is what Batali recommended as a bed for the Grilled Pork Chops with Peaches and Balsamic Vinegar. You roast a whole head of garlic; mush half the cooked cloves with 3 salt-packed anchovy fillets (I only had oil-bottled); then sauté that in oil before adding blanched, chopped, and wrung-out-to-dry broccoli rabe, the remaining roasted garlic cloves, and a bit of red pepper flakes.

    I adore broccoli rabe and often serve it with pork chops. My quick and dirty version is to stir-fry some sliced garlic, toss in either blanched or unblanched broccoli rabe and some red pepper flakes, and cook until it looks good. His version was a little bit better. But only a little bit. And took a good 50 to 60 minutes longer and necessitated heating up the oven. Maybe, if I have the time and have the oven on anyway, I’ll do the roasted garlic again because I did like the whole roasted cloves in the finished dish. But I didn’t see that wringing the broccoli dry in a kitchen towel made much of a difference at all and the anchovies were pretty much lost on me.

    3 Replies
    1. re: JoanN

      This way of preparing brocolli rabe is pretty similar to a pasta dish I had in Puglia, which was yummy. I can see that it would be good with pork chops.

      1. re: JoanN

        You can roast garlic in a toaster oven, saving some energy/gas $$.

        1. re: JoanN

          Made this last night with spinach instead of rabe. My usual rabe/greens of any kind method is the same as yours, and I agree roasting the garlic didn't seem worth the extra work. I did like the anchovy kick though, and might try to sneak those in from now on.

        2. Marinated Zucchini Squash (Molto Italiano)

          I changed this up a bit based on what we had. He calls for pan-frying slices of zucchini. And then marinating in a mixture of red wine vinegar, red pepper flakes, garlic, salt, and basil for 2 hours or more.

          I broiled in less oil to make it healthier and found I was out of red pepper flakes, so used aleppo, and out of basil, so used thyme instead. I marinated for just over 2 hours - it could have used more.

          Overall it was fine. I found the garlic too strong, so much that my kids wouldn't eat it. And I found it could use more red wine vinegar, but of course I didn't measure it so perhaps I didn't add enough. I also tend to like things acidic.

          I ended up using the leftovers topped with homemade tomato sauce and pecorino cheese and olives. Very good like that.

          3 Replies
          1. re: jsaimd

            I have made this recipe, marinated zucchini from MI, several times, following the recipe as closely as possible. I love it! And all the adults I've served it to have loved it. But my daughter would never eat it. Too spicy. (Come to think of it, I don't think she's ever eaten zucchini.)

            1. re: jsaimd

              I've made this recipe several times following the directions exactly. Everyone always seems to really enjoy this one.

              1. re: jsaimd

                I made this last night for dinner - I thought it was decent, but not amazing. I think my new red pepper flakes must just be really hot, as I thought that the dish had a little too much heat. I didn't have fresh basil, so I layered thyme stems instead, and then added basil later on when I served this dish, removing the thyme stems.

              2. Eggplant Caponata, Molto Italiano, p. 426 (and Simple Italian Food, p. 226)

                The recipes are almost exactly the same except SIF calls for 1 cup of evoo and 1 tsp of chili flakes while MI says 1/2 cup evoo and 1 Tb chili flakes.

                I made this a few weeks ago as an app to bring to a fellow CH's house. I don't think I've made caponata before, and I liked this version. It had a nice balance of sweet/sour and I liked the currants in it instead of raisins. One of the reasons I wanted to make this is because it included unsweetened cocoa but, oops, didn't have any so I left it out (had used the last of it in chili). Ingredients are eggplant, onion, garlic, pine nuts, currants, sugar, cinnamon, cocoa, thyme, Tomato Sauce (p. 426), and balsamic vinegar.

                I served this, along with a cannellini bean and basil dip based on a Batali recipe, with toasted bread. ArizonaGirl took a pic and linked to the caponata recipe here (check out her bolognese...it was so good):


                2 Replies
                1. re: Rubee

                  I wanted to do this but wanted to hear what others thought about the cocoa as an ingredient, and lo and behold, you didn't use it! I did the sauteed eggplant instead.

