The #1 Cooking Hack Mario Batali Swears By for Next-Level Pasta

Updated 06/07/18

When celebrity chef walks through the door, it’s hard not to take notice. Most likely, he will be dressed in bright orange hues, wearing his signature pair of orange Crocs, and talking at a million miles an hour about anything from the weather to politics to his latest food discovery. On one sunny Tuesday afternoon, as he was hopping off his Vespa on New York City’s West Side and into his newest outpost, the Maritime Hotel’s , he had accessorized with a bright orange helmet, a matching scarf, and a purple scrunchie—a testament to his boisterous bon vivant nature.

“I wore pink and white to complement Mario’s love of orange,” quipped. In anticipation of the launch of her new cookbook, , we invited the model turned successful editor, writer, and now author to join Batali in his kitchen for a lesson in true Italian pasta cooking—more specifically, Mario’s recipe for linguine in red clam sauce.

This wasn’t the first encounter between the iconically Croc-clad chef and the self-proclaimed impatient foodie. Within moments, their quick-witted banter flew back and forth across the kitchen as if they had known each other for years. Effortlessly, Batali flipped his littleneck clams, doused in a mouthwatering spicy salami and tomato sauce, firing jokes at Wiedemann as she attempted to perfect her own clam pan flip.

After the cooking lesson, we sat down over a glass of Vermentino from Toscana with the food-loving duo to chat all things cooking hacks, easy and quick recipes, and unexpected food pairings. Think you know how to cook? We bet you can’t get through Batali and Wiedemann’s exchange without picking up a few helpful cooking tips—recipe included!

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Mario Batali's Linguine With Red Clam Sauce

What is your best trick for next-level pasta? Share your wisdom with us.

MYDOMAINE: Can you tell us the story of how you two met?

MARIO BATALI: Saigon ’88. It was in a brothel. She didn’t look like she was working there, but apparently she was.

ELETTRA WIEDEMANN: [Laughs.]

MB: I just offered to buy a girl a drink. Suddenly, I was Shanghaied, and we were on a boat to Australia.

EW: It was a crazy adventure! No, we met the first time because we ate an entire pizza together—or you served me an entire pizza, and I ate the whole thing.

MB: That’s right!

EW: I think that’s when I earned your respect.

MB: That’s right! It not usual that these super-skinny supermodel types can even eat more than one slice of pizza.

EW: It was literally the size of this table. And it was so delicious.

MD: What kind of pizza was it?

EW: I don’t remember. Probably a margherita.

MB: Where was this?

EW: We were at your place down by Washington Square Park.

MB: Oh, we were at ! It was a simple margherita; thin, very digestible, very easy to eat.

EW: I consumed the whole thing because at the time we were doing a pop-up restaurant, and I was trying to seduce Mario into doing it, which I achieved by eating his entire pizza!

MB: I gave it up. [Laughs.] That was actually a very cool event—it was in a building I had never even seen! What was that place called?

EW: The Museum of Art and Design! Right on Columbus Square above the southern tip of Central Park.

MB: It was a fantastic event—we had a really good time!

MD: Run us through the dish you made today.

MB: We call it linguine in red clam sauce. We sautéed garlic, and then we added ’nduja, which is a raw salami sausage that you eat like a paste on toast, from Calabria. We splashed that in there with a little bit of garlic and extra-virgin olive oil. Then we added a little estratto, which is the super-dried double concentrato tomato paste from Sicily—they make it into a big tomato paste by crushing it all and cooking it slowly; then they smear it on these tile terra-cotta panels, they put it on the roof, and it dries down almost firm—like you could pick it up in chunks.

Then they pack it into jars, put a little olive oil on top so it’s got a really deep, rich, super-sweet but extracted tomatoey flavor because there’s acidity in it too.

Then we splashed in a little bit of tomato conservo, which is just preserved tomatoes, standard style, except they’re already crushed, and a little pasta water, and then the clams, a little bit of parsley, some hot chili flakes, and we cooked the pasta exactly as per the package instructions—but one minute short. Then we took the pasta out and cooked it in the condiments for the last minute. It would be way too al dente if you wanted to eat it as is, but when you cook it that way, it consumes all the sauce—where the two separate ingredients, the noodle and the condiments, come together as one.

And that’s what makes great pasta.

EW: They do—it was very good. I thought it was a rule that you couldn’t mix shellfish with sausage.

MB: No, no. You can’t put shellfish and old cheeses together. That’s the true crime.

EW: Do you refuse to serve cheese on people’s vongole, for example?

MB: Actually, when I first opened —I believed in absolutely no clams or lobster pasta with Parmesan—and the first week, an old Italian guy comes in and says (in American-Italian accent) “Bring me the Parm.” And I said, “Sir, the chef would prefer that you try it without,” and he said, “If the chef was fucking paying for it, I’d have some story here—but I’m going to fucking pay for it, so I’ll eat it any fucking way I want!” “Yes, sir! We’ll bring you the cheese,” I said. It’s hard to argue with that logic!

