Diary Of A Tuscan Chef

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Cesare Casella's culinary career began at the age of thirteen in the kitchen of his family's restaurant, Il Vipore, just outside of Lucca in the hills of Tuscany. In 1979 he took over the kitchen, and in 1993 Il Vipore was awarded its first Michelin star.

Diary of a Tuscan Chef is not only a book of quintessential—and ambrosial—Tuscan dishes, it is the charming and wittily ...
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Cesare Casella's culinary career began at the age of thirteen in the kitchen of his family's restaurant, Il Vipore, just outside of Lucca in the hills of Tuscany. In 1979 he took over the kitchen, and in 1993 Il Vipore was awarded its first Michelin star.

Diary of a Tuscan Chef is not only a book of quintessential—and ambrosial—Tuscan dishes, it is the charming and wittily told story of Casella's journey from that first foray into Il Vipore's kitchen to becoming executive chef at Pino Luongo's famed Coco Pazzo restaurant in New York City.

Arranged as a series of seasonal menus, each one inspired by a colorful anecdote taken from Casella's life, Diary of a Tuscan Chef is dedicated to the two most basic tenets of Tuscan cooking: seasonality and flexibility. Creating the best, tastiest, most satisfying food from a few fresh, seasonally available ingredients is what Tuscan cooking is all about.

Cesare Casella is a professional chef, but these are not "restaurant dishes." As he so aptly puts it, "As far as I know, no one has written a cookbook for the American public that presents Tuscan food as it is—good, simple, and natural. The Tuscan table should be as easy to set in New York as it is in Garfagnana, or in Rome, Georgia, for that matter."

All of the 150 recipes in Diary of a Tuscan Chef can be made at home with ingredients found in any local supermarket. In the end, it is Casella himself, a wonderful storyteller and a wonderful chef, who makes this book unique. With his words and the many photographs of him, his food, and his family, the reader will be transported into a world of delicious cooking and delightfulcompany.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Having cooked for New Yorkers since 1993 at Coco Pazzo, Il Toscanaccio, Il Cantinori, Casella presents traditional recipes from his native Lucca that are often tweaked with ingredients more likely to be found in New York City than in Tuscany e.g., ginger and lemongrass. Dividing the book by seasons, he offers menus built around seasonally fresh ingredients and suggests appropriate wines. Ten four-course meals antipasto, prima and seconda piatta, dolce contain menu combinations that evoke specific moments in Casella's life: one winter menu, L'Arrivo a New York Arriving in New York, combines beans, mushrooms and game with Chick-Pea and Leek Salad; a smoky Pasta with Mushroom Sauce cremini, shiitake, oyster and portobello; Rabbit, Hunter's Style cooked in white wine with garlic, sage, rosemary and olives; and a creamy Country Apple Tart. Celebrating Spring vegetables is a menu called Cesare Va in Dieta Cesare Goes on a Diet, which features a Seven-Vegetable Salad; Do-It-Yourself Vegetable Soup he encourages improvising; Chicken in Paper, with bell and chile peppers, tomatoes and cinnamon; and light Meringue Cookies. Although many recipes may take time to prepare, they are easy to follow and don't require special equipment or rare ingredients. Apr.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385485470
  • Publisher: Broadway Books
  • Publication date: 3/16/1998
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 8.47 (w) x 9.45 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

Cesare Casella was born and grew up in a small town outside of Lucca, Italy, in and around his family's restaurant, Il Vipore, which as a young chef he transformed into a world-class establishment with a well-deserved Michelin star.  In 1993 he came to New York City as the executive chef at Pino Luongo's renowned Coco Pazzo restaurant.  Later he launched Il Toscanaccio for Luongo and then went on to yet another first-class New York restaurant, Il Cantinori.  Diary of a Tuscan Chef is his first book.

Eileen Daspin lived in Italy for three years as a correspondent for Fairchild Publications, and first met Cesare Casella when she interviewed him for W Europe.  She is now a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal.

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Read an Excerpt

Una Primavera Senza Pollo (A Chicken-Free Spring)

Insalata di Carciofini (Baby Artichoke Salad)
Pasta con Verdure alla Griglia (Pasta with Grilled Vegetables)
Osso Buco con Pur&egave; di Patate (Veal Shank with Mashed Potatoes)
Frittelle di San Giuseppe (Father's Day Fritters)

Suggested Wines: Chianti dei Colli Senesi, Romitorio (Grapes: Sangiovese, Cannaiolo, Trebbiano, Malvasia); Sangioveto, Badia a Coltibuono
(Grape: Sangioveto)

I was coming home in my yellow Fiat 500 one night when I grazed a fox that had darted out into the road. Ganzo, I thought, cool, a pet fox. I scooped her up, put her in the back seat, brought her home, and tied her on a short leash in the chicken coop. "Sei pazzo?" Papa blew up the next morning. "Are you crazy? Putting a fox in the chicken coop?"

