This month we sat down with Chef Luigi Diotaiuti to talk all things pasta. We found out about all the differences between how we prepare pasta in the U.S. versus in Italy, what it’s like to be an Italian restaurant owner, and what you can expect at each of his restaurants. Read below for more info:
1. What’s your favorite part about being an Italian restaurant owner?
I enjoy very much the opportunity to carry on culinary traditions and to promote the practices that are on the verge of being forgotten. I love introducing my customers, many of whom are close friends and considered my extended family to ingredients and dishes from my beloved home land of Basilicata. I am also very proud of the position that I hold within the community. Owning a restaurant makes you part of the community at large, and for me it is a pleasure.
2. We know from your bio that you “promote culinary traditions on the verge of extinction in the United States.” Can you tell us about some of these?
Yes! There are many pasta and cheese making traditions, for example, which are not even popular in Italy anymore, because they are time and labor intensive. As the older generation leaves us, those they leave behind don’t know the recipes. One of the ways in which I uphold these traditions is by travelling to Italy each year to uphold an event with The Federation of Italian Cooks which pairs women pasta artisans with professional restaurant chefs. Called “Pasta Lab” this practice ensures that the recipes live on in the restaurant industry even after home cooks may no longer make them. I also teach these recipes in my cooking classes at Aperto and Al Tiramisu and in the Culinary Program at DC Central Kitchen.
3. We know that you were born and raised in Basilicata, Italy. Are there any major differences between there and the U.S. in the way pasta is prepared or eaten?
Yes! There are many! First of all, there are the general differences between Italy and United States. Italians prefer their pasta much more “al dente”. If eating dried pasta, they tend to choose those brands which are “trafilato al bronzo” – pasta which is extruded through bronze dyes. It makes a better texture. Italians also dress pasta with fresh sauces, vegetables, and garlic/oil based condiments that are much simpler and fresher than the way that they are dressed in the U.S. In Basilicata we have special pasta shapes such as “fusilli al ferro” (fusilli made with an iron rod) “lagane” (an ancient pasta dating back to Magna Grecia) and “foglie d’ulivo” (spinach-infused pasta in the shape of olive leaves), which we promote in the Pasta Lab, and in my restaurants and cookbook. These recipes are the backbone of our culinary patrimony. In lean times, and before the introduction of the tomato to Italy, they were dressed with garlic, oil, and fresh breadcrumbs along with other vegetables. The Sunday pastas boasted slowly simmered meat ragus and there are many types of pasta and beans to be enjoyed. Nowadays, I like to showcase products from Basilicata such as sweet, sundried chilies from Senise, Caciocavallo and Pecorino di Moliterno cheeses along with the pasta I serve.
4. Can you tell us a bit about your two restaurants and what we can expect from them?
Sure, Al Tiramisu is my first restaurant – we opened 21 years ago and are proud to be considered Washington DC’s “most authentic” Italian restaurant! We have received the “Insegna del Ristorante Italiano,”- a seal of approval by the Italian government, are recognized as one of the “Ristoranti Lucani nel Mondo,” which is awarded to authentic Basilicata-style restaurants in the world, and have earned the Snail of Approval by Slow Food DC. We are grateful to our longtime, local customers and VIPs alike for making us a local landmark! A dinner at Al Tiramisu is like taking a trip to Italy without leaving DC! You can enjoy fresh, homemade pasta with freshly shaved truffles on top, our classic Linguine con le Vongole, and our fresh fish selection is always a fan favorite! Don’t forget the tiramisu for dessert!
In 2016, I opened my new restaurant, Aperto, which means “Open” in Italian. It has an open kitchen and contemporary Italian cuisine based on my childhood growing up on a farm in Basilicata, Italy, with a wide selection of salumi/house-cured meats, and an extensive list of house-made bar ingredients. My “present” interpretations include contemporary Italian classics such as crudos, sustainable kitchen practices, and nose-to-tail butchering that I learned in Italian culinary school. The “futuristic” influences on my menu include a vibrant array of unique, root-to tip uses of heirloom vegetables, legumes, and grains – reinvented recipes that are easy on both the environment and the waistline – perfectly suited to the future of fine dining. Our Squid-Ink infused Half Moon Pasta and Cacio e Pepe – the ancient Roman dish are just a few of our customers favorites.
I am proud to serve the freshest, most authentic ingredients in both of my restaurants, and to offer many house-made specialties to our patrons.
5. We’re excited that summer is finally around the corner! What are some of your favorite seasonal ingredients to use in pasta dishes this time of year?
Spring and summer call out for the best and freshest produce possible! I love using all kinds of asparagus, tomatoes, as well as fresh beans that will be in season soon!
6. Finally, can you please share one of your favorite pasta recipes with us?
Yes, I will share two, both from The Al Tiramisu Restaurant Cookbook. Here are the recipes for my Penne with Asparagus, Smoked Mozzarella, and Cherry Tomatoes and my Linguine with Clams.
About Chef Luigi Diotaiuti:
Award winning Chef/Restaurateur Luigi Diotaiuti is a world-renowned authority on Italian cooking and living. A celebrity favorite for decades, the certified Sommelier and television personality is known for promoting culinary traditions on the verge of extinction in the United States, Italy, and around the globe. Born, raised, and educated in Basilicata, Italy, Chef Luigi trained at some of the world’s most prestigious locations before opening Washington DC’s “most authentic” Italian restaurant twenty years ago. His current culinary pursuits and consistent media presence in the United States and Italy enable him to enjoy notability and distinction in both countries. In 2017, he was named “Ambassador of Basilicata’s Cuisine in the World” by The Federation of Italian Cooks.