                  1. re: Scargod

                    Cocoa works well, try it next time!

                2. Potatoes Roasted with Garlic Cloves, Molto Italiano, Pg. 440

                  I have roasted potatoes with garlic, EVOO, S & P, and herbs every couple of weeks since forever BUT, these were something else. Absolutely delicious! Although the recipe calls for "waxy potatoes" I used red bliss, halved and I did not blanch them. One whole head of garlic with separated but unpeeled cloves and a whole bunch of Rosemary with chopped leaves make all the difference. Everything tossed in a roasting tray and cooked at 425* for 30 minutes When they came out of the oven DH starting popping them in his mouth without waiting for the rest of the meal......Broccoli Rabe alla Pugliese, Pg. 423 and a roast haddock recipe from Fish Without a Doubt: The Cook's Essential Companion by Rick Moonen. A book Yayadave recommended. I'm recommending this potato recipe. It's terrific!

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: Gio

                    Oh that's good to know - I love roasted potatoes, and rosmary, but never seem to find a recipe that quite works for me.

                    1. re: Gio

                      I made this recipe, patate al forno, MI p. 440, to go with braised pork. I did blanch the potatoes and I think it makes a dfference in producing a tender interior and a crunchy exterior.

                      1. re: NYCkaren

                        Quick question on these - I want to serve them with the Pollo alla Diavola, which of course needs to roast in the oven. I'm thinking about making the potatoes first, then popping them back in the oven while the chicken is resting. Should I cook them for the full time, and then "reheat" - or cut the cooking time short when making them?


                        1. re: MMRuth

                          Good question. The braise I served them with was done on the stove, so I avoided that problem. They cook at a different temperature? I would probably cook the potatoes fully _ or almost fully _ cook the chicken and then stick the potatoes in to reheat.

                          1. re: NYCkaren

                            Thanks - I'm doing that now, though it's been almost 30 minutes and they are not really crispy. Maybe b/c I'm using a ceramic dish? I'll switch to a metal pan when I reheat. I only made half a batch and thought it was too little to throw on my big baking sheets..

                      2. re: Gio

                        I made these last night, using 3 yukon gold potatoes, which I figured was about half the recipe. I used half a head of garlic and chopped up the leaves of one very long branch of rosemary, then noticed the instructions called for a 'bunch of rosemary' (I hate it when instructions are put that way - a bunch can be so many different sizes), so I threw in two rosemary branches as well. I did blanch the potatoes, then roasted in a cazuela for 30 minutes. They were delicious, but not yet crispy, which was fine, since I'd made them ahead of time to reheat. After I removed my Pollo alla Diavola from the oven, I popped them in for 10 minutes and they browned/crisped up perfectly.

                        1. re: MMRuth

                          I also made these potatoes and I thought they turned out good, but never got quite as crispy as I prefer. The next day I reheated the leftovers in skillet and they finally achieved that perfect crispy texture.

                        2. re: Gio

                          These are my new favorite potatoes. Hard to believe potaoes can taste this good.

                          1. re: Gio

                            Potatoes Roasted with Garlic Cloves - Molto Italiano, p. 440

                            Well, everybody said these were good so of course I had to make them too. They were great. I used Yukon Gold potatoes. Blanching really makes a difference with them getting crusty, and everything all together - lots of fresh rosemary, garlic cloves, and olive oil - make this simple dish stand out. I served them as a side dish with chicken with cider vinegar, apples and pomegranate from Simple Italian Food, and E said "the chicken is good but the potatoes are out of this world".

                          2. Broccoli Rabe alla Pugliese, Molto Italiano, Pg. 423

                            Rubee's own method of cooking Rabe is identical to mine... Mario's alla Pugiese recipe, though, calls for adding chopped, pitted black olives at the end of cooking time. The greens cooked well and remained nice and green, nevertheless the dish was much too salty for me. DH scarfed it down, though. He'll eat anything.
                            This was served with the Roasted Potatoes and roast haddock.

                            12 Replies
                            1. re: Gio

                              "He''ll eat anything."

