Friday, May 24, 2013

The Duke's Table: Eat Like Vegetarian Italian Royalty

Posted by on Fri, May 24, 2013 at 5:02 AM

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There are generally two types of cookbooks I love: beautiful food that’s beautifully photographed but includes recipes I’ll likely never attempt (Herbivoracious by Michael Natkin) and books that are informative and technical and full of great tips and recipes that can help anyone be an expert in the kitchen (How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman). While I love perusing the beautiful books in my collection, my Bittman book is the dog-eared and stained go-to in my library, like many people’s copies of Joy of Cooking.

The Duke’s Table falls firmly in the latter category. More than 1,000 recipes are packed into just over 300 pages in this veritable encyclopedia of vegetarian Italian recipes. Subtitled The Complete Book of Vegetarian Italian Cooking, it was originally published in 1930 by Enrico Alliata, the duke of Salaparuta.

A rebel in his time and place, he was a major proponent of not just vegetarian cuisine, but raw food as well. Written in the author’s native Italian, the original book — Cucina Vegetariana e Naturismo Crudo (Vegetarian Cuisine and Natural Raw Food) — has been translated wonderfully to include the author’s eloquence and style and updated for American kitchens. The common sense and science the duke writes about in his introduction to vegetarianism still hold up today.

The book was originally written as more of a guide than a cookbook, but the update includes actual recipes instead of guidelines. Still, if you are new in the kitchen, some of the recipes may be a little tough for you, as they do not include step-by-step photos or even photos of the finished dishes. But even if you are more Boyardee than Batali, there are plenty of recipes for you. They range from the simple (yet elegant) like Deviled Egg Crostini and Cucumber Juice Soup — which anyone can make — to the more elaborate, such as The Queen’s Timballo and Cauliflower Souffle (which I'm not going to attempt any time in the near future).

Many of the recipes are heavy on dairy and eggs (as a standard vegetarian, I’m OK with that). But a respectable number of recipes are vegan, and there’s an entire section of the book devoted to raw foods, including soups, main courses and even desserts. And the duke makes excellent notes on ingredients, such as, “the pollen [of chopped zucchini blossoms] gives off a seafood flavor,” a comment included in a recipe for mock clam soup.

If this post seems like a bit of a love letter to this book, that’s because it is. I haven’t been this excited about a cookbook (eh, any book) since Bittman’s vegetarian book. Opening it to a random page yields a number of recipes for dishes I want to try immediately. Though I’ll need to save my pennies for black truffles and good saffron for some of them. But I can make a deviled cheese crostini any time. And a fig bread next month!

The Duke’s Table, The Complete Book of Vegetarian Italian Cooking is available on Amazon.com.

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