Mario didn't travel alone—his gal pal Oscar®-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow came along for the ride. Mario says the idea for the show came up while at a dinner party. "I'm talking at this party, and Gwyneth says, 'Well, jeez, don't cut me out of that,'" he says. "And we started to put this whole plan together, and it just kind of hatched."
Although Mario is known for his Italian fare, both he and Gwyneth thought Spain was the perfect location. "I did an exchange in Spain when I was in high school, and Mario lived there in high school. We always talked about how much we love Spain and how people are more familiar with Italy and other countries," Gwyneth says. "We wanted to kind of get in there and break it open and show the world how Spanish people eat and what the life is like because it's such an incredible country."
The road trip went on for many weeks, but Gwyneth says a little film magic was involved so she could still spend time at home with her kids. "They were on a road trip, and I would fly in and do two days and then fly home," she says.
With his ponytail and signature orange Crocs, Mario is easily recognized in New York, the home to eight of his critically acclaimed restaurants. In Spain, however, he says Gwyneth was truly the star. "She speaks with the most beautiful Madridano accent you'll ever hear in your life," he says. "It's beautiful, and everyone that talks to her in Spain falls in love with her."
While traveling from town to town and soaking up the local flavor, Gwyneth says it was easy to stay away from the bad gas station food people typically associate with road trips. "It's more fresh," she says. "They have junk too, but I think they eat in a more rustic kind of brio way."
Of course, nobody's perfect. "In Spain they just love french fries, and actually what you'll see on the show when Gwyneth comes anywhere near french fries—it's like a black hole," Mario says. "They just go in her mouth."
To bring the Spanish flavor back home, Mario and Gwyneth are sharing a few dishes from their cookbook Spain...A Culinary Road Trip,
which contains all the recipes they fell in love with while on the road.
"We're making paella, which is probably the most famous dish in all of Spain," Mario says. "In each different region, there are different kinds of paella. I like to think of it as kind of a canvas on which you can paint." Although paella is traditionally thought of as a seafood dish, Mario says you can put whatever you want in it—chicken, rabbit, chorizo—or make it completely vegetarian.Get the full recipe for Mario's paella.
The first step to perfect paella, according to Mario, is to use a paella pan. If you don't have one, he says a sauté pan will suffice. "You're just one step further from excellent paella," he says.
Mario understands that the moms of the world don't have a lot of time to cook or the energy to think of new ideas each and every night. "It's a real serious job, and to keep the kids interested in healthy food is a big thing in America," he says.
Two busy moms, Monique and Maria, are joining Mario via Skype™ from their home kitchens in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Orlando, Florida, to cook with Mario as he prepares a quick and easy meal. Monique and Maria follow along as Mario cooks Asparagus Alla Plancha, which Mario says means skillet-cooked asparagus, and Flamenquines, a Spanish pork dish.
Flamenquines are pork chops with a little surprise inside—more pork! Mario uses jamon serrano, but he says you can use prosciutto or whatever you have. "You can put country ham, you can put anything you want in it," he says. "The idea is just to make sure that, in addition to the pork chop, there's a little more pork inside."
Get the full recipe for Asparagus Alla Plancha
With all the time Mario spends in the kitchen, he's come up with a list of things he simply can't live without.
Although homemade pasta seems like it would be an all-day affair, Mario says one of his favorite kitchen appliances makes fresh pasta a breeze. "One of my favorite things is this pasta attachment on your Kitchen Aid mixer which makes making pasta twice as fast and twice as fun," he says. "What you really realize when you have something like that is that fresh pasta is literally eight to 10 minutes away."
Mario's next favorite thing looks like it came from the tool department—a Microplane cheese grater. Mario says the fine grate brings the best out of the cheese. "When you have this kind of cheese over stuff, you don't have to eat so much of the cheese and you get that incredible coverage and that delicate flavor," he says. "When you talk about really good Italian food and really good Spanish food, it's about balance. It's not so much about everything and lots of it. There's just the right amount of everything in the right way, and that's what makes it so good."
In Gwyneth's kitchen, healthy cooking has become a way of life. She says her number one favorite appliance is the Gaggenau steamer. "It's kind of an investment, but honestly, it's the best thing that's in my kitchen," she says. "You can make steamed veggies, fish, rice—it's incredible. We reheat food in it so you don't have to zap it in the microwave."Watch to see Mario and Gwyneth's full list of favorite things in the kitchen.
Gwyneth says she loves to have a glass of wine while she cooks and has found a gizmo that keeps her half-full bottles fresh. "In my house, there's always wine left over," she says. Just place the wine saver on top of the bottle, pump, and the air is sucked out of the bottle. "And then the next day you can have the other half of your bottle of wine," she says. See how Gwyneth can eat what she wants and stay in shape!
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