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Mar 23, 2018
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Posts Tagged ‘Lidia Bastianich’

Extra Sauce: A chat with Lidia Bastianich

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015



Celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich has made a career preparing, exploring and educating others through Italian-American cuisine. Now she returns to St. Louis for Falling in Love … In Five Courses, an annual five-course dinner to benefit students at St. Louis Community College. Bastianich will oversee the dinner, which takes place this Saturday, Feb. 28 at Four Seasons Hotel, with help from area chefs Gianni Colucci of Cielo, Casey Shiller of Jilly’s Cupcake Bar and STLCC culinary students.

Here, Bastianich shares her thoughts on the St. Louis culinary scene, the importance of culinary education, and who she turns to when she needs a little help in the kitchen.

This event supports the students at St. Louis Community College. Why is this something you wanted to be involved in?
What appeals to me is the education of young people that don’t have the opportunity to make a jump to a four-year college right away. This is such a great stepping stone.

You’ll be speaking with some of these culinary students before the event. What lessons are most important for them to learn?
You have to leave the door open. Culinary school is not just hands-on training … It is the possibility of opening a business, a restaurant, a store. It is the possibility of becoming a culinary teacher, of being a journalist on food, of writing cookbooks … teaching children.

You’ve been to St. Louis many times over the years. What are some of your favorite things about our city?
I connect because of the deeply-rooted Italian immigrant history that it has, from The Hill to the different restaurants, bocce playing, Yogi Berra comes from there … There are a lot of Italian-isms, if you will … I had a great time at Rigazzi’s, Trattoria Marcella, Cunetto House of Pasta, Giovanni’s on the Hill, Charlie Gitto’s.

What are your thoughts on the St. Louis food scene?
I think that it’s a vibrant city as far as food. They enjoy their wine … they’re into food, the markets… I think it has joie de vivre.

People seem to be more into food now than ever before, not just dining out but cooking, too. To what do you attribute that?
Many things: the press, the writing on food, all the exposure: television, Internet, social media. Food is all over, and the understanding and importance of food for our health … And beyond that, the pleasure that food gives us. Food is a venue for nurturing somebody, for loving, for expressing a kind of affection. So it has become a social medium. I remember I had the first restaurant in ’71, it was “OK, a quick dinner and then let’s go to a show.” Now, dinner is the show.

What new projects are you working on?
My third children’s book just came out (Nonna Tell Me a Story: Lidias Egg-citing Farm Adventure). … I’m working on a master cookbook that’s going to be out in the fall. It is a compilation of over 400 recipes, a glossary, traditions, instructions and all of that.

What are you cooking right now?
Soups. My 94-year-old mother lives with me. I make soups and freeze them so when I’m traveling she has her meals ready. … In this weather, it is all about soup and braised meats. Before I left, did a big pot of braised ribs. So there you have the ribs are falling off the bone, but also the sauce, and then I package it for Grandma and she has a meal.

You’re an authority on Italian-American cooking, but when you branch out, whom do you look to for advice?
I can call up Jacques (Pepin) and say “Hey, Jacques…” But when I kind of venture a bit out, certainly Rick Bayless for Mexico … Ming Tsai if I’m going to have Chinese problems, or Indian… Madhur Jaffrey is my friend also. So I’m covered.

Editor’s Note: Sauce is a sponsor of Falling in Love … In Five Courses.

By the Book: Lidia Matticchio Bastianich’s Pipette or Elbows with Sweet Potatoes, Parsley and Capers

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013



I had a plan. After a leisurely Sunday afternoon browsing through Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Kitchen, I would cook up an Italian feast. Maybe try my hand at homemade pasta (She offers wonderfully simple instructions with or without a pasta roller.). Or I’d give her Pepperadelle with Turkey Rolls a go. Maybe I’d bake something.

Then the wind picked up. In the next 10 minutes, rain blew sideways; branches crashed into the street; hail pelted the driveway. My lights flickered once, twice, and then died completely. And they remained off for the next 36 hours. Instead of preparing for my feast, I spent the limited hours of daylight purging my freezer of dripping ice cream and thawing leftovers. I ferried all my precious dairy products – half-and-half, milk, the good cheese – to the refrigerator at my office.




With deadline – and darkness – approaching on Monday, I called my parents and offered to cook dinner in exchange for their kitchen. Then I flipped open the book again, this time hunting for something simple and fast. Luckily, Lidia Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali’s recipes are delicious and as touted, based on common sense. After a quick trip to the grocery store for some fennel, leeks, a sweet potato and some quality cheese, I whipped up a filling meal.




