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Chef Tom Valenti's new cookbook isn't just for diabetics

What happens if you're one of New York's most famous and successful chefs and you're diagnosed with diabetes? • If you are Tom Valenti, longtime chef, restaurateur and buddy with the likes of Mario Batali and Bobby Flay, you ignore what the doctor tells you. You continue to stay out late partying it up with the guys after the restaurants close, then stoically plow through the next day, feeling like the mop that's dragged across the kitchen floor.

"After a couple years, I started to realize I need to take better care of myself," Valenti says by phone from his New Jersey home. "I started fooling with food that tasted good to me."

The food that tastes good to him is the basis for his new cookbook, You Don't Have to Be Diabetic to Love This Cookbook (Workman, 2009), co-written with Andrew Friedman. It's Valenti's fourth cookbook and his first dealing with diabetes. The chef will be teaching cooking classes based on the book's recipes at Publix Apron's cooking schools in Sarasota on Friday and Tampa on Saturday. (See information box at right for more details.)

Valenti, 50, was formerly the sous chef under Alfred Portale at Gotham Bar and Grill and has been executive chef at several other New York restaurants. He owns Ouest and the West Branch restaurants.

The chef's favorite foods — pasta, pizza and sandwiches — are typically no-nos for diabetics because of their high carbohydrate content. He figured out a way to continue to eat pizza by rolling dough thinner and serving appetizer-size slices. Modest amounts of pasta are okay, too. Sandwiches? Use lettuce leaves instead of bread. He shares those ideas in the book and embraces the idea that no food is absolutely verboten for diabetics. Moderation, the concept that makes so much sense but seems so difficult to master, is the key, he says.

Most diets don't acknowledge the comfort factor of food either, Valenti says. That's why it's difficult to be successful at changing habits when people cut out entire food groups or dishes. We make the association between eating certain things and feeling good (or bad) when we are young.

"Food is comfort, home and love," he says.

As the diabetes rate has climbed in the United States, so has the number of cookbooks aimed at diabetics. Valenti says his is different because he's a "food junkie who loves to eat" and the book reflects that. He and his collaborator toyed with using artificial sweeteners and ingredients such as soy mayonnaise and other standards of the natural food world in the recipes. But, for a chef used to slinging lots of butter and salt, that made the book difficult to write. So he settled on smaller portions along with reducing sodium and animal fat. "In place of salt we reached for that squeeze of lemon, lime or sprinkling of vinegar."

Indeed, the recipes are good enough to serve nondiabetic eaters, thanks to the variety of cuisines and nutritional content. A seafood stew full of clams, mussels, shrimp and fish swimming in a tomato-wine broth is definitely company-worthy. For the family, think hearty beef and vegetable stew.

Need a tantalizing dessert? Goat cheese cake with a garnish of fresh berries is plenty sophisticated. And delicious.

"There's no reason you have to make anyone suffer or single them out," he says. "The food is good for everyone."

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at or (727) 893-8586.


Chef Tom Valenti to cook at Publix

New York chef and cookbook author Tom Valenti will teach demonstration classes at Publix Apron's cooking schools in the Tampa Bay area on Friday and Saturday. Both classes are at 6:30 p.m. with book signings from 5 to 6 p.m. The $50 cost includes a copy of Valenti's new book, You Don't Have to Be Diabetic to Love This Cookbook. Friday's class is at the Publix at University Walk, 2875 University Parkway, Sarasota, (941) 358-7781. Saturday's session is at the Publix at Shoppes of Citrus Park, 7835 Gunn Highway, Tampa, (813) 926-4465. For more information online, go to


Goat Cheese Cake

12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

4 ounces goat cheese (1 small log), at room temperature

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon pure anise extract

2 cups full-fat sour cream

3 large eggs

Fresh berries for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Put the cream cheese and goat cheese in a bowl and work them together with a rubber spatula until completely mixed, then work in the sugar, vanilla extract, anise extract and sour cream. Add the eggs one at a time, adding the next egg only after the previous one has been well incorporated.