[Laughs.]

Now, if it was a 23-year-old kid, I would have gone out there and told him where to go, but he’s a 65-year-old Italian guy with a pinky ring. I’m not afraid of the mafia, but I am afraid of the wrath of an Italian man, regardless of his connection to organized crime, because what I need is street cred from an Italian guy.

EW: I think that’s wise.

MB: And it was very nice—it was delicious. We ended with a little glass of vermentino from Toscana. It was perfect.

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MD: Speaking of Italian street cred, what would you say is your secret to making next-level pasta?

MB: Do not wear white pants.

EW: I just want to point out for the interview that I wore white pants today, and I did not get a single drop of sauce on them—which is a miracle. My secret for next-level pasta? My mom taught me that when you take the pasta out to test it and you bite into it, it should have of course the al dente taste, but if you’re doubting yourself on that, just look inside, and there should be a pinprick of white on the inside.

MB: Right. I just read the pasta package, and then I take it out exactly one minute short of what they tell you to cook it on the package, and I cook it for 40 seconds in the sauce. Never put the sauce on top of the pasta in the bowl. Put the pasta in the sauce into the pan, cook it 40 seconds, and then put it down. I prefer it about 15 to 20 seconds less than they think Americans want it at—which is a little on the crunchy side, but not crunchy hard—just nicely al dente. Perfectly cooked pasta tastes really good even with Campbell’s cream of mushrooms!

EW: Oh, that sounds good!

MB: It’s really not bad. But it’s all about the noodle: the mouthfeel, the delivery of the perfectly seasoned because you aggressively salt the water. It’s about the cookery being precise.

EW: I had a whole conversation last night in the supermarket with an Italian guy who was looking for gluten-free pasta, and he couldn’t figure it out—I don’t know why he was looking for it—and we had this entire conversation around which one had the best mouthfeel. An Italian, in the grocery store! And I was feeling very proud of myself.

MB: Really? So you found him one?

EW: I found him one!

MB: Was it corn?

EW: There were a quinoa option and a corn-blend quinoa, and then a rice pasta—which I don’t like—and then some lentil ones.

MB: And?

EW: He went for the lentil ones because he liked the extra protein. I would have gone for the quinoa corn blend. I find that it’s the best.

MB: Corn gives me the best. You should have been very careful to tell him, Listen—definitely cook this a minute under what it says on the package instructions, because the minute you hit the exact timing, it falls apart and turns into porridge. Porridge? No bueno!

EW: And the rice one I can never get.

MB: I mean, I understand rice noodles in Asian food—it just doesn’t work in Italian cuisine.

EW: No, it really doesn’t.

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MD: Elettra, you're all about the Impatient Foodie, which is great because everyone is short on time—especially in New York City. What do you guys cook when you need to make something really quick?

MB: When you say quick, how much time do you need? Because I cook dinner in 20 minutes just about all the time. What I tend to do is I’ll go over to the fish market and Eataly or Citarella, I’ll get two filets of something that looks really remarkable—right now it’s shad or soft-shell crab, or the beginning of line-caught salmon, which is coming—I get near the tailpiece because I want it to cook quickly. I season it; I pan-cook it on one side only for about six to seven minutes. I take the fish out, I throw whatever vegetable I have in the pan—whether it’s escarole or broccoli or green beans—and I cook it in the very same pan.

I take a cucumber while I’m cooking the green beans, and I slice that up and put it all together: the fish on one side, the hot beans on the other, and the cucumber salad over here. I drizzle a little balsamic vinegar, and in 15 minutes, I’m completely satisfied.

EW: Mario, that sounds incredible!

MB: You can cook like that any time of day. You just have to buy something you can cook in a sauté pan—like boneless chicken thighs—that’s good value! And you can cook them in 10 to 12 minutes. And you just buy whatever’s in season—whatever is inexpensive is generally in season. Think about the spring—right now it’s peas. In the fall, it’s acorn squash and apples. There’s always something to cook with. And it all goes in one pan.

The beauty for me is that by the time it’s on the plate for me and my wife, the dishes are done. Because I wash the pan while it’s hot. I have a plastic scrubbie—actually, you know actually what really is the best thing: . Look it up online. They’re $2, they’re made out of the fiber of a peach pit, and it looks like a little hand. You pull it apart, and it’s all thin strands. It can take anything off—even what stainless steel doesn’t.

MD: Elettra, I love your video series, Paltry Pantry, where you cook something out of anyone’s pantry. Tell me the things that everyone should have in their pantry to whip up a quick meal?

EW: Olive oil. For sure.

MB: That’s it.

EW: That’s it. That’s all you need! [Laughs.]

MB: Tell me what’s in yours, and I’ll tell you what’s in mine.