Bastianich’s Pipette or Elbows with Sweet Potatoes, Parsley and Capers was a great seasonal pasta dish that warmed us up on a cold night. Bright orange sweet potatoes and soft green leeks studded the pan sauce, bulked up with plenty of pancetta. Fresh parsley and capers brightened it up, and the whole thing coated the elbow macaroni without weighing it down. A note of caution: Use a light hand when seasoning. With all the pancetta, capers, pasta water and cheese, the dish didn’t need another pinch of sodium.




The bonus dish – Baked Fennel with Sage – was the surprise hit of the night. As I sliced and blanched the bulbs, the potent smell was a tad off-putting to some (Exact words: “It smells like my old fish tank.”). But baking the fennel in a hot oven (and smothering it in fontina and Parmigiano-Reggiano), turned the strong, licorice-y vegetable into a mild, earthy side dish that screamed for a slice of rustic bread to sop up all that gooey cheese.




Each dish took only about 20 minutes of active cooking time, and the instructions encouraged home cooks to trust their instincts. But the best part? I returned home to a well-lit apartment where I stored my leftover ingredients in a nice, chilly fridge. Now back to that grand Italian meal…



Pipette or Elbows with Sweet Potatoes, Parsley and Capers
6 Servings

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4 oz. thick-sliced bacon or pancetta, cut into julienne strips
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
4 fresh sage leaves
1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 leeks, white and light-green parts only, sliced (about 2 cups)
¼ cup rinsed small capers (optional)
½ tsp. Kosher salt, plus more for the pot
¼ to ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 lb. pipette or elbow pasta
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano

• Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for pasta.
• In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil and add the bacon or pancetta, the garlic and the sage. Cook until fat has rendered, about 3 to 4 minutes.
• Add the sweet potatoes and leeks and cook, stirring continuously, until both begin to soften, about 4 minutes. Add the capers, if using. Season with the salt and crushed red pepper.
• Ladle in 1 cup of pasta water and simmer rapidly until the sweet potatoes and leeks are very tender but the sweet potatoes retain their shape, about 7 to 8 minutes, adding more pasta water if necessary to keep it saucy.
• Meanwhile, cook the pipette until al dente. When the pipette are done, remove with a spider directly to the sauce.
• Add the parsley and toss to coat the pasta with the sauce. Increase the heat and boil 1 minute if the sauce is too thin or add a little more pasta water if it is too thick.
• Remove the skillet from the heat, sprinkle with the grated cheese and serve.



Baked Fennel with Sage
6 Servings

½ tsp. Kosher salt, plus more for the pot
3 bulbs fennel, trimmed (about 2 lbs.)
8 oz. grated Italian fontina
½ cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
6 large fresh sage leaves, chopped

• Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Bring a large lot of salted water to a boil.
• Halve and core the fennel and slice it ½-inch thick. Add the slices of fennel to the boiling water and blanch until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and rinse.
• In a medium bowl, toss together the fontina and grated Grana Padano.
• Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Spread in the blanched fennel and season with the salt. Scatter the chopped sage over the top and sprinkle with the grated cheese.
• Bake until browned and bubbly, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Reprinted with permission from Alfred Knopf Publishing

Power outages, broken ovens, hungry dogs… What’s the biggest obstacle that was interfered with your cooking plans? How did you adapt? Tell us about it in the comments section below for a chance to win a copy of Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali. We’ll announce the winner in next week’s By the Book column.

And now, we’d like to congratulate Sue, whose answer on last week’s By the Book has won a copy of Roberta‘s Cookbook by Carlo Mirarchi, Brandon Hay, Chris Parachini and Katherine Wheelock. Sue, keep an eye out for an email from the Sauce crew.

Sauce Celebrity Chef Series: Lidia Bastianich to bring Italy to The Lou

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

102411_LidiaYou probably know Lidia Bastianich as the no-nonsense, mothering figure who brought Italian cuisine into our homes via her PBS cooking shows, such as Lidia’s Italy. What you may not know is that this mother of two and grandmother of five has been running restaurants for more than 40 years – and that her burgeoning food empire now includes seven restaurants, an Italian winery, her own brand of dried pastas and jarred sauces, a line of tableware, and most recently, the publication of her seventh cookbook, Lidia’s Italy in America.

Bastianich is headed our way to discuss and sign her new cookbook – which includes accounts of her trips to local eateries Rigazzi’s, Imo’s and Volpi Foods – for the latest installment of our Sauce Celebrity Chef Series. The event, in partnership with Left Bank Books and Nine Network, will be held on Wednesday, November 16 at 7 p.m., at the Sheldon Concert Hall. Click here for tickets and more info.

In the meantime, we got a chance to sit down and chat with the legendary culinarian about her new book, how she prefers her peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and what it takes to be successful in today’s ever-expanding culinary realm.

