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“You’re only as good as your last lasagna.” Okay, maybe you don’t make lasagna. Maybe you’ve never made it, maybe you never will. BUT, this was excellent life advice from the ever-so-famous chef Mario Batali at last night’s event celebrating the Fresh theme with NYC concept store Story.

Besides sharing stories from his 26 (!) restaurants, Batali talked in depth about the best fresh dishes he has ever had (squid ink sandwiches in Spain), his favorite vacation spot (Lake Michigan), and the importance and rarity of a good cup of coffee. No matter where his travels and career have taken him, freshness has always played a key role in what makes something delicious and what makes something exciting.

Maybe you don’t have orange Crocs, and you likely don’t own 26 restaurants (I mean, you might. In that case, good for you.) BUT, you can celebrate freshness in your cooking just like Mario does in these fresh favorites inspired by the ponytailed man himself.

America: Farm to Table

Mario’s latest book celebrates America’s farmers, and who know fresh better than they do? From Nashville to San Francisco, he gets the details on the best produce across the country. Just in time to make a perfect summer salad. One tip? “Look for the strawberries that are a little raised near the leaves. Somehow they are always the sweetest,” he says.

Mario Batali Marinara Organic Pasta Sauce

Whether your family has a weekly pasta night, or you’re just getting home from hearing Mario Batali speak (ahem), having a jar of quality sauce on hand is key. It’s crafted from imported plum tomatoes, and fresh garlic and herbs. And trust me: you don’t need much else.

The Urban Agriculture Co. Tomato Organic Growing Kit

If you want to try a hand at making your own sauce, or just impressing your friends by having a tomato garden in your apartment, this organic tomato growing kit is just about the coolest thing ever. Because if there’s one thing I make all summer, it’s sliced tomatoes, white bread, mayo, and a little sea salt. YUM.

BelGioioso Parmesan Shredded Cheese

You didn’t think this list wouldn’t include cheese, did you? When it comes to pasta dishes, keep it fresh and simple. Some al dente pasta (maybe these guys?), sauce, cheese, done. PERFECT. Try not to eat five bowls. Or do. Whatev.

Urban Agriculture Co. Organic Basil Wall Herb Pocket

Okay, so now you’ve got the Italian freshness down. Maybe you’re growing your own tomatoes in your studio apartment. Want to take it to the next level? How impressed will a date be if you offer to make them dinner, then start chopping up fresh basil from your wall like it’s no big deal? You can thank Mario later.

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