Bottega Favorita by Frank Stitt, presents Italian-American recipes like Pasta Dough; Crespelle; and Lamb Spiedini with Sicilian Couscous and Yogurt Sauce.
by Frank Stitt
Chef Frank Stitt is the man The New York Times credits for turning Birmingham, Alabama, into a "sophisticated, easygoing showplace of enticing Southern-accented cooking." And now with his second book, Bottega Favorita: A Southern Chef's Love Affair with Italian Food, he transforms Mediterranean cuisine for the Southern table.
In Frank Stitt's Bottega Favorita, the purity and simplicity of Mediterranean flavors are celebrated with Southern spirit on every page. "America's love of Italian food is probably the most dominant cultural trend. Everyone loves Italian food!" Stitt says. "And I know why: Italian food is rustic; simple; immediate and satisfying."
Stitt's been serving this cuisine—a combination of Southern cooking ideology and Italian tradition—for the last two decades at his Birmingham restaurant Bottega Restaurant and Cafe (Bottega means "workshop"). There, the flavors and ingredients of Italy and the Mediterranean marry with the comforting traditions of the South. As a result Stitt makes the romance and allure of the region tangible.
Cooking from an Italian point of view is a little like going back to a more ancient style of cooking—elemental and primal in its purity and simplicity, where an unadorned slice of rosy prosciutto is savored with a meltingly tender ripe purple fig, as Stitt writes in his introduction.
Warren St. John, who wrote the Foreword to Bottega Favorita, once asked Stitt about the connection between Southern and Italian food. He replied that the image of an Italian farmer tasting a grape in a vineyard had always reminded him of something he'd seen countless times in Alabama: a country farmer in a place like Chilton County leaning against the opened gate of his pickup truck, pulling out his pocketknife and carving a slice from a peach he'd grown himself. The imagery might seem archetypal but if you've spent time in the country, you'll know they are real.
To Stitt's mind, the two regions—Italy and the American South-share commonalities. Both native cuisines have a tradition of turning humble ingredients—ground corn, bitter greens, cured pork, the daily catch—into poetry on the plate. Yet leave it to Stitt to make Italian cuisine his own: "There's no Pompano in Venice, but ours, fresh from Apalachicola, fits into the cartoccio (Italian fish stew) perfectly; our Chilton County white peaches make a great bellini; our wild Gulf shrimp, oysters, crab and fish are easily a match for their Mediterranean equivalents," Stitt says.
Featuring beautiful, lush photographs by Christopher Hirsheimer, who brilliantly showcases Stitt's Southern-influenced Italian dishes, the book includes more than 200 recipes and Stitt pairs each one with wine, having no room for guesswork. A Capellini Gratin which is served with Chicken Under a Brick, gets a rustic, fruity red such as Primitivo, and for Bucatini with Clams, Pancetta, Hot Chile, and Rapini—his "amped-up" interpretation of the classic linguine with clams—Stitt recommends a crisp white such as Cinque Terre or Frascati. Bottega Favorita also features anecdotes from Stitt's many journeys to Italy, and useful sidebars on topics from soup to crostini to fresh fish from the "Redneck Riviera" (how Southerners lovingly refer to the area along the Gulf Coast stretching from Apalachicola to the shores of Mobile Bay). Frank's signature restaurant classics are all here, including: Bottega's Limoncello; the Bellini; Charred Onion Dip; Parmesan Souffles; Cafe Macaroni and Cheese; and Flounder with Little Shrimp, Asparagus, Sweet Peas, and Bulb Onions.
Stitt infuses his love for rustic Italian cooking with his Southern sensibilities, making the recipes in Bottega Favorita inventive, unique and-fortunately for us-user-friendly. The recipes range from Cafe standards, such as pizzas (see page 75 for a basic pizza dough or page 76 for Roasted Sweet Pepper and Tomato Chutney Pizza) and soups (see page 61 for Lentil and Chickpea Soup) to pastas (see page 119 for Gnocchi with Prosciutto and Sage), to more sophisticated fare, such as Salmnon with Orzo Salad (page 147), Pork Scaloppine with Greens and Polenta (page 166) and fabulous desserts, including Zabaglione Meringue Cake (page 229) and Polenta Pound Cake (page 230).
Stitt's passion for Italian food began when he was a young man in the mid-1970s on his first visit to Italy. He learned by watching the food merchants at the market in Florence, and later, when he was visiting the kitchen at Harry's Bar in Venice, where he observed a young bartender making a bellini with the utmost care, squeezing the peaches by hand into a colander. This impressed the young chef. "That time in Italy represents some of the best food memories of my life," Stitt says.
Bottega Favorita is the companion to Frank Stitt's Southern Table which showcased Stitt's homey yet elegant Provençal-influenced Southern food, based on recipes from his Birmingham restaurant Highlands Bar and Grill. "Like Highlands, Bottega has become an institution, a culture devoted to the best in Italian traditions enriched with the finest ingredients and served with a sense of graciousness, respect and humor," Stitt says. "Here [in this cookbook] are the stories, the recipes and the philosophies of Bottega, my Italian table."
Frank Stitt is the chef and owner of Highlands Bar and Grill, Bottega Restaurant and Cafe and Chez Fonfon, all located in Birmingham, Alabama. He has won the James Beard Award for the Best Chef of the Southeast and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Foodways Alliance. He is the author of Frank Stitt's Southern Table.
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This page created March 2009
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