                              That made me LOL! Mr GG is exactly the same.

                              1. re: greedygirl

                                me too. C is like that as well, but he qualifies it by stating that he'll eat anything that my lovely hands will make him. hahaha.

                                  1. re: mirage

                                    Double awww. Mine will eat anything I make but fish cakes. Memories of jr. high caf. food.

                                    It's really great to be with someone who loves your cooking and tells you so all the time...except, of course, for salmon patties.

                              2. re: Gio

                                I made this dish and had a totally different experience.

                                It was too bitter, had no flavor and was overcooked and mushy.

                                1. re: cpw

                                  Yes, that can happen with Rabe. The trick is to cook them just untill wilted but still green... but sometimes the stems are the cause of the bitterness. That's why I really like to cut the stem off a little below the leaf and braise them with tinned anchovies, no extra salt and with some chopped onion.
                                  My mother used to say, "Bitter in the mouth, sweet in the stomach.".

                                  1. re: Gio

                                    I usually like bitter greens. I am going to try them again later with anchovies. Maybe some vinegar might be good too.

                                    1. re: cpw

                                      Has anybody tried Lidia B's bitter greens with Italian sausage served over orrechiete (sp?)? It's amazing. She sautes the broc rabe with garlic and adds hot pepper flakes. Sautees the crumbled-up sausages and adds to the greens. I put a bit of chicken broth to make more sauce. Serve over pasta with pec.or parm.

                                      I found it in Julia Childs Cooks With Master Chefs.


                                      1. re: oakjoan

                                        I make a dish using all of those ingredients, though I guess never thought of it as Lidia's dish. It is one of my go-to simple suppers and something I always think of when I see The Fatted Calf offering their Calabrese sausage for sale. :-)

                                        If the rabe seems particularly mature, I'll blanch it first. Usually, the water that clings the rabe (and to the pasta) combines with the fat of sausage and the grated cheese to make enough of a "sauce" for me.

                                        I have some rabe plants started, and I'm looking forward to enjoying this dish all winter long. Mmm mmm...

                                        1. re: oakjoan

                                          This is a great recipe! The sausages and broccoli rabe come together very well with the pasta, and ofcourse only orrechiete (sp?) will do.

                                      2. re: Gio

                                        As a Texan, I first experienced broccolli rabe about seven years ago. I eat it every now and again, but the bitterness is off-putting. I think I like it most with Italian sausage.
                                        I've had some that wasn't quite so bitter, yet I'm pretty sure it had stems. How do you explain that?

                                        1. re: Scargod

                                          My theory is that the bitterness is tied to hot growing conditions and/or the maturity of the plant. I've had rabe in winter and spring that was mild and sweet, but batches that I've had during or just after California's "Indian summer" have been more bitter. Could be a coincidence, I suppose, but I've noticed the same temporal phenomenon with the arugula we've grown.

                                  2. Brussel Sprouts with Pancetta
                                    (or bacon)

                                    I had these at the restaurant, a total porkapoloosa. It's hard to bring myself to do it quite so porky at home. This might be delicious over instant creamy polenta, as a quick informal cold weather meal.

                                    my notes:
                                    Really render and crisp the pancetta/bacon
                                    It's absolutely worth the two step parboil then pan sautee of the sprouts.
                                    Don't disturb the brussel sprouts - keep your meddling stir-loving significant others away from the stove!

                                    This is one of those dishes that can turn around bs haters.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: pitu

                                      Is this from the Babbo book?

                                      1. re: pitu

                                        Brussel Sprouts with Pancetta p.207 Babbo
                                        : )

                                      2. Sweet and Sour Pumpkin (MI 443)

                                        Cutting up pumpkin is a major pain. I had more than the 1 lb. he calls for, but wasn't sure exactly how much more so sort of winged the amounts, and I think I may have overdone the red wine vinegar (you also add honey and hot pepper flakes after sauting the pumpkin with garlic slivers in olive oil) or else my vinegar isn't very good. Husband liked it more than I did but we both thought it was overly vinegary. Again, this could be my fault, although I tried to keep things even. Served as a side with Flexitarian's sun-dried tom. croque mons. sandwich.

