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Originally published January 3, 2012 at 3:00 PM | Page modified January 4, 2012 at 7:24 AM

Mario Batali: Make time for family meals

James Beard Award-winner Mario Batali, a Seattle-area native, is a chef, restaurateur, author and TV personality now adding "syndicated columnist" to his résumé. Here is the first of his new bimonthly columns, which will be built around his latest book, "Molto Batali."

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For the next 12 months, I'll be inviting you to my table. Sharing stories, anecdotes, lessons from the kitchen and, of course, recipes from my new cookbook, "Molto Batali." And it's all about family meals.

It's tough to ask families to come together for supper every day. With homework, soccer, baseball, football and basketball — not to mention two or three jobs — life gets in the way. But it's important to make time.

Start with one day a week. Choose your family's favorite dish, say, meatloaf, and make it every Tuesday. Trust me, everyone will naturally start to build their schedules around the meal. It's a subtle shift in mentality.

The goal is to gather and talk. To share stories and arguments. As my kids were growing up, my wife, Susi, started every meal with, "What's the funniest thing you heard all day? What's the worst thing that happened all day? And who'd you sit next to at lunch?"

These days, family conversation has a rival it didn't have to contend with when I was a kid: handheld gadgets. I suggest you adopt a Batali family rule: no technology at the table. No texting, tweeting, Facebook or any permutation of messaging I'm unfamiliar with. My kids have started to enforce this, too. (If you're jonesing for a tweet, sneak off to the bathroom.)

Sunday supper isn't going to cure all of the world's problems. But those few minutes around the table can give children the confidence they need to thrive.

In 2008, I established the Mario Batali Foundation, or MBF, to help children realize their full potential. A large part of achieving that goal is ensuring that every child is well fed. MBF has joined with the Food Bank for New York City and similar organizations to promote hunger relief and good nutrition, especially among children.

In conjunction with the recent release of "Molto Batali," I will match the first $100,000 in donations to MBF before Feb. 1.

The food at the table becomes a medium around which people congregate, but that doesn't make it any less important. I organized my most recent cookbook according to the annual calendar. The chapters correspond to months, and the recipes are constructed around the produce that is seasonal at that time.

Each chapter features a meat, a pasta (or two), a bunch of veggie side dishes and dessert. Servings are generally enough for eight to 10 people. These recipes are meant to be shared, saved as leftovers and eaten for lunch tomorrow.

The pasta dishes can be served either as a main course or in smaller portions as a first course. Try the courses in somewhat smaller portions just for the general "Italian-ness" of it. Because, of course, everyone wants to be Italian.

The related recipe serves eight to 10 people as a side dish. In "Molto Batali," I pair it with an earthy roast Leg of Lamb with a Clementine Crust, and a wintry rigatoni pasta with beef and parsnip.

Buon appetito!

James Beard Award-winner Mario Batali, a Seattle-area native, is a chef, restaurateur, author and TV personality. His latest book is "Molto Batali."

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