Papa, I knew, wasn't going to be the one to get close enough to liberate la volpe, so I teased him for two days straight, and all the while, my new pet stayed put. She even left the chickens alone, though she wasn't too fond of me; every time I went to see her, she'd give me dead-fish eyes.

Then one morning she was gone, her rope gnawed through, the chickens unharmed. I was a little sorry to lose her, but secretly relieved she hadn't taken a chicken dinner with her. The relief was short-lived, however; within a day, la volpe returned, alla grande, in style. There were blood and feathers everywhere. Papa dubbed it a minimassacre and insisted on giving the victims a burial. If we couldn't serve the chickens to the customers, he said, at least we coulduse them as fertilizer. My punishment was to clean the coop, bury the chickens, and restock with new ones. I went to I Frati della Certosa, a local order of monks who raised chickens. It's a hot place and smells awful. You have to pick the chicks one by one. I hated it. Then, for the whole spring, every time someone would ask for chicken, Papa would smirk, "É colpa di Cesare, se non c'é il pollo." If there's no chicken, it's Cesare's fault.

Insalata di Carciofini (Baby Artichoke Salad)

In Italy, artichokes are believed to have all kinds of restorative powers. Growing up at Vipore, we always fed the tough outer leaves to our rabbits because it helped them digest their food and made their meat more tender. I remember in the '50s and '60s, there was even a famous amaro, or bitter, named Cynar, which was made from an artichoke base. It's slogan was "Bevi Cynar Contro il Logorio della vita Moderna" (Drink Cynar to combat anxiety and the stress of modern life). The ad showed a radiantly calm man drinking Cynar in the middle of a traffic jam.

(Serves 4)

16 baby artichokes
4 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano
2 bunches arugula, well washed
2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Peel the outer leaves from the artichokes until you reach the part where the leaves are mostly a creamy yellow. Cut the top inch off the artichoke and trim away the stem so that you are left with a golf-ball-size artichoke heart. If you aren't going to eat the salad right away, put the artichokes into a bowl of water with 3 tablespoons of the lemon juice. To prevent the artichokes from turning black, lay a paper towel on top of the water to keep air from getting to them. Refrigerate.

When you are ready to prepare the salad, drain the artichokes and slice them lengthwise as thin as possible. (If you have an electric slicer, that's ideal.) Place the artichokes in a bowl. Add the remaining tablespoon of the lemon juice, the olive oil, salt and pepper, and oregano. Toss.

Divide the arugula among 4 plates. Top each plate with some artichoke mixture. Shave slices of Parmigiano-Reggiano over each salad and serve.


Artichokes are very reactive. They turn your hands black and turn black themselves if exposed to air too long. When I prepare artichokes, I always wear surgical gloves, a trick that's useful in handling any food that might stain your skin, like beets, or leave it smelling unholy, like Gorgonzola or garlic. When you work with artichokes, don't touch other foods, otherwise the artichokes will turn bitter. At the end, wash your hands with lemon juice.

Pasta con Verdure alla Griglia (Pasta with Grilled Vegetables)

The first time I went to restaurants in Milan, I couldn't get over how many vegetarian entrees were on the menus; this was something rare in Tuscany, where vegetables were eaten as side dishes. But I liked the idea, so when I went back to Vipore, I raided our garden, and went to work in the kitchen. This was the result.

(Serves 4 as an appetizer)

3 quarts water
1 1/2 tablespoons salt, plus 2 teaspoons
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small zucchini, ends trimmed, sliced into 1/4-inch ovals
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and quartered
1 small red onion, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
2 scallions
1/4 bulb fennel, fronds trimmed, cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 plum tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
1 small eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1/2 pound short pasta, such as penne or fusilli
1 sprig fresh basil, chopped
1 sprig fresh oregano, chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme, chopped
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Add the 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt.

Heat the outdoor grill or oven broiler. Sprinkle the vegetables with the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt and the red pepper flakes, then drizzle them with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.

When the grill is very hot, add the vegetables, cooking them for 4 minutes on the first side, 3 on the second. (If you don't have a grill, you can broil the vegetables for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they become soft and slightly browned.) When the vegetables are cooked, cut them into strips. In a large sautÚ pan, sautÚ the garlic in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil until it colors slightly, about 5 minutes.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente.

