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VINE VOICEon December 24, 2004
My wife and I are huge fans of Mario Batali. We used to live in NY and ate regularly at his restaurants: mostly Lupa, Babbo for special occasions, and Esca when we were stuck in the theatre district. I love many of the dishes featured in this book (for example the "2 Minute Calamari, Sicilian Lifeguard Style," or his Bolognese sauce).

We're also both experienced cooks and avid cookbook readers, and neither of us like this cookbook. It's a beautifully produced book, and does contain a large number of recipes corresponding to famous dishes from Babbbo. Unfortunately, many of the recipes in this book have serious errors and don't work. Some recipes omit steps, others include incorrect descriptions of proportions, and others are vague about cooking techniques. For example, the recipe for the 2 minute calamari lists "1 cup couscous" as an ingredient, without telling you if it's supposed to be raw or cooked. (By trial and error, I figured out that it was cooked.) Or, there was the Bigeye Tuna recipe that asked you to prepare a half dozen ingredients, and doesn't tell you what to do with them. (For example, it tells you to sautee mushrooms, then doesn't tell you what to do with them. It also tells you to make parsley oil, then doesn't tell you what to do with it. We guessed that we should use it as a garnish.) Or take the Bolognese recipe, which produces a watery, smoky mess that tastes nothing like the sauce served in the restaurant.

Much as we wanted to like this book, we didn't like it, and can't recommend it. If you want to learn how to cook Italian food, try some of Marcella Hazan's books. If you want to eat Mario Batali's food, go to his restaurants. If you want to learn how to make the dishes served in his restaurants, wait for a better book.

(Despite our experience with this book, we bought Mario's new book "Molto Italiano : 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home." I'm happy to say that this book is much, much better. This book shares a lot of recipes with the Babbo book, but so far it appears that all the directions are complete, and the recipes work correctly.)
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on April 10, 2005
This cookbook does an excellent job at capturing the magic of dining at Babbo. Both Batali and Bastianich offer interesting tidbits throughout the cookbook - one describes exactly why they clear crumbs off of diners' tables not with a crumber, but with a spoon. The book does a great job - stylistically - of condensing the experience of eating at Babbo into cookbook-form. Some of the recipes are transcendent. Batali's olive oil gelato is a winner, and the recipe in the cookbook creates a smooth, creamy gelato very similar to the one that he serves at Otto. Other recipes - as other reviewers note - needed a test-kitchen before publication. I've made the saffron panna cotta twice, and it needs significantly more gelatin (about 50% more) than the recipe calls for to make the panna cotta set. The cookbook's recipes indicates that the "castagnaccio" (chestnut cake) should cook at 300 degrees for 20 minutes. After 50+ minutes of cooking at that temperature, my cake was still raw in the center. Maybe it was a typo? Maybe it needs a convection, rather than conventional oven? Disappointing, given the expense of the ingredients that go into the recipe. Overall - beautiful cookbook, but I've run into too many recipes that needed "tweaking" for them to turn out correctly. Maybe this is a problem with the baking section only.
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on October 25, 2002
Mario Batali's Babbo Cookbook is no mere cookbook. While delivering the recipes that have been developed and presented at his Village restuarant, it's through Mario's brief pre-chapter and pre-recipe writings where he lovingly conveys his passion for Italian food and cooking. His core passion is for fresh ingredients in simple (unlike the French) yet tasty preparations. He cannot stress enough how important it is to have relationships with the local baker, butcher, fishmongerer, grocer, etc. to insure the delivery of the best quality ingredients. He stresses the use of ingredients that are in-season to maximize the taste and appeal to the senses. His passion extends to the presentation and delivery of food. Simple suggestions in the cookbook include priming the wine glass before serving fine wines.
This book is a superb addition to any cook's collection.
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VINE VOICEon December 28, 2002
For years I have watched him on the Food Channel and I have tried a few of his recipes from the show. He makes wonderful dishes. This was my first purchase of one of his cookbooks. I really enjoyed the way the book was laid out. Easy to read recipes, clear and concise directions, and lovely pictures to view. I am amazed at the variety of ingredients that he uses in his dishes. Its not that they are typically hard to find or anything, I simply didn't realize the variety of food in Italian cooking. Now if you are simply looking for pasta and sauces this isn't the book for you. This book does cover pasta, some delightful desserts, but there is a large variety in meats that this book uses. Like variety ? Then this cookbook is for you if you want to cook something a bit out of the ordinary.
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on July 23, 2002
The Babbo cookbook is nicely done, not in a class of it's own...but solid nonetheless. These recipes rely overwhelmingly on the quality of each and every ingredient in each dish and if unwilling to hunt for (and invest in) this caliber of ingredient, best look elsewhere. The pictures are superb and the sprinkling of culinary philosophy is good. I would purchase the book again just for the veal shank recipe!
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Of such an extraordinary character that this cookbook will be placed in the category of the other greats of our time, i.e. Trotter, Waters, etc.
To get into such rarified air of the cookbook world requires inventive, scrumputuous cooking but also printed with style and class. This effort saluting Batali's restaurant of the same name easily qualifies.
The recipes exhibit his approach to cuisine, hospitality. His comments on such are a treat and pleasure to read, e.g. total care and attention to every detail, Italian cooking with American injections of local products to "express the flavor of our dirt, our wind, our rain."
Passion for his craft his exhibited throughout this gorgeous book of color photos and well laid out text and type. How about such fare as: Autumn Vegetables with Goat Ricotta and Pumpkinseek Oil; Cripspy Bream in Zupetta Pugliese (a fish soup/stew; and my favorite---Braised Short Ribs with Horseradish Gremolata served with Pumpkin Orzo.
For dessert, what a great offering: Espresso Torrone with Drunken Cherries (ice cream type offering) or Meyer Lemon Semifredddo;
Think I forgot the pasta? Section on this is exquisite: only tried so far was unbelievably good! Pumpkin Lune with Butter and Sage. Amazing dish of little moons (luna) stuffed with amaretti cookies, in rich sage/butter sauce with more amarettti cookies grated over the top!
There's ample help about substitute ingredients or how totone down the effort without sacrificing everything, as well as help for Sources.
Will become one of my favorites to use and read. Savor this one, it's upscale and unique and fun!
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on December 31, 2002
If you like watching Mario on his TV programs, you'll be dissapointed in some aspects of this book. The cuisine is as presented in his restaurant, where he has staff to do all kinds of additional prep for him. Consequently, the dishes are way overwrought for the home kitchen. Braised short ribs? Great! With roasted beets and roasted radishes? Why? And by the way, the recommended plating is still all that vertical, "Let's see how high we can pile THIS stuff up," kind of thing. And a lot of the book is frank promotion for Babbo and his ideas on how to run a restaurant. But nevertheless, it's fun stuff to read and, if you ignore the absurd sides, there's good stuff to be made.
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on November 20, 2005
While I have not tried any of the baking recipes, and note the caution of the reviewer who found recipes that did not work, my experience with this book has been wholly satisfying. As others noted, the musings are wonderful, and the pictures are stunning. I prepared his pasta Amatriciana as well as the beef in Barolo last night to rave reviews. The beef short ribs--braised with a reduction of Cotes du Rhone and homemade stock, and the Barolo saved for the table--is a dinner party standard in our home.
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on November 2, 2015
I am a true fan of Batali and hesitated buying this book due to the amount of negative and critical comments read. I decided since the book was under a $1, I would go for it. It is not the best cookbook that Batali has ever produced, but it is ok. I was able to pick up a few new tricks and as always learned a couple new techniques and recipes.
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This recent cookbook by Mario Batali presents the recipes done at his flagship restaurant, Babbo, with a few borrowed from the seafood restaurant, Esca. The book appears to be as good or better a representation of the food at its namesake restaurant than most I have read. It is thereby, the best possible consolation for those of us who have tried repeatedly and failed to attain a reservation at Babbo at a reasonable time for an American to eat dinner.

