Monday, 27 June 2011

Cooking the Books

Interview of Ritu Dalmia Author of Italian Khana by Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal

Ritu Dalmia, entrepreneur, gourmet and consummate manager, has donned many caps in her 29 years. Best known for being the driving force behind Diva, one of Delhi's finest Italian restaurants which has won the Hindustan Times' HT City award for the last four years and The Times of India's Times Food Award for the last two years, Ritu also runs the extremely popular café at the Italian Cultural Centre and has been awarded the prestigious Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity.

At the age of sixteen, Ritu joined her father's marble business which I when her love affair with Italy began. Often travelling to Italy for work she fell in love with its cuisine and at the age of twenty one started her first restaurant in Delhi. MezzaLuna which offered Mediterranean cuisine with an Italian accent was in her words 'a wonderful disaster. She closed shop and moved to London, to open the acclaimed Indian restaurant Vama and hen returned to Delhi to open Diva.

Now she is all set to teach India how to cook yummy authentic Italian food in the Indian kitchen with what locally available ingredients in her stunning new book Italian Khana, almost apologetically because, "I have always said that when chefs start writing books and hosting TV shows, it means they aren't cooking enough. And here I am doing just that."

We got a sneak peak at the book (we love it!), and also got Ritu to take time out from preparing for the launch of Italian Khana the show on NDTV good times on the 16th of July to answer a few questions put forth by our very own Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal.

RMG: Why Italian Khana?  What inspired you? Why did you choose the subject you did to write about?

RD: Very simple. Italian is a cuisine I am most comfortable with, and we Indians like Italian but are intimidated by cooking it at home. I think it really is the simplest cooking in the world, and with this book every Indian can cook Italian based on ingredients available in the metros.

RMG: So, what do you have to say about Italian food in India?

RD: As I said in my book as well, all Indians have a little bit of Italian in us and vice versa. Italian food is close to Indian palate and really has come a long way since my first restaurant 15 years ago

RMG: How did you set about working on this book?  Did you travel, meet people? Experiment with local ingredients to cook Italian?  Would you share some of your most pleasurable moments during your research?

RD: I travel to Italy for work in any case and most of the recipes are given to me by friends, they are recipes of dishes I have eaten that have left a memory, recipes from my various restaurants and travels from the past. So to answer your question, for this book I did not specifically travel. To be fair the only research part of this book was checking what ingredient are available, the rest came from my memory bank. But the best part about the book was, this great sense of reminscing, specially when I wrote comfort me with zuppa (a chapter in the book).
RMG: What's your favorite recipe from your book?

RD: Ela's Caesar  salad, Risotto with beetroot and Panna Cotta.

RMG: What were some of the things you were uncompromising about as regards to your book, that you think should be given more attention in other cookbooks? (Language, recipe testing etc)

RD: I was not willing to Indianize the recipes, that was the most important thing. Secondly I wanted a well produced International quality book. I think pictures are as important as content and Random house kept their part of the deal and really did produce a beautiful book.

RMG: Anything you would have done differently?

RD: Sorry to sound so arrogant, but if I really am honest.. no I would do nothing different about this book.

RMG: Favourite regional Italian dish? Why?

RD: Ahhh many.. from Sicily I love the Caponata. What I call the (Italian) baingan achaar, I also love the Gnocchi Alla Romana and the Artichokes from the Jewish quarters of Rome

RMG: What about YOU, the cook? What are your favorite foods to cook with?

RD: Well, I love to cook Italian , because it is simple, I also like cooking simple home food like Sindhi curry, etc. I cook some Asian, but I have to admit even at home I end up cooking mainly Italian.

RMG: What is comfort food for you?

RD: Kadi Chawal, Spaghetti with Pomodoro, and Aloo Matar Toast.

RMG: Any favorite cooking gadgets?

RD: Blow torch

RMG: Are there any traditional/community cookbooks that you have depended on through the years?

RD: I am a Marwari and in my house there used to be this set of Books called "pak Pranali" printed in the 60s, as a kid that was used a lot by me, even Tarla dalal and Anna Tasca Lanza's book "heart of Sicily" has been always a point of reference.

RMG: Which book gets you cooking ? (besides your own)

RD: The river Cafe cook book

RMG: If you were asked to describe yourself as an ingredient what would you be and why?

I am dark chocolate.. grainy, smooth , melts in your mouth.. sweet, but with just the right amount of bitterness and yes... of course sensuous!

RMG: What would you like to eat for your last supper?-

RD: Matar Kachodi, Aloo pethe ki sabzi with panchphoran followed by Malpua rabri.

RMG: If you were allowed a dream dinner, who would you invite to it and what would you eat and drink?

RD: I will get into trouble with this one, so I better shut up. I can tell you what I will cook and drink, but will not tell you who I will invite. I would drink Bollinger, I would eat a simple meal- ravioli with bettroot and goat cheese, tossed in butter and sprinkling of toasted sunflower seeds and then a perfectly cooked carrot cake or even maybe a Panna cotta, I am a simple girl with simple tastes.

RMG: What's the most outlandish thing you've ever eaten?

RD: Donkey - in Modena when we were shooting for Italian Khana the TV serial. I was an ass to eat a donkey!

RMG: What's next on the menu? What can we, look forward to next from your kitchen/pen? I know it is a little soon, but do give us a hint...

RD: Italian Khana has been made into a TV series (for which I travelled extensively, it will be telecast from the 16th of July. That was exciting I think. For the first time in India, a book and a TV series based on the book went hand in hand. I am a chef, my main job is to stay in my kitchen but yes, I am thinking of a second helping of the book, in what form I still do not know…

RMG: Lastly, is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your career, or the profession that would be interesting or helpful to others in the food business?

RD: I am a self trained cook.. all you need is a large ego, a curious mind and a sense of adventure. You can go to all the fancy catering schools in the world, but if you lack these, you will never be a cut above the rest.

Cremino di barbabietole

Cream of beetroot and berries

There is a quaint restaurant named Alla Torre in Romagnano Sesia in north Italy which serves the most amazing food. We were there during a grand trip to Piedmont to celebrate Gita’s birthday, and for me the entire menu was pure poetry. This dazzling dish was a part of the eight course meal we had there.

1 kg beetroot

200 g strawberry or any berry

2 tbsps olive oil

1 tbsp rosemary

1 tbsp parsley, chopped

A few drops of balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper to season

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 200 °C.

2. Peel the beetroot and boil till tender, about 20 minutes. Slice the beetroot.

3. Mix olive oil, balsamic vinegar, rosemary, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. Add the beetroot and mix well so it is evenly coated. Arrange on a baking tray and roast it for about 20 minutes. Let it cool.

4. Blend the beetroot with the berries well in a food processor. Add some water if you need to obtain a consistency of single cream. Adjust the seasoning again and chill in the fridge.

5. Serve with a little sprinkling of chopped parsley.


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