Add the chopped herbs to the sauté pan, sauté for 1 minute, and add the vegetable strips. Cook the mixture for 10 minutes. Drain the pasta, toss it with the vegetables and the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and serve immediately.

Osso Buco con Purè di Patate (Veal Shank with Mashed Potatoes)

This dish is much more popular in America than it is in Italy.

(Serves 4)

4 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
4 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
6 tablespoons chopped garlic
Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
4 sections veal shank, each 2 inches thick (5 pounds total)
1 cup flour
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups white wine
1 1/2 cups roughly chopped red onions
1 cup 1-inch-long carrot pieces
1 cup 1-inch-long celery pieces
3 cups crushed canned tomatoes
(or peeled, chopped fresh tomatoes)
4 cups water
Mashed Potatoes (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a bowl, mix together the chopped herbs, garlic, and salt and pepper. Cut 2 or 3 slits in each veal shank and stuff them with the chopped herbs and garlic. Dredge the shanks on all sides, generously, in flour.

Pour the olive oil into a 4-quart ovenproof casserole or a large saucepan with a lid. Heat over high heat and add the shanks, browning them well on all sides. If there is still oil in the casserole, drain it, then add 1 cup of the wine, stirring to scrape up any bits that have stuck to the bottom of the casserole, and add the onions, carrots, and celery. Cover the casserole and reduce the heat to medium. Stir occasionally. After 8 to 10 minutes, add the second cup of wine. Add the crushed tomatoes and stir well. Re-cover. After another 10 minutes, add the water.

Cover the casserole and transfer it to the oven. Bake for 2 hours. The meat should be very tender.

Serve with the mashed potatoes.

PurÞ di Patate (Mashed Potatoes)

4 Idaho potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 tablespoons sweet butter
Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup milk

Put the potatoes in a pot and cover with cold water. Boil them until they are soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain them, and return them to the pot briefly, shaking to remove any excess moisture. Add the butter, salt and pepper, and milk and mash well. Cook another few minutes and serve.

Frittelle di San Giuseppe (Father's Day Fritters)

When we first started to make these for the San Giuseppe holiday (Italian Father's Day, March 19), we didn't have an electric mixer, so Aunt Landa and Aunt Anna--"La Spezina"--were put to work beating the dough by hand. They were very relieved when I started taking the dough to the pastry shop of some friends, and I liked the new system, too. I'd dawdle and talk to customers, barely making it back in time to fry the fritters for dessert.

(Makes 45-50 fritters)

1 cup water
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup sweet butter
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sifted flour
6 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Vegetable oil, for frying
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

Place the water, salt, and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the butter melts, add the flour all at once, and lower the heat. Mix the dough rapidly until a ball forms. It will be very stiff. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

Place the dough in the bowl of an electric mixer, and beat in the eggs, one at a time, until they are well incorporated. The batter should be thick, shiny, and smooth. Mix in 1 tablespoon of the granulated sugar. Stir the batter for 5 minutes.

Fill a large sauté or saucepan one third full with the vegetable oil and heat it to 375°. In batches, spoon scant tablespoons of the batter into the hot oil. Mix the frittelle regularly to help them puff up. When the frittelle are evenly browned, after 2 or 3 minutes, remove them with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Mix the remaining granulated sugar with the confectioners' sugar and dust the frittelle. These are great with Moscato, a sweet sparkling wine from Piedmont.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2000

    Truly Authentic!

    I thoroughly enjoyed Diary of a Tuscan Chef for a variety of reasons, but the principal one was because of its authenticity. My father, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1921, was born in Pieve San Stefano, the village where the author Casella was born and where the Ristorante Vipore is located. From my father came his love of great food, great wine, and above all, his memorable stories of his beloved Tuscan countryside. As I read Casella's vignettes (my cousin Beppe was mentioned in one!), I was transported back to the Lucca I knew through my dad's eyes, and through my own subsequent visits (I ate a 3 hour lunch at Vipore in 1966!). From these pages, I could once again savor the freshness of the food, taste the excellence of the wine, and identify with the warm, at time slightly 'pazzo' stories, which primarily centered around family, friends and food. From a language point of view, I also enjoyed the translation into English where at times some of the same sentence structure of Italian were retained in Casella's English words. This approach conveyed not only a love of wonderful food and wine, but gave a sense of the beauty and richness of the Italian language. Auguri, Cesare e Eileen!

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