Ritu Dalmia, chef and owner of Diva, Delhi’s well-known Italian restaurant, has just done what she swore she would never do: write a cookbook and host a cookery show on TV. “When chefs start cooking for TV shows,” she says wryly, “they are not cooking enough. That’s what I used to say.”
Italian Khana, a Random House publication, and the television show based on the book, will air on NDTV Good Times from July 16. It targets the urban audience and offers them an Italian repertoire that can be cooked with local produce at home. “I’m a purist, so I have not Indianised the recipes,” says Dalmia.
To cook Italian in Indian kitchens, all you need is a fire, a spatula, a chopping board and you are ready to roll, she says.
“The book is not meant for an international audience. If you open a cookbook and see a mention of Maldon salt, I’m sure you will close it. So would I. Italian Khana is not that kind of a book.”
Dalmia has not laid the spread thin.
Several Diva classics have crossed over from the restaurant’s menu to the cookbook, her first. For instance: Spaghetti Olio Aglio made with oil, pasta and chilli; and Pasta Pomodoro, a tomato-based spaghetti, which is — as she says — the spine of
The complex naans, burras of Italian food are not part of the book. You don’t do it at home. Neither do Italians. What you do have are recipes of comfort food like Pasta Carbonara. Opportunities for showing off (try out the Beetroot and Goatcheese Risotto/Pork rolls with Gorgonzola and Ham) and a willingness to seduce (peaches poached with Red Wine).
The Indian connection is upfront — there are chapters named after the Carnal Chilli and the Voluptuous Eggplant. The chef has brought them to attention, she says because “eating as an experience of sense and sensibility” is common to both Indian and Italian cultures. “Indian food is not just about chicken tikka masala,” says the chef.
“Neither is lasagne the beginning and end of Italian cuisine. It’s a myth that Italians lay their cream and cheese thick. They also don’t believe in sauces.” It’s all there in the book. The proof of the pudding, in this case, will be in the reading.