Wrap the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan snugly with aluminum foil and pour the cake mixture into it. Set the pan in a roasting pan or other wide, deep pan and pour warm water into the pan until it comes halfway up the side of the springform pan.

Bake the cake until it is set (a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean), 45 to 50 minutes.

Remove roasting pan from oven, then carefully remove the springform pan from the roasting pan. Let the cake cool to room temperature before releasing it from the pan and slicing and serving it, or cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for up to 2 days. Serve with berries.

Serves 16.

Nutritional information per serving without berries: 294 calories, 24g fat, 10g carbohydrates, 0g fiber, 8g protein, 178mg sodium.

Source: You Don't Have to Be Diabetic to Love This Cookbook by Tom Valenti (Workman, 2009)


Seafood Stew

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium Spanish onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice

8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon fresh or 1/3 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1/4 teaspoon saffron threads

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

11/4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth diluted with equal amount water

1 1/2 cups dry white wine

1/4 cup distilled white wine vinegar

3 medium-sized plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped, with their juice

1 cup tomato juice

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, divided use

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

18 small clams or 9 regular, about 1 pound, scrubbed under cold running water

12 mussels, about 12 ounces, scrubbed under cold running water and bearded

1 1/2 pounds firm-fleshed fish fillet such as bass or snapper, cut into 1-inch cubes

6 medium to large shrimp, about 6 ounces, with tails, peeled, deveined and cut in half lengthwise

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh, flat-leaf parsley leaves

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until softened but not browned, about 4 minutes.

Add the tomato paste, thyme, saffron and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring to coat the other ingredients with the tomato paste, about 3 minutes.

Add the vegetable broth, wine, vinegar, tomatoes, tomato juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt and the black pepper and bring to a simmer, then lower the heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. (The soup can be made up to this point, cooled, then refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days, or frozen for up to 2 months. Let come to room temperature, then gently reheat before proceeding.)

Add the clams and mussels, submerging them with a spoon, and cook, uncovered, until they open, about 5 minutes; discard any that do not open. Season the soup with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt and add the fish and shrimp to the pot, gently poaching them until the fish is opaque and the shrimp are firm and pink, 3 to 4 minutes.

Divide the stew among 4 wide, shallow bowls. Drizzle some olive oil and scatter some parsley over each serving.

Serves 4.

Nutritional information per serving: 361 calories, 14g fat, 11g carbohydrates, 1g fiber, 35g protein, 541mg sodium.

Source: You Don't Have to Be Diabetic to Love This Cookbook by Tom Valenti (Workman, 2009)


Hearty Beef and Vegetable Stew

2 tablespoons canola oil

1/4 cup diced turkey bacon, about 2 slices

12 ounces beef stew meat

Pinch coarse salt

Pinch freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons, plus 1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

3 medium carrots, peeled and cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces

3 ribs celery, peeled and cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces

2 large Spanish onions, cut into large dice

3 tablespoons tomato paste

6 plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped, with their juice

2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

1 cup robust red wine

1 quart low-sodium beef broth

3 fresh thyme sprigs

1 bay leaf

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until browned and the fat is rendered, about 7 minutes.

Add the beef and season it with the salt and pepper. Sprinkle the flour over the meat and brown the meat on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer the meat to a plate or bowl.

Add the carrots, celery and onions to the pan. Cook, stirring, until they begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste, stir to coat the vegetables and cook for

2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, vinegar and red wine, bring to a simmer, and scrape up any flavorful browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Let simmer until the liquids are reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the beef broth, thyme, bay leaf and browned beef. Bring to a simmer and let cook until the stew is nicely thickened and the flavors are incorporated, about 1 hour.

Remove and discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Divide the stew among 4 bowls and serve.

Serves 4.

Nutritional information per serving: 395 calories, 16g fat, 25g carbohydrates, 5g fiber, 28g protein, 322mg sodium.

Source: You Don't Have to Be Diabetic to Love This Cookbook by Tom Valenti (Workman, 2009)

Chef Tom Valenti's new cookbook isn't just for diabetics 01/12/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 3:30am]
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