She has no qualms about calling herself a ‘fake chef’ or ‘an Italian bawarchi’. Never mind the fact that she can stake claim to having single-handedly introduced Delhiites to gourmet Italian. Meet 35-year-old Ritu Dalmia of Diva fame, whose first cookbook, Italian Khana, hit the shelves earlier this week, and whose television show by the same title is set to premiere soon.
Simple but haute
The USP of Italian Khana is unique — to bring easy, authentic Italian cooking into Indian kitchens. “It’s not a fancy cookbook with fancy ingredients,” says Dalmia. “It’s a book for people I know who were having trouble cooking Italian.” Dalmia makes sure that all the recipes can be made using locally available ingredients and kitchen equipment Indians are familiar with.
Thus, she shows how to dress mutton as lamb or substitute lemon with lime. But by trying to tailor recipes to Indian palates, isn’t she risking bastardising the cuisine? Dalmia responds with a resounding ‘no’. “I’m a purist,” she says. “Only those recipes have been chosen that will work well with the Indian palate.”
Food for every occasion
Unlike in a traditional cookbook where recipes are given course-wise, Italian Khana gives recipes according to occasion — a large show-off dinner, a romantic supper for two, a meal with friends, and more. A section at the end guides readers on how to put together a menu.
Why this deviation from the norm? “I think food is about the state of mind. For example, if it’s food for a date, there’ll be a different accent, voice and art about it than when you’re cooking for friends.” The book recommends “pasta in broth for nippy winter nights, fish with black pepper for a summer Sunday afternoon...”
Italian on the table
That bookshops now boast of a desi Italian cookbook is testimony to how far Indian palates have come. Gone are the days when, as Dalmia recounts, clients would wonder why there was no macaroni on the menu. “Today, my Indian guests ask for truffles and drink my Bordeaux Grand Cru.” Buon appetito!
— Italian Khana premieres on NDTV Good Times on July 16 at 9 pm.