The way Dom DeLuise sees it, food is not only nourishment, it's a tonic against fatigue, anger, depression and anxiety.
"A bowl of soup not only warms me up, it calms me down -- I need a lot of calming down," says the antic comedian turned antic cookbook author.
"Eat This, It'll Make You Feel Better!" (Simon and Schuster, $17.95) seems an apt title for DeLuise's chatty cookbook, a compendium of mostly Italian peasant dishes culled from the memory bank of his mother, Vincenza DeStafano DeLuise, with whom the actor says he spent three years over the phone -- and over the stove -- discussing his book and testing recipes.
"Eat this, it'll make you feel better," recalls the comedian, is also the advice Vincenza DeLuise offered her family in both good times and bad -- together with a plate of whatever food was handy.
If his girth ("330 pounds and maintaining") is a indicator of his appetite, DeLuise professes to more than a noshing acquaintance with food and its preparation. "I use a Cuisinart like some people use a typewriter," boasts DeLuise, who follows the claim with an impressively accurate imitation of dough being kneaded -- and then stuck -- in a food processor. And his meals at home, he reports, are laced with the herbs and vegetables he raises in his own garden.
This being an Italian cookbook, garlic and tomatoes get a workout. Yet along with such traditional Italian recipes as risotto, gnocchi and lasagna, DeLuise throws in a handful of dishes from the files of fellow celebrities, including Dinah Shore's moussaka, Anne Bancroft's vegetarian chili and beef stew from none other than Burt Reynolds. (The sex symbol, admits DeLuise with a chuckle, is probably "better at other things." Unlike the comedian, Reynolds has "no emotional attachment to the kitchen.")
A cameo appearance is also made by Cajun maestro Paul Prudhomme, whom DeLuise met while visiting the expansive chef's acclaimed K-Paul's restaurant in New Orleans. The comedian showed up at the door wearing chef's whites; so dressed, even the restaurant staff confused the two men -- at least until Prudhomme invited DeLuise into his compact kitchen for a stint at the stove, an experience the comedian describes as "whale to whale" cooking.
This Friday, area residents will get a chance to meet DeLuise when he appears at Kitchen Bazaar's Montgomery Mall location (365-5555), from noon to 2 p.m., for a book signing and cookbook demonstration (lasagna's on the menu). No advance registration is required.
In the meantime, here's a preview from DeLuise's book -- a lively, substantial and nicely balanced spaghetti sauce made with eggplant:
Express Lane list: eggplant, olive oil, garlic, onion, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, spaghetti, Parmesan cheese DOM'S MOM'S EGGPLANT SAUCE WITH SPAGHETTI (4 to 6 servings)
1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons flour
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, chopped
2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
6-ounce can tomato paste
6 leaves fresh basil, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 pound spaghetti
Grated Parmesan cheese for serving
Sprinkle eggplant cubes with flour and toss to coat well; set aside.
In a large saucepan, heat oil and add eggplant. Brown lightly, stirring frequently. Remove eggplant to absorbent paper to drain.
Place garlic and onion in the saucepan, adding a little more oil if necessary, and cook until lightly browned. Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, pepper and sugar. Simmer gently, uncovered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add eggplant and heat gently, covered, 15 to 20 minutes longer, or until eggplant is fork-tender
Serve over spaghetti cooked al dente, with Parmesan cheese.
Optional: Zucchini and carrots cut into 1-inch pieces can be added at the same time as the eggplant.