EW: My pantry always includes olive oil and Maldon salt. I always have some kind of pesto in the fridge.

You know what else I like to do is I always go to the dairy bar at Whole Foods, and I get marinated artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, pastes, and cheeses. Sometimes I just buy a bunch of that stuff—you can make really yummy toasts or small plates for yourself if you just want to snack. Those are always no-fail essentials. That’s my shopping hack: It’s to go to the dairy bar and buy a bunch of those things, and it lasts me a few days’ worth of meals.

MD: Mario, what’s in your pantry?

MB: So we have good extra-virgin olive oil. We always have a can of salted anchovies. I have breadcrumbs that we make from whatever bread and put them in the freezer. I always have some kind of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and I have dried pasta. And from that, you can make just about anything. I also do this crazy snack series on my Instagram, you should watch it—they hand me something, and in two minutes, I make it.

EW: Do they surprise you?

MB: Yes, I have no idea what it’s going to be when I get it.

EW: So a couple of days ago, it was blue cheese, and he paired it with clementines. It looked so good! He does really cool pairings that you would never think about doing.

MB: They gave me stinging nettles this week—and you chop them up and you put them in a pan, cook them, add a little splash of vinegar, and then poach an egg in them. I also took arugula flowers and I dressed them with some Parmigiano-Reggiano, a little bit of celery, and made that into a salad with extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice. The idea is that I’m not making meals, I’m just making one course, but two or three of those and you have a meal.

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MD: Speaking of unexpected pairings, what are some ingredient pairings that you’re loving right now?

EW: I have a soft spot in my heart right now for mayonnaise-marinated artichoke toast. It’s my new thing. I know it sounds so gross, but it’s so good! [Laughs.] That is my new snack hack—I’ll make a nice piece of toast, smear a tiny bit of mayonnaise on it, and add some marinated artichokes. I love it.

MB: I like that. My favorite food pairing always around this time of year is really nice vintage champagne and beef jerky. It’s spectacular. It’s the perfect high-brow/low-brow. It always blows my friends away when I serve beef jerky with Dom Pérignon rosé. Want to know why? Because I fucking can. [Laughs.] And because it’s perfect: That salty dried meat goes so well with a yeasty kind of fermented old champagne. It’s a really great combo.

MD: Have you guys learned any cooking tips from each other today?

EW: I always learn something. You can’t be in a room with him and not learn something. Like I said, I would have never thought to put a pork product with a shellfish or making the pasta one minute less and cooking it in the sauce—those are all things I’m going to do from now on! And I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

MB: And I learned not to be afraid of white pants when you’re making noodles. [Laughs.]

EW: But hey, you didn’t get a splash on yourself either!

MB: I know how to step back.

MD: Is that why you always wear orange, because it covers pasta sauce stains?

MB: Actually no—any solid color doesn’t work. What really works is stripes and checks! Because then you can’t really see the stain. [Laughs.] With solid colors, you just look like you peed your pants or something spilled on you. No bueno either way! Not a good presentation.

MD: Last question—if you had to make a dessert to pair with the linguini with red clam sauce, what would it be?

EW: That’s a question for you.

MB: Me? Right now? It’s May, so I would take chopped-up rhubarb, poach it in a little simple syrup with vanilla and a slice or two of orange rind, and then serve it with yogurt or ice cream.

And in that same way, I might take that very same poached rhubarb, drain it completely, take the liquid, and make it into a Bellini, and then take the rest and make it into a little free-form crostata—just take any kind of pie crust you want, fold it all the way around, except for in the center you can even use a premade unbaked pie shell. Throw it in the oven and bake that 20 to 25 minutes at 350°F. You’ll have a beautiful rhubarb crostata. Serve it with your Bellini and any dairy on the side—even sour cream—whatever you have.

Bang.

EW: I would have said lemon gelato. [Laughs.]

MB: That’s also very good! It’s the end of Meyer lemons, so you should feel really good about that!

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Servings: 2

Ingredients

120 g. linguine
12 littleneck clams or cockles
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 tbsp. estrattu (or tomato paste)
1 tbsp. ’nduja
1 cup peeled jarred tomatoes (we like Casa Barone from Naples)
1 tsp. chili flakes
2 tbsp. parsley chiffonade
1 lemon wedge
Kosher salt
Extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Salt a large pot of boiling water so that it tastes of the sea. Drop pasta and cook 1 minute less than cooking instructions.

In a preheated sauté pan, add clams with olive oil, and cover. Cook for 2 minutes until clams are dancing in the pan. Add garlic, and lightly toast. Add ’nduja and estrattu, and cook for 1 minute, carefully watching the garlic so it does not get too much color. Add tomatoes and chili flakes to taste. Add pasta, toss with tomato and clams, and cook for 1 minute so the sauce dresses the noodle. Finish with olive oil, parsley, and a squeeze of fresh lemon.

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