                                        14 Replies
                                        1. re: LulusMom

                                          P.S. - this is one where I think the mint actually helps the recipe a lot.

                                          1. re: LulusMom

                                            Well that looks Ab Fab..... just saying. How clever of you to make that combination. Do you think the flavor of the tomatoes may have interfered with the sweet & sour?

                                            1. re: Gio

                                              Hmmm, No, I think the sour was just overpowering (and again, this may well have been my or my vinegars fault). I had some leftover pumpkin yesterday ... still very sour.

                                              The one thing I'll say for this book is that the recipes so far have turned out looking *just* like the pictures. This is especially exciting for Lulu - she loves looking at cookbooks with me and she'll say "ooooh, that looks good" so I'll tell her we're going to make "what she picked out" and then show her the picture and the food and bingo, she's extra excited about it. End of rambling mom story...

                                              1. re: LulusMom

                                                "The one thing I'll say for this book is that the recipes so far have turned out looking *just* like the pictures. "

                                                That's interesting, because one of my (as yet unvoiced complaints) is the opposite - that some of the photos do not reflect the recipe - I'll mention in when I post some of my other reports today.

                                                1. re: MMRuth

                                                  Interesting! I've made three things so far, and they've all looked pretty darned close to the pictures (which amazed me, I have to say). I'll look forward to your report.

                                                  1. re: MMRuth

                                                    That's too bad, MMRuth. My experience has been more like LuluMom's. A while ago I made the zucchini blossoms stuffed with goat cheese, for instance, and I was jazzed that they looked just like the photo.

                                                    1. re: NYCkaren

                                                      I'm thinking I may have exagerated a bit! Will reconsider after I post the rest of my reports from the weekend ....

                                            2. re: LulusMom

                                              Rotfl LulusMom! "sun-dried tom, croque mons." Luv them croque mons!

                                              1. re: oakjoan

                                                Toasted ham and cheese sandwich? Why din'cha say so?
                                                Now I have to be tri-lingual and know abbreviations to get by, here. :)

                                                1. re: Scargod

                                                  It ain't easy being brilliant, is it?

                                                  1. re: Scargod

                                                    Actually, that sandwich is amazing, with sun dried tomatoes, which I usually don't like:


                                                    I used Comte cheese (he also recommends Emmenthaler) and you also add chopped chives.

                                                  2. re: oakjoan

                                                    Urp ... well, I didn't want to have to look up the spelling of um, monsieur (did I get it right??). And no, no ham in them. Grilled in plenty of butter, and I used gruyere this time around with the chives. These are killer sandwichs, even if I can't spell them...

                                                  3. re: LulusMom

                                                    OK, so once again I'll mention that I went to a Batali restaurant last night, and when I asked which of the veg. contorni was the waitresses favorite, she pointed me toward these. Hmmm. I think not. I asked "are they especially strong on the vinegar?' and she said "oh no, we just finish them with it" but given that I'd eaten in another Italian place a few days earlier and found the vinegar in the veg. a bit overpowering, I started thinking that maybe I'm just a little too sensitive to that flavor. But I must admit, it was fun to say to her "well, I just cooked that myself last week, so I think I'll try something different."

                                                    1. re: LulusMom

                                                      I made this last night and really liked it. Keeping in mind the possibility of over sourness, I measured the honey and red wine vinegar with more accuracy than normal. Mine had a really nice balance to it. I may have had more than a lb of pumpkin as well and this probably helped keep the flavors balanced. Lovely flavor and lovely presentation overall. I'll probably make this again because I have more cut up pumpkin to use.

