09/01/2010 01:14 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Being Mario

I have always wanted to cook like Mario Batali.

First, I bought a pair of orange crocs. I figured that would be the first step (ahem ...first step!!) toward cooking like Mario. I had to start somewhere -- so why not start at the ground and work up. (-- Never mind)

Oddly, that actually didn't work, so I was driven to consider alternative ways... like maybe buying his books instead. Mario Tailgates NASCAR Style, for example. I am serious. Consider the great recipes in that book, such as Grilled Tequila and Chipotle Rubbed Lamb or Soft-Shelled Crab Sandwich with Spicy Tatar Sauce! My newest addition, which arrived today, is Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking the perfect summer cookbook. (I love the farmers' market in Martha's Vineyard where I can stroll around chatting up friends and selecting the wonderful native grown seasonal produce that I will be able to incorporate into his recipes.)

But, I found an even better way of learning to be Mario. I have had the delicious joy of watching him work -- up close and truly personal: An auction item from a most worthy charity -- Mariska Hargitay's Joyful Heart -- given most graciously by Mario. Clearly a perfect though pricey opportunity to learn from the master! He made his classic white truffle five-course dinner for ten at our home -- and what an experience! What delicious subtle flavors! What elegant homemade pasta! What divine truffles! What a cool guy.

His Ribeye steak, cooked rare to perfection and served at room temperature with shaved white truffles was simple to prepare, but beyond flawless, and since I watched him do it, I was equally certain I could do it nearly as well. And, I have -- though not always with white truffles. However, it is truly quite divine alone.

Since that is a once in a lifetime experience, I find solace simply living in the same city with Mario. I just had a birthday -- the perfect excuse to dine at Babbo, his flagship restaurant in Greenwich Village.

OMG How many times during dinner at Babbo's can one say, "OMG! This is so good" and still appear remotely grown up! I gave up. Each dish held a subtle sub-text of unexpected flavors that gave gentle complexity to familiar favorites. The Ravioli with Fresh Asparagus and Ricotta was a delightful delicate buttery dish that truly melted in one's mouth. The Pappardelle Bolognese had a "fresher" taste than the normal meaty sauce -- a bit more tomato that lightened the flavor. The Duck with Radicchio, Parsley Root, Babbo Pancetta (yummy and salty) and Mustarda Crema -- was perhaps the best duck I have ever tasted! Mario's famous Barbecued Skirt Steak with Asparagus "alla Piastra" and Salsa Verde was tangy and robust with a smoldering sexy quality.

As wonderful as it was -- nothing will match Mario's perfect white truffle dinner.

Mario prepared the steak ahead of time -- leaving it out in order to cool to room temperature. It was cooked nearly black and blue, and was beautifully browned and tasty on the outside and quite pink on the inside. When it was time to serve the main entrée, he sliced the steak, and arranged the slices on a plate. Then he sprinkled the slices with Olive Oil and Maldon Salt and served them with polenta. It was as delicious as it was simple. (With shaved white truffles, it was ... OMG)

- By Nancy Ellison