Frank Stitt’s Bottega restaurant and café in Birmingham, Alabama, "combines Southern cooking ideology and Italian tradition to craft a new style of eating," says Mario Batali, which is why "I think it is one of the best Italian restaurants outside of Italy." The dishes are "never precious, always inventive" (The New York Times
): a lima bean and orzo soup with escarole, a pork scaloppini with greens and polenta, a capellini gratin.
Bottega was born from Stitt's lifelong passion for Italy's food and way of life. From his travels, the beloved Southern chef has brought home the rustic simplicity of Italian cuisine and added his own ingenious twists, like the Tabasco sauce he uses to spike a dish of Potato Ravioli with Crawfish and Candied Lemon or the tomato chutney in the Roasted Sweet Pepper Pizza. As one of the South’s earliest supporters of regional producers, Stitt makes ample use of local ingredients, inspiring the reader to do the same: "There’s no pompano in Venice, but ours, fresh from Apalachicola makes a great cartoccio [baked in a parchment bag]," Stitt writes. "Our Chilton County white peaches make a great bellini."
This deliciously appealing new cookbook—with more than 200 recipes—includes the best of the Southern-influenced Italian dishes Stitt has served at Bottega for the last two decades. It’s all here. From such signature appetizers as Charred Onion Dip, Parmesan Soufflés, and Crabmeat Bruschetta to delicious crisp-crusted pizzas that infuse Italian classics with American inventiveness.
Freshness and simplicity are key, so expect beautiful salads and pastas, as well as main courses with clean tastes, such as the Duck with Peaches and Moscato or the Tuscan Porterhouse with Lemon, Olive Oil, and Arugula. Bottega’s famous dessert menu is also well represented, with recipes such as Zabaglione Meringue Cake, Coconut Pecan Cake, and a simple Warm Cream Cheese Tart with Cinnamon and Almonds.
It could be said that Italians and Alabamians share a love of food that is unadorned. Whether it’s ground corn, bitter greens, beans, cured pork, or the day’s catch, both cultures respect ingredients for what they are, not for what they might be. And it’s this purity of vision that’s the hallmark of Stitt’s cooking, for which he has been honored with so many awards.
Accompanied by anecdotes from Stitt’s many journeys to Italy, this inspiring and accessible cookbook proves once again why the novelist Pat Conroy calls Stitt "the best chef in America."
Frank Stitt is the chef and owner of Highlands Bar and Grill, Bottega Restaurant and Café, 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