Making Italian cooking fun and approachable, celebrity chef and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich shares her knowledge and inspires the love of cooking.
Lidia Bastianich grew up in a small Italian town with her parents and her grandmother. She was surrounded by the freshest of ingredients, so childhood memories of good food are among her strongest.
“I grew up in Italy until I was 10. We made our own fresh ricotta, prosciutto, and wine, and we grew olives and figs. I was close to food growing up. We even had our own wheat, and we would collect it inMay/June and mill the flour periodically. So there was fresh flour and warm eggs always,” she says.
Lidia’s family moved to the States when she was 12, and her passion for food began as a way to collect the memories of her grandmother. The smells and the tastes of food reminded her of Italy. She also saw it as a way of communication. “Not only would food speak to me, but it made me feel good. I had a knack for cooking,” she says. Lidia worked at bakeries and restaurants during her early years, but she yearned to learn more. After she married, she knew the reality of owning a restaurant was possible—her husband was also in the restaurant industry. The two opened their first restaurant and hired an Italian-American chef whom Lidia worked alongside for 10 years. “I knew that this was what I wanted to do. I then took classes and learned every aspect of food—the science, the anthropology, everything I could do. I would even go back to Italy every year and do research.”
As her knowledge evolved, she decided to focus on the regional food of her childhood. Lidia and her husband opened Felidia, which set the tone for her successful career—as a queen of Italian cuisine, a way to cook that would make her grandmother proud.
HOW IMPORTANT HAS FOOD BEEN IN YOUR LIFE?
Food has been the underlying current that ultimately surfaced, and I understood that food was much more than just eating a plate of pasta. To be in sync with our environment, you need to understand cooking. The more I found out, the more I wanted to give back and teach. People want to know.
WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE ON COOKING, PARTICULARLY ITALIAN CUISINE?
When people say ‘I can’t cook,’ I don’t buy it. Start cooking, and you’ll see you will get it. If you want to cook true Italian regional recipes, then you need to depend on the traditional Italian products, and that will take you straight to Italy. If you want to do an antipasto, then you will want slices of fresh buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto, good Italian olive oil, olives, and a good Italian wine. Put that on the table with nice crusty bread! The philosophy for great Italian cooking is simple: the best ingredients you can find in season and prepared as simply as possible.
WHAT ARE YOU UP TO NOW?
We have our show—52 episodes based on Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking cookbook. I am also working on a children’s book about eggs. I have five grandchildren, and I feel that sometimes children are too far removed from food. There are stories that my grandchildren loved to hear when they were little. They would say “Nonni, tell us a story of when you were a little girl.” So I have told them stories, and now I am writing those stories down. We opened Eately in Chicago and have the La Scuola Di in New York now.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons cold water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Butter and Sage Sauce (recipe follows)
- In the work bowl of a food processor, place flour.
- In a 2-cup glass measure, whisk together eggs, olive oil, 3 tablespoons water, and salt. With motor running, slowly pour egg mixture through food chute, and process for 30 seconds or until dough forms a ball.
- On a lightly floured surface, turn out dough, and knead until dough is smooth and silky; it should spring back when pressed. Wrap dough in plastic wrap, and let rest for 30 minutes.
- Sprinkle 2 baking sheets heavily with flour.
- Cut dough into 4 portions. Wrap 3 portions in plastic wrap. Working with one portion at a time, roll dough through pasta machine according to manufacturer’s instructions. You should be able to see your hands through the dough. Roll dough through cutting attachment on the pasta machine into desired widths. Unravel cut pasta, dust with flour, and make loose nests on prepared pans.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add pasta, and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, for 3 to 4 minutes or until cooked through. Drain, and toss with Butter and Sage Sauce. Serve immediately.
- 3/4 cup butter
- 10 fresh sage leaves
- 1 cup hot water
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 cup Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
- In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat until just foaming. Add sage leaves, and cook for 1 minute or until sage crisps up. Using a slotted spoon, remove sage, and drain on paper towels.
- Carefully add hot water, and bring to a simmer; cook for 2 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half. Grind pepper directly into the sauce. Stir in pasta. Remove from heat, and add cheese, tossing to coat. Top with fried sage leaves. Serve immediately.
Type of pasta:
“It has such a great European feel, and they have strudel.”
Can’t answer that—too hard!
Be sure to head back to the blog tomorrow for a step-by-step pasta-making tutorial and another delicious recipe from Lidia!