                                                    2. Broccoli Sauteed in Wine and Garlic (Broccoli al Frascati, MI, p. 423)

                                                      This is a pretty simple recipe, but one that I had problems with. It calls for 3 lbs of broccoli for six servings - I had a head of broccoli that was a bit over a pound, and cut it into spears, as directed, and peeled the stalks. Then you heat up olive oil and sliced garlic, add the broccoli and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently until tender, and adding white wine (I used Frascati) as needed to prevent the garlic from browning. I had some timing issues as my husband was late getting back from a meeting, but even cooking it for that time, it was still not cooked enough, and the stalks were particularly tough. I was tempted to put the lid on to let them steam a bit, but went with the instructions as written. When done, you toss with lemon zest, orange zest and hot red pepper flakes. He calls for 1T of those for the 3 lbs, and I used a lot less that I should have for my head of broccoli, as it was all I had left - maybe 1/4 tsp - and there was still plenty of heat. I loved the flavor combination, but next time would cook the broccoli differently, and then toss with the zests and pepper flakes. Ended up throwing this out, and barely eating any of it.

                                                      Edit: I noticed that in the photo in the book, the spears are much thinner than mine were.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: MMRuth

                                                        This is the dish I was going to make last night but G decided we already had enough to eat with the Pollo Avellino. It looks like MB sliced the broccoli stalks in quarters, MM. After reading your report I think I'll blanch the broccoli a few minutes before throwing in the pot when I make the recipe this week.

                                                      2. Cavolo Ripieno or Stuffed Cabbage
                                                        Pg 425 Molto Italiano

                                                        This was my first time making stuffed cabbage and I will be making it again and again. I did not follow the recipe to a T. Rather than sage I used basil, I ommited the mint, and I used my own tomato sauce rather than the one he provides in the book, but I LOVED what I ended up with. My husband says it is just as good as his Mom used to make =) It came together in a snap. I have a more detailed review with several pictures on my blog.


                                                        Definitely a keeper.

                                                        My Yummy life

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: ArikaDawn

                                                          Wow! Great photo ArikaDawn. The colors look like something from a Japanese animated movie.

                                                        2. Sauteed Eggplant. OK, so how difficult can this be? I just had to go out in the dark of night and pick some thyme, using a flashlight. Better than in Texas, where the copperheads were usually out.
                                                          This was a "wow!" good dish. I accidentally used two to three times too much Monari Federazoni balsamic vinegar (per the recipe), but that may have been why it wowed us so much!

                                                          6 Replies
                                                          1. re: Scargod

                                                            Wilted Greens w/ garlic & anchovies -- Molto Italiano, p. 443

                                                            So far I have been underwhelmed in reading through his books. Yes I know how to cook chicken cacciatore in its variations, yes, I know how to saute vegetables. I love sauteed greens of every kind. Mario likes to parboil, and I suspect that's a restaurant pre-cooking technique.

                                                            Anyway, curmudgeon that I am, I did cook a batch of mixed braising greens (from my CSA) Mario's way w/ sliced garlic and minced anchovies. He's big on the citrus, and yes, I squeezed some lemon on top. As I cooked the greens, I generally cook w/ the water that clings to them so they steam and saute (can they do both?), but I dried them, and then found they were sticking and near burning, so I tossed in some water.
                                                            Good. Fine. Add some anchovies sometimes -- that' s what I learned. Lemon perhaps instead of vinegar to brighten the flavors.
                                                            I don't need to buy the book for that!

                                                            1. re: NYchowcook

                                                              I made this last night and it was fine. Nothing to right home about and tasty enough, just not great. I used greens from the CSA box. I think it could use a bit more anchovies than called for.

                                                              I did spin dry the veggies. I didn't have the problem of sticking probably because I added the full amount of oil he called for. The lemon did brighten up the flavor but it's not news.

                                                            2. re: Scargod

                                                              Did this again, almost by the book. I had small Italian-like eggplant from my garden. I sliced them into quarters, not just in half.
                                                              This is such a simple, but great dish. We found ourselves trying pepper flakes and Texas Champagne (Tobasco-like hot sauce) on it and both liked just the flakes better. I also had some toasted slivered almonds on the table and those were really good with it, too.

                                                              (Boo-hoo-we just had our first frost overnight)

                                                              1. re: Scargod

                                                                Scargod, which book did the recipe come from? I think I have one more eggplant in the garden....

