Batali loves to engage directly with his 1.73 million followers, answering their cooking questions with unbridled enthusiasm. Scattered amongst the joyful “wheeeee!”s are some seriously helpful pieces of advice. Here, we’ve mined the Italian chef’s feed for the most creative and useful tips and hacks that we can’t wait to take into the kitchen.
1. Don’t throw out your Parmesan rinds.
A high-quality block of Parmesan cheese can be costly, so don’t let any of it go to waste. Once you’re down to just the rind, toss the whole thing in a simmering tomato sauce to give it an extra punch of savory richness. After you remove it from the sauce, Batali suggests eating it all on its own. Try it out with this Rigatoni with Spicy Tomato Sauce.
2. Clean your cast iron skillet with this simple 4-step method.
A cast iron skillet is a wonderfully useful kitchen tool—Batali calls it his “hero”—but properly caring for one can be a pain. Batali’s method is simple: Wash it with a dish scrubber, dry it, then heat it and rub with oil so it maintains its seasoned, nonstick coating.
3. Parcook your lasagna noodles for make-ahead magic.
There are multiple ways to approach cooking lasagna noodles. Batali says he always blanches and shocks his noodles—i.e., tosses them briefly in boiling water until they are slightly pliable, then places them directly in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. This allows you to assemble the dish ahead of time without ruining the texture of the pasta, and ensures your noodles stay perfectly al dente after baking.
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4. Bring old vanilla beans back to life with booze.
Vanilla beans are another expensive ingredient that you never want to go to waste. If your pods have dried out, the chef suggests rehydrating them in bourbon. Bonus: You get some extra boozy flavor in whatever dessert you’re making.
5. Make gnocchi from scratch—without a ricer.
Classic potato gnocchi can be difficult to master, and most recipes call for the use of a potato ricer or food mill to achieve a light, fluffy texture. While these are cheap, highly-recommended additions to your kitchen tool collection, Batali says you can substitute by grating the boiled potatoes in a box grater or pushing them through the holes of a colander. The key, according to the chef, is to handle the dough as little as possible to achieve a lighter texture.
6. For perfect fresh pasta, it’s all about the type of flour you use.
Batali’s secret weapon for his fresh pasta dough Italian 00 flour. Though it can be hard to track down (your best is ordering it online), it provides a delightfully light-yet-chewy texture that can’t be replicated. Get his full recipe here.
7. Save time and don’t peel your veggies when it’s not necessary.
If Mario Batali doesn’t peel his eggplants for Eggplant Parmesan, you don’t have to either. The skin actually contains valuable antioxidants that the flesh doesn’t, so in this case the lazy choice is actually the healthy choice.
8. Take bland foods up a notch with a splash of acidity.
We all know that seeds and grains like quinoa and farro are packed with nutrients, but on their own they can leave something to be desired. Batali suggests doctoring it up with your favorite chopped veggies and herbs, then a splash of vinegar. In fact, a touch of acidity at the end can help just about any dish.
9. Despite what you may have heard, don’t add oil to your pasta water.
Conventional wisdom has sometimes been that a glug of oil in your boiling pasta water will help keep the pasta from sticking together. For Batali, this is a big no-no. The oil keeps the sauce from sticking to the pasta—and, of course, oil isn’t cheap, so why waste?
10. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, relax the rules.
Batali often stresses the idea that cooking is a fun, personalized experience, and we shouldn’t get hung up on deviations from the traditional. He even accepts President Trump’s preference for a well done steak with ketchup, proving he can put politics aside for the sake of advocating food freedom.
What are your secret weapon cooking ingredients or kitchen tricks? Let us know in the comments!