Unlike Mario's earlier two books, there is no attempt in this book or at his restaurant to be wholly true to original Italian recipes, but only because Mario is true to the very Italian doctrine of buying what is the best at local markets. He, for example, makes great use of Pennsylvania grown shittake mushrooms, even though they are unknown in Italian cuisine.

The chapters follow the course of a typical Italian meal, including:

Aperitivi (before dinner drinks)



Mare (seafood)


Terra e Bosco (Domestic and Foraged Meats)

Pre-Desserts and Cheese

Dolci (Sweet desserts)

Digestivi (after dinner drinks)

The book ends with short chapters on `Tools of the Trade', Babbo's Tasting Menus, and Sources. As one of the two tasting menus show, pasta is one of the main stars at Babbo. The pasta chapter is the longest and includes some of the most interesting dishes. Being very fond of lamb, I was especially attracted to the recipe for mint tagliatelle wherein lamb shoulder is cooked into an olive flavored ragu used to dress a fresh tagliatelle made with dough including a mint puree. From his Food Network show, `Molto Mario', I am already convinced of the flavorfulness of the lamb shoulder. Here, Mario gives the perfect excuse to use it.

If one accepts the challenge of making fresh pasta and are not put off by the occasionally exotic ingredient such as guanciale (pork jowls), calf's tongue, and beef cheeks; most of the recipes are fairly simple for the experienced amateur chef. If you wish to make your own stocks, the chicken stock recipe is straightforward and relatively similar to one found in `The Best Recipe' from Cooks Illustrated. There is little of the hyperfussiness you may find from Jeremiah Tower or Thomas Keller. As Mario states in his introduction, this is not a result of `dumbing down' the recipes for the home cook, it is simply the way things are done at Babbo. There is, however, a devotion to high quality ingredients. One of the drawbacks of this dedication is that Babbo has access to some cured meat only because they make the products themselves. While this is a bit unfair to the rest of us, there is still plenty here which we should have no problem assembling from a good farmers market of a good megamart.

I generally am not impressed by the culinary photography in most cookbooks. It seems that there are only two ways to do it right. One approach is to do none or limit them exclusively to hand models demonstrating techniques. The second approach is to give us a picture of every single dish. Mario takes the latter option and the photographer, Christopher Hirsheimer deserves the credit he receives on the title page along with Mario. All photos are in color, in focus, and appetizing.

While the book is primarily about the recipes, Mario does throw salt in our wounds from failed attempts at making reservations by describing some of the supporting features which make Babbo the success it is. Wine, for example is an important part of dining at Babbo. Mario's partner Joe Bastianish is an important expert on Italian wines and Babbo is billed as both a Ristorante and Enoteca, a wine bar, so the attention to details of serving wine are very serious. However, Mario did not include wine pairings for these dishes, and I do not miss them.

My perceptions may be clouded by my admiration for Mario as a teacher of regional Italian cooking, but one of the most rewarding aspects of this book is the way in which Mario communicates the sense of Italian hospitality he strives for at Babbo. The sense of `gemutlichkeit' (sorry, I don't know the Italian take on this Austrian notion) is palpable as you read the recipes and stories behind the food at Babbo.

A delightful restaurant cookbook and a must for Mario fans.
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