by Mario Batali
Celebrity chef Mario Batali – he of the flaming hair and orange Crocs – is not known for his subtlety. But in Italian Grill, Batali exhibits enormous restraint at the barbecue, cleaving fairly closely to the Italian grilling tradition of nuance and minimal interference with the flavor of the primary ingredients. No thick, sweet barbecue sauce is needed, the Italians approach cookouts with little more than olive oil, citrus, wine, herbs, garlic, and hot chili flakes. Instead of sauce tricks, the Italian grill master works his magic with techniques and tools—crosshatching, spit-roasting, and the distinctive method of cooking alla piastra, on a flat griddle over a hot fire. It’s the piastra that allows Italian cooks to whip up pizza, foccacia, and other flatbreads straight from the grill and a surefire way to inject a dose of Italia into your backyard barbecue.
In keeping with the "don’t mess with it" philosophy, the recipes are simple, focusing on fresh, seasonal produce and specialty cuts of meat, poultry, pork, fish, and game to maximize flavor. Antipasti blends sweet and savory flavors in novel ways, like the standout fennel with sambuca and grapefruit or prosciutto with grilled and fresh figs. Not surprisingly, the chapter on pizzas and flatbreads is the most elaborate, with doughy delights hailing from all corners of Italy, like the Tuscan schiacciata with concord grapes and fennel seeds or the Genoese focaccina filled with coppa and apricots. Batali also uses the piastra for seafood dishes like mussels with prosciutto bread crumbs. For all kinds of birds, from chickens to duck and guinea hens, he favors the spit-roast, which allows the well-marinated poultry to self-baste. But the T-bone Fiorentina—seasoned simply with salt, pepper, and herbs—is the crown jewel of Batali’s grill, a thick, special-order cut that is meant to be cooked rare and sliced for serving. You could kick it up with Mario’s Kick-Ass Barbecue Sauce (he couldn’t resist including at least one recipe from the American tradition), but when in Rome, you might as well do as the Roman grillers do and leave it alone.
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
One 3- to 3 ½-pound T-bone steak, about 3 inches thick
Extra-virgin olive oil
In a small bowl, combine the rosemary, sage, thyme, salt, and pepper and mix well. Pat the steak dry and coat it all over with the herb mix. Drizzle one tablespoon of the olive oil over one side of the steak to moisten the herb mixture, and rub it gently into the mixture so it will adhere to the meat. Turn the steak over and repeat on the other side with another tablespoon of olive oil. Place on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand for 30 minutes to 1 hour to come to room temperature.
Meanwhile, preheat a gas grill or prepare a hot fire in a charcoal grill (use enough coals to keep the fire going for about 25 minutes).
Place the steak on the grill, cover the grill, and cook until the meat is well charred on the first side, 10 to 12 minutes. Turn and cook for 10 to 12 minutes on the second side, or until the internal temperature registers 120 degrees F. Fiorentina is traditionally served rare; for medium-rare, cook until the center registers 125 degrees F. Transfer to a carving board and let rest, uncovered, 10 to 15 minutes.
Carve the fillet and the strip steak from the bone and slice the meat. Divide the steak among four plates, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with coarse salt.
Reviewed by Rachel Levin