The title of this book is a misnomer. Yes, it’s a cookbook, but also an autobiography, tutorial of Italian cuisine, travelogue, and repository of wisdom learned over the life of a successful chef and restaurateur.
There are essays about growing up in Italy, accounts of cooking for celebrities and statesmen, testimonials from chefs and stars, and pictures of rustic landscapes with goats and cattle: an illustrated survey of Chef Luigi Diotaiuti’s varied career. After a culinary education working in more than 40 kitchens in Europe and the United States, he opened Al Tiramisu. It has been a fixture in Washington, DC for 18 years, a lively and delicious dining experience. I will forgive him the shot with the DuPont Circle farmers market in the background, but only because he mentioned the Olney Farmers and Artists Market in the same sentence.
Then there are the recipes. They range from very simple (Escarole Soup), to those for which the ingredients might be hard to find, like wild boar and bottarga – but in case you are seized by the compulsion to prepare these, there is a list of suppliers in the back.
I prepared several, and all were delicious. Butternut squash and balsamic vinegar risotto describes the standard risotto method, with two small but crucial additions: a bit of heavy cream stirred in at the very end, and a hollowed-out cherry tomato filled with balsamic vinegar topping each serving. Together, they balance richness with umami – and add a distinctive touch of interactive garnish to the experience.
Shrimp and barlotti bean salad lives up to its description as “light and sparkling.” One quibble I had with it: the direction to drain away the flavored water in which the shrimp boiled for less than two minutes – and waste that savory mix of lemon, wine, peppercorns, celery, onion, and bay leaves! Saved, and boiled up for a few minutes more with the shrimp heads and shells, it made the base of a tasty soup for the next day’s lunch.
Each recipe comes with an introduction, usually about the personal meaning it has for Chef Luigi. While these add to the human interest level of the book, they also contribute to a design flaw (in my opinion): many recipes are printed on two or more pages, and very rarely on facing pages, which make it necessary to turn pages for the complete recipe. This forces the cook to complete the entire mise en place before executing the instructions. While I recognize that this is a necessity in restaurant kitchens, this lazy home cook would rather see the whole recipe at once, on facing pages.
This should not, however, dissuade anyone from obtaining and enjoying this book. I look forward to cooking more dishes from it, such as the Strawberry and prosecco risotto in the spring. And, of course, buying the strawberries from the farmers market.
Diotaiuti, Luigi, The Al Tiramisu Restaurant Cookbook: An Elevated Approach to Authentic Italian Cuisine, www.altiramisu.com, 2013.