EXCLUSIVE: Watching Mario Batali and Aziz Ansari in the Kitchen Will Cause Hunger Pangs—and Spontaneous Fits of Laughter
Now this is a lunch date we want in on.
Cleverly called Masters of Lunch, the chef dished out fare inspired by the foodie comedians‘ recent trip to Lombardy, Italy. On the menu: frittelle di carote (an antipasta of fried shredded carrots and mascarpone), casunziei (pasta filled with a puree of roasted beets and potatoes), and popette (a meatball main course prepared with swiss chard)—each paired with a regional wine.
“I made dishes [based] on what Aziz just recently traveled to taste and see and understand,” Batali tells PEOPLE exclusively. “In particular the frittelle di carote was a dish I know he had eaten somewhere and the wine [that I served], he actually stayed in the winery that made it. I knew I would be able to tickle his fancy a little bit.”
And this wasn’t the first time Batali and Ansari enjoyed an epic meal — and playful banter.
“I met Aziz about three years ago and we have a gentlemen’s lunch club when he’s in town,” Batali says. “We’ve done everything from [New York City restaurants] Babbo to Momofuku to Peking Duck House to odd places in Chinatown. It’s because he’s kind of a food obsessive and loves all the things that are in my world and I find him hilarious. We have infinite things to talk about and we don’t take each other very seriously. We like our friendship.”
In the exclusive clip (which has a spot of NSFW language), the culinary icon also dispenses his favorite tips. “In the last minute, right before you serve your food, you can add all these little tricks,” Batali says as he finishes the meatballs with olive oil and parsley. “It’s crucial to understand that in the last seconds you can change it from 94 to a 99.”
“Ninety-four is not good enough!” Asari joked, as he tucked into the dish. (Not-so-surprising spoiler alert: He loved it.)
Batali also added: “You would not serve this with spaghetti [in Italy], you would serve this as a main course. In fact spaghetti was almost never served with meatballs.”
And the chef shared that there’s more to a meal than just the food. “It’s fun to eat with people who love to eat. It’s fun to cook with people that love to eat and it’s fun to be with people who love to talk about it because that’s what gives it all the juice,” he said.
“Our level of obsession has gone of the charts,” replied Yang.
So much so, that after the meal was finished, Ansari was left wanting more. “No dessert?” he said, which elicited big laughs from the guys.
With all this delicious food, and fun back-and-forth, this begs the question, could a Batali soon make a cameo on the food-centric Master of None? “In the next season we’re probably going to do something for fun,” said the chef.
Want to try the meatball dish that made Anzari and Yang swoon? See below for the recipe.
Mario Batali’s Beef and Chard Meatballs
For the Meatballs:
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, halved and cut into ⅓ -inch-thick slices
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 lb. Swiss chard, trimmed, stems and leaves cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
2 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs
1 lb. ground beef chuck
1 lb. turkey Italian sausage
½ cup whole milk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 cloves garlic, grated on a Microplane
2 tbsp. chopped fresh marjoram
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 tbsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
For the Sauce:
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 red onions, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tbsp. red pepper flakes
1 cup dry red wine
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 cups tomato sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp. roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for serving
1. To make the meatballs: preheat the oven to 475°F.
2. In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Stir in the onion and garlic. Add the Swiss chard and season with salt. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, or until the chard softens.
Toast the fresh bread crumbs in a dry pan until toasted and deep brown but not burned—watch them carefully to prevent burning. Set aside.
3. Uncover the chard, stir, and cook for 8 to 9 minutes more, until the chard is very tender. Set aside to cool, then chop well and place between two plates to press out any liquid.
In a large bowl, combine the chard, beef, sausage, bread crumbs, milk, eggs, garlic, marjoram, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper and mix lightly with your hands until just combined. Form into golf ball–size meatballs and place in a shallow casserole.
Roast the meatballs until dark golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 350°F.
4. To make the sauce: in a large ovenproof skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat until smoking. Add the onions and garlic, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until well browned, about 5 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes, then the wine and rosemary, and bring to a boil. Cook until the wine has reduced by half. Add the tomato sauce and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
5. Add the meatballs to the sauce, place the pan in the oven, and bake for 1 hour. Season the meatballs with salt and pepper. Serve in shallow bowls with the sauce, topped with the parsley.
–Michelle Ward Trainor