Tell us about the new cookbook, Lidia’s Italy in America.
America is made up of immigrants, and Italian immigrants play a big part [in] that. I went back and followed the routes of the immigrants; New Orleans was a big point of entry, the Mississippi River and up into Missouri. What are the recipes they brought with them and how did those change? When the Italians came here, a lot of products weren’t available, and the cuisine changed and became Italian-American. In the Salinas Valley, the Italian influence made that area the artichoke-and-broccoli raab capital of the world. These products became big business, and, in turn, became part of the Italian-American palate. In the book, you’ll find artichoke dishes. You’ll also find things like pesto pasta with a little pistachio and a great zuppa inglese, the Italian-American rum sponge cake that’s a take on the trifle and became very popular in America.

Where are some of the places you visited in St. Louis to write the new book?
In St. Louis, of course, I love The Hill; I had a great time there. I went to St. Ambrose [parish]. I went to the bocce courts and found some interesting dishes there. In one of the oldest restaurants there, Rigazzi’s, I found veal “parmiciano” made with chopped meat, like a hamburger, and then breaded and made into a sandwich. I went in and saw how they interpreted Italian cuisine. In Kansas City, the Italian area was not as vivid or alive as it is in St. Louis. There is a tradition of thanking St. Joseph with an altar. About 40 people make cookies, and decorate this beautiful, artistic altar with the face of Jesus in dough, and then sell cookies for the poor.

In partnership with your son, Joe Bastianich, chef Mario Batali and others, you opened Eataly in New York City a year ago. It sounds like an Italian food-lover’s dream. I wish we had this in St. Louis!
It’s very Italian. It’s like a whole block of shops lifted up right from Italy; you get that feeling. It has great products from American and Italian artisans; a cooking school and a language school; tastings and restaurants; and fresh pastas, fish and other ingredients you can bring home to cook. You can eat and taste and go home and cook for yourself – it’s very fun.

How does it feel to go from one Italian restaurant to a whole “empire” of businesses? It’s a natural crescendo. You take one road, and it opens up to two or three other roads, and it’s about choosing the right roads. Other people come up with ideas and they present them to you. I respond to opportunities. Opening the first restaurant was something my husband was into; I was very young when we opened our first restaurant. I fell into it. We had nine or 10 tables. We invested everything we had and borrowed from my mother, and thank God it worked. Then, Julia Child asked me to do two episodes on her Master Chef series and the producer liked my work, and so on. You just have to take the right opportunities. You open a restaurant, people come, they share your food, the first book comes, then TV comes, and then you go from that. People want more. We are passionate about wine, and at first we just bottled it for our restaurants, but then it grew. I’m honored and proud to have that relationship between myself and the viewers, that they want to know me and to experience more about me. Along the way it’s been a lot of work, but I’ve had a great time.

You have your own small winery now. What are you bottling there? We do a lot of the indigenous varietals from the area. Our Vespa Bianco blend has chardonnay, sauvignon and picolit. It’s a nice, buttery, complex wine. The area where we grow is known for some of the best Italian whites. We go there for the blending every spring. We taste everything; we don’t just slap our name on it, we’re very involved.

What do you cook for yourself on a typical night? I like soup. I just made a big pot of vegetable soup. I love it with a piece of cheese and a little wine. I love a little prosciutto. In the summer I love salads with a can of tuna. I love canned sardines and anchovies. I don’t have to eat a lot to get a wallop of flavor. Sometimes I have peanut butter and jelly. I just feel like something sweet, and I just put it on rice cakes instead of bread, usually with milk.

Do you like to cook with music? Yeah, I love it. I do that all the time. What I listen to differs. I like classical music, operas and contemporary music as well. I like contemporary Italian music. I like jazz and blues; it depends on the mood. But no hard rock – it sounds like banging pots to me (laughs).

Do you drink wine while you cook? I do. I usually sip whatever we’re gonna have with dinner. A little bit for the pot, a little bit for me … (laughs)

Your new line of pasta sauces are all-natural – they’re not full of corn syrup, like some of the competition. No, I wouldn’t do that. I can’t. I’m too connected with my followers and viewers. They trust me.

I got a chance to try them, and I particularly liked the artichoke flavor – there are little bits of artichoke in every bite. Isn’t that good and different? Let’s say you have a piece of chicken breast – you can just sauté some garlic and olive oil, sear the chicken with salt, throw some sauce in there and maybe a little oil and seasoning and bring it to a boil. You can do that with fish and so on, too.

Many of us Lidia fans feel like we know your mother, too. How’s she? She’s great – she’s right here next to me.

One of the producers on your PBS show called you one of the hardest working persons she’s ever known.
Young people come into this industry and I ask them, “What would you like to do?” They say, “I want to become like you,” and I say, “Well, this is very do-able in America, the land of opportunity, but you need commitment, some talent, to educate yourself continually, be enthusiastic, and you need to do a hell of a lot of work.”

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