Luigi Diotaiuti and Amy Riolo operate Luigi’s Al Tiramisu. If you can’t get to Washington D.C. in time, they have a few cookbooks also…
Who are some known politicians who’ve stopped by your restaurant, and what are their popular requests?
Luigi: Since I opened Al Tiramisu in 1996, I have been lucky enough to feed politicians of every stripe. Secretary of State John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Former Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, the Italian ambassadors as well as many other dignitaries and celebrities. On a very historic occasion, Mrs. Clinton ordered our signature Taglierini with White Truffles, Grilled Sea Bass and our Classic Tiramisu for dessert. I served the same sea bass and tiramisu to former Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti – his menu, however was preceded by our Chestnut Tortellini, since chestnuts were in season at the time. Secretary of State John Kerry is a frequent guest, and I am honored that he mentioned me in his address for the Groundbreaking of Milan Expo 2015 at the United States Department of State.
What are traditional Italian desserts we aren’t familiar with, beyond tiramisu?
Amy: If we had to pick the most overlooked Italian dessert, it would be fruit, because that is the way most Italians end their daily meals. There are many traditions of the casalinghe “housewives” which use seasonal fruit as the basis of dessert – everything from baked apples to roasted peaches and poached pears and stuffed figs. I try to feature this in my cookbooks – since they have a health focus and Luigi often serves them in his restaurants. Cakes (torte), pies (crostate) , and sorbets (sorbetti) are also a great way to showcase fruit in Italy. We are also trying to promote the wonderful rustic, regional desserts of Italy that have roots in cultural and religious ceremonies since antiquity. Nut cakes, sesame, mostaccioli, petrali, and other cookies, sweet breads are an example of some delicious delicacies on the verge of being forgotten. There are also wonderful sweet –filled ravioli and panzerotti. We teach the traditions and recipes to our followers in hopes that they will provide as much pleasure to them and their families as they do to ours.
How does Italian food differ from one region to another?
Luigi: Yes – since Italy wasn’t unified until the 19th century, regions held on to their own cultural and culinary identities. Visiting a different region is like visiting different countries. I try my best to promote the kitchen of my home region of Basilicata while representing the best of Italian cuisine, which I learned in culinary school. I was also able to work and gain experience in Rome, Sardinia, and Tuscany for many years – so I am very familiar with the regional differences. The secret is to appreciate the reason behind the food of each place, that way you can interpret it properly for diners, while upholding the culture.
The Washington Post featured your salmon in orange sauce recipe. What is a surprising food you’ve also used an orange based sauce for?
Luigi: I also use it for other types of fish and I have a sweet orange sauce that I use for desserts in my cookbook.
Amy: It’s a fantastic flavor! I also love to pair the orange flavor with many ingredients. It is a typical taste of Calabria, where my family hails from. I use the zest in everything from mussels and seafood to breads, cakes, and rice pilafs. Many people associate orange sauce with duck because of the famous Duck a l’Orange French recipe. It is important to note that this is one of the many recipes brough to Paris with the court of Catherine de’ Medici. If it weren’t for her marriage to Henri II in 1533, many quintessential “French” recipes such as macarons, crepes, and béchamel sauce would not exist today.
Italian food is famous for its hearty sausage and beef. If someone wants to select healthier alternatives, what are some options?
Amy: This topic is one of our specialties. We love to dispel the myth that Italian cooking is unhealthy. At it’s core, it is actually the perfect representation of The Mediterranean Diet. My cooking is often centered around diabetes-friendly, heart-healthy, gluten-free, and other restricted diets. While images of Italian food conjure up pastas with heavy sauces and pizza, the everyday diet of most Italians is based on plant-based products, seafood, dairy, beans and legumes and healthful grains. Dishes like Fave e Cicoria, Pureed Fava Beans with Chicory, Fennel and Orange Salad, Mixed Pepper Medleys, healthful bean and lentil based soup and fresh pasta dishes, and hundreds of others are examples of the types of Italian food that should be enjoyed daily. People also eat mostly homemade dishes in moderation, enjoy communal meals, and exercise regularly. The island of Sardinia in Italy is considered a blue zone ” boasting a high amount of people who live to be over 100 years old, its is one of the healthiest, and most delicious, around. My third cookbook The Mediterranean Diabetes Cookbook as well as my upcoming Ultimate Mediterranean Diet Cookbook and Italian Diabetes Cookbook all feature healthful Italian cuisine.
Luigi: I am a marathon runner and have learned that to keep up with the demands of a restaurant, one must be physically fit. It is possible to achieve your health goals while enjoying a delicious Italian diet. Many of the recipes in my The Al Tiramisu Restaurant Cookbook are a testament to this philosophy. We also promote goat meat and goat products because they are low in fat and high in flavor and nutrients.
When you both go to Italian restaurants other than your own in the same or different cities, where do you eat?
Amy: First of all, when we go to other cities and countries, we try to enjoy the local cuisine, rather than Italian, since that is what we are most familiar with. When we are craving something satisfying, however, Eataly is always great for a quick bite. I am a fan of all of Lidia Bastianich’s restaurants. When I’m in NY, I try to visit Taralucci e Vino daily, for their authentic Italian breakfasts, lunches and nibbles. I also like Serafina for their pizza. In Dubai, I like the Armani Restaurant and Caffe, and in Cairo – I like That’s Amore which, last time I was there, was making their own mascarpone cheese fresh daily. When we lead the Two Chefs Culinary Cruise on Oceania Cruises, we found the chefs and staff at the Toscana Restaurant to be extremely accommodating.