Post #398 A Great Italian Cook

August 3, 2015 at 12:07 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

There are a couple of TV chefs whose kitchens I would love to spend a week in.  I wrote about one of them a long while ago, Jacques Pepin.  His sense of humor and larger than life personality make him approachable.  No arrogance there!  There’s a woman who has a show on PBS we record every time it’s on.  We watch the show till it’s worn out.  We memorize every recipe, every mannerism, and we try them with great success.  Lidia’s Kitchen is hosted by Lidia Bastianich, and she is to Italian cooking what Julia was to French.

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I’m not going to go into a long biography because it’s all online.  She’s written several books, hosted 5 cooking shows on PBS (the latest is the one I mentioned above, Lidia’s Kitchen.)  She has two kids who assist in her business and cooking efforts.  She has five restaurants, and I just found out one of them is within driving distance of yours truly.  But it’s her kitchen presence that sets her apart for me.

She cooks old school.  But she likes her conveniences.  She cooks for her family, and for her heritage.  Her smile brings you in and says welcome.  She eats everything she cooks and she doesn’t take little bites.  Sometimes we’ve laughed at how she piles her fork to get a taste of everything at once.

She’s deft with her seasoning.  She adds herbs and spices at the right time, and she adds minimal salt at various stages of cooking.  She’s always tasting to make sure the flavors are correct.  All the while she’s cooking, she’s talking.  She’s telling you what she’s doing, why she’s doing it, where the ingredients come from, why using this ingredient is better than that ingredient, and give you anecdotes about her life and her parents lives, and her heritage.  Segments of the show are often filmed in Italy and she delights in sharing where her family and friends are from.

Her family is the most important thing in her life and she makes sure we understand that cooking is extending the warmth and love she feels for them in a way they can understand.  Her family is often on the set with her and it’s always fun watching her interact with her grandkids.  But when Nonna shows up, it’s pure gold.  Lidia’s shows are filmed in her home, and sometimes her mother will smell what’s cooking and come downstairs for a taste.  Sometimes it’s scripted, but mostly it’s not.  Nonna will tell her if she’s not doing it right.

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Lidia has taught me the right way to make pasta dough.  She’s taught me the easy way to make gnocchi.  She’s taught me the right way to pronounce gnocchi.  She’s taught me how to make a killer focaccia and to braise a beef shank until it melts in your mouth.  And she taught me how to make Pasta y Fagioli.

I was working in Naples, Italy for several weeks at the American Consulate.  We were busy and it wasn’t always feasible to run out and get lunch.  In the basement there was a cafeteria and two ladies who took it as their personal mission to make certain everyone in the building was eating well.  They would post on a chalkboard what they were making each day and you had to tell them before 10am if you wanted any.  They bought all their ingredients fresh so had to know how many they were cooking for.  Nothing could be wasted.  (If you wanted something else, they’d get the stuff and make it for you.  It cost a little extra.)  One day, they made Pasta y Fagioli and I went into food heaven.  I like pasta and I like beans, but I’d never had them together with those seasonings.  It was killer.  I’d been searching for the right recipe ever since.  (When the ladies found out how much I liked it, they made it once a week for the whole time I was there.)

Then Lidia featured cannellini beans on one episode and she talked about a recipe from Naples.  I perked up, copied it down, and there it was!  I don’t make it as often as I’d like, but boy is it ever good!  It’s at the bottom of the post.

I’m looking forward to reading her latest cookbook.

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I’ll finish by letting her tell you her food philosophy.

“Food for me was a connecting link to my grandmother, to my childhood, to my past. And what I found out is that for everybody, food is a connector to their roots, to their past in different ways. It gives you security; it gives you a profile of who you are, where you come from.

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Pasta y Fagioli (Pasta and Beans)

This recipe uses canned cannellini beans, but you can really use whatever bean you like.  Just try not to get beans that are in a sauce.  If you do, rinse them so you get as close to the correct flavors as possible.  You can also used dried beans, cooking them per their package instruction before using them in this recipe.

  • 1 large can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 medium can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup dried pasta (ditalini is perfect but elbow can be used, just use a small pasta)
  • 2 slices bacon, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp crushed dried rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Shredded parmesan and/or romano cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Boil pasta in 6 cups of boiling water.  While pasta is cooking, fry bacon until crisp.  Remove bacon and drain fat leaving one tablespoon.  Over medium-low heat, cook garlic for 30 seconds, then add rosemary.  Cook another 30 seconds, then add beans and tomatoes.  Stir carefully to blend all flavors.  Add bay leaf being careful not to break it.  Add bacon bits.  Let simmer until pasta if finished cooking.  Drain pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of pasta water.  Add half of the pasta water and stir.  If the sauce is not thickened, add the rest of the pasta water.  Add pasta to sauce and mix carefully so as to not break beans.  Remove from heat and serve with shredded cheese to top.

I’ve also made this without the tomatoes and it was very good.

Enjoy

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4 Comments

  1. I love watching her in the kitchen.

    • I’d love to be in the kitchen with her. Can you imagine the flavors and feelings?

  2. I love Lidia.

    Sent from my iPhone

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