                                                                1. re: clamscasino

                                                                  Oh...sorry; I mean't to include that. Molto Italiano. For now, it's the only Batali I have.
                                                                  Edit: It's so simple. Slice eggplant, saute in oil, add thyme, scallions and balsamic vinegar. Let evaporate. Black pepper to taste.

                                                            3. Asparagus with Citrus, Parsley and Garlic (Asparagi alla Gremolata, MI, p. 418)

                                                              Excellent dish. I really liked the combination of citrus and garlic with the asparagus, though, reading the recipe again just now, I realized that I omitted the mint by accident, and I think I would have liked that as well. I sprinkled some Malden salt on top.

                                                              I did cook the asparagus the way I usually do - in a large frying pan, cover with cold water, add a little salt, bring to a boil - when it comes to a boil, the asparagus are usually done.

                                                              1. I did an adaptation of the Pumpkin Orzo recipe last night, using the same ingredients and quantities, but stirring and adding stock gradually, risotto style. It was delicious—the balsamic was a great counterpoint to the pumpkin. I added a pinch of brown sugar and quite a bit of fresh sage, which really helped, I think.

                                                                Photos and details here:

                                                                1. Eggplant Caponata, MI p.426

                                                                  Online here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ma...

                                                                  A total hit with my guests. Had a nice kick, and a good spicy-sweet-tang going. Served as an appetizer dip with grilled bread. Followed the recipe exactly, except upping the garlic by a clove or two, and finishing off with some drizzled olive oil to completely round out the sweetness. Oh, and added red wine vinegar because it was a little too sweet with just the balsamic. Guess that's not exactly. Served to a bunch of "not really into eggplant" people, and they cleaned out the whole dish.

                                                                  1. Asparagi al Forno
                                                                    Roasted Asparagus with Capers and Eggs

                                                                    I made this the other day, and though I don't even like asparagus that much, I thought it was great. The combination of ingredients seemed unusual at first, but when combined, they sing. I did a more detailed report on my blog.


                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                    1. re: ArikaDawn

                                                                      Made this last night as I grilled the steak (molto Italiano's only steak preparation). It was pretty with the grill stripes.
                                                                      With all the ingredients mixed in and the red wine vinegar, it didn't look as pretty and white as yours! Did you cheat? Not use red wine vinegar? SO, guest and I loved it. Good dish.

                                                                      1. re: Scargod

                                                                        Me? Cheat!?! =) I used red wine vinegar, but used extra light OO that's essentially colorless. I wonder if that would make a difference? Mine was a pale pale pale pink hue.


                                                                      2. re: ArikaDawn

                                                                        I'm running a year and a half late but I made this last night and it was really great. I'm a real snob about asparagus, being able to get local, right out of the garden later in the spring. But I used storebought for this and it hardly suffered. I broiled in the oven figuring correctly that I'd have more control over it. And that dressing? Good enough to eat all on it's own. One of our dinners guests is very interested in food and I put a small amount on a little piece of bruschetta and popped it in his mouth. Oh, I love it when my guests make the kinds of good noises he did :) I used sherry vinegar instead of red wine simply because I love sherry vinegar. I will make this over and over and can see using the dressing on other vegetable and maybe even some meat or fish.

                                                                      3. Radicchio with Guanciale and Rosemary (Radicchio al Rosmarino, MI, p. 439)

                                                                        This was a quick and delicious contorno. I used guanciale, and my husband was able to find some long heads of radicchio de treviso. I'm sure I used more guanciale than called for than the one head that I cooked. You cook the guanciale over medium heat until the fat is rendered, then add the radicchio - I cut mine into quarters - then when wilted, add rosemary, vinegar, salt and pepper, toss to coat, and serve. I did find that my guanciale was burning a bit on medium, and so turned the heat down.

                                                                        1. Marinated Eggplant (MI p. 429)

                                                                          Delicious. Served with the mozzarella sandwiches. I wasn't able to find japanese eggplant so just used regular and sliced thinly. Grilled for about 5 minutes, then you let sit in a marinade of olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, mint and orange zest. I'm not always keen on mint and orange zest but thought this was outstanding and I wouldn't change a thing.