You want to learn something valuable about cooking while vegging out in front of the tube? Got thirty minutes? (Or twenty-two if you have TiVO.) In my opinion, the very best thing you can watch is reruns of Molto Mario on Food Network.
Now you might think: "dude, you are a vegetarian! Why would you watch that?" Ok, let’s take a parenthesis here. If you are a vegetarian and think you should only buy vegetarian cookbooks and watch shows that don’t involve meat or fish, you are an … well, let’s not be insulting. You are missing out on most of the knowledge that the food world has to offer, because let’s face it – we are in the minority here, people. Most of the great chefs in the world cook animals. Sucks for me (and the animals). I still buy their books and watch their shows. You can always skip past the parts where our critter friends get dismembered, and probably cringe.
For example, I recently watched an episode called Vuccinia Market. Mario made three dishes: eggplant cutlets, pasta with sardines, and a sweet-and-sour chicken, all in the style of a particular town in Sicily. The eggplant dish was already vegetarian, and garnished with caciocavallo cheese, pepperoncini, fennel fronds, and orange wedges. Yum! The pasta dish might be good with cauliflower and capers. I probably wouldn’t directly substitute in the chicken dish, but the flavor profile could be adapted to, say, artichokes.
So why my love for Mario? Three reasons:
- he’s a phenomenal cook
- he’s tremendously knowledgeable and passionate about the regional cuisines of Italy
- he doesn’t waste my time
In the Vuccinia episode, as is his custom, he makes all 3 dishes almost from scratch during the episode, including most of the chopping. He only does "Betty Crocker moments" for things that have to cook longer than TV allows. And he does all of it while conversing with three guests, and educating the viewer.
There is virtually no fluff. You get to watch a master work his knives and pans while he talks you through his thought process, period. For example, in the Vuccinia episode he stops to explain that you can tell female fennel bulbs (round) from male ones (flat), and that the female ones taste much better. Who the heck knew?
You should particularly listen up whenever he says "the main understanding is…" or "the main event is…" For example, in this episode he tells you that the "main event" in caramelizing a vegetable (like fennel) is to put it in the pan and don’t move them for awhile. Let it just sit in the hot oil, and those surfaces will brown and develop lots of flavor. Simple, but how often do you mindlessly keep tossing the veggies, trying to cook them evenly?
So there you have it. If you haven’t caught Molto Mario lately, please do and let me know what you think. Or if you think there is a better show out there, please comment and tell me what it is!