"We remembered thinking: she's off her rocker. To further add to her being off her rocker, when dinner was over, and there was still red wine in her glass, she would take her biscotti, or 'her cookies,' as we called them then, and start dipping them in her wine, and that was just enough to knock the kids right out of their chairs. 'She's putting cookies in her wine? She's out of her mind!' Of course, now all of it, including the salad after the main course, makes absolute sense. And that's, of course, how we live our lives now!" Batali said.
According to Batali, the trick to becoming a better cook is to try to eliminate the "white noise" surrounding a complicated recipe. He suggests establishing two or three basic recipes in your repertoire. One example might be spaghetti with garlic and olive oil, and then adding additional ingredients, such as clams.
"But the real tenet of great Italian food is: less is more," Batali said. "It's really about the balance and simplicity of a dish, more than some giant conglomeration of a huge multi-step menu."
One of his favorite ingredients is bottara, the caviar of tuna and mullet. After it is rubbed in salt, cured and hung to dry in the sun, the hardened, slightly orange end product is grated over food, yielding the essence of the sea: foam and wind.
He's also quite fond of pork.
"Having lived in Amelia Romana, I grew very fond of the entire operation of the animal we call the pig," Batali said. "We make a sausage out of most of the shoulder, and a little bit of the back leg, with a little bit of the back fat, which is called lardo. Which is exactly what it sounds like — delightful, creamy, white, fatty meat that tastes very much what the pig was hoping to taste like. We grind that up, and we cook it with a little bit of Swiss chard and rigatoni, finish the dish with a little bit of parmigiano reggiano, and you've pretty much captured the triumvirate of greatness of the city of Bologna," he said.
With characteristic humor, he said that his favorite food is "anything anyone else makes." After all, he explained, once you shuck six oysters, you've had enough. But the one meal he can't live without is quite simple to prepare: extra virgin olive oil, anchovies, bread crumbs and pasta.
Batali is the poster child of celebrity chefs, with several TV shows under his belt, 12 restaurants, and cookbooks galore. Food isn't just a business, however. He feels it is what brings families together.
"It ties culture to the human, and it's what makes people really understand what relaxing and what life can be. I've stumbled across my theory in the last two years, that really all discord in the human race is based on two things," Batali said.
"You either need a nap, or you're hungry. And if I can provide half that, by giving you just a little something to eat, which will relax people and make them more likely to behave as a group happily ... I've done my job."