I found Lidia’s restaurant in Kansas City long before everyone found her on PBS. And her cookbook, full of her personal memories of Italy, has long inspired me for my own eventual and extended trip to that country. In other words, like any good cookbook, this one makes you want to taste everything in it.
Lidia Bastianich is billed as the first lady of Italian cuisine. With seven restaurants under her belt, she has the art of cooking down pat. I first found her at Lidia’s in Kansas City, but she’s also the chef/owner behind New York restaurants Felidia, Becco, Esca, Del Posto and the new Eataly, opened with partner Mario Batali. There is a second Lidia’s in Pittsburgh, and several cookbooks and a children’s book as part of her repertoire.
La Cucina Di Lidia is a personal cookbook that was written to do more than share her recipes. She wanted to give the context around the recipes. She says, “recipes cannot exist in a vacuum. To live and resonate—simply to make sense—they require a larger, more meaningful context.” As you read her story, you know that she thoroughly understands farm-to-table. She has lived it, with memories of helping her grandmother in the garden, shelling the beans and braiding the garlic, and selling them at market.
This cookbook doesn’t just have a paragraph or two with history. Actually, the first 40 pages are taken up with Lidia’s background and her relationship with food. After reading it, you understand vividly why Cozze in Salsa Verde (Mussels in Parsley Vinaigrette) is an important dish to her. You can almost smell her Basic Stock recipe. And the pasta . . . this cookbook actually helps me remember the flavors I first tasted at her restaurant. Every day they offer a sampling of seasonal pastas along with risotto and polenta dishes. In fact, I think this restaurant may have actually been my first experience with Gnocchi, those delicious Potato Dumplings that have stayed in my culinary heart ever since. And it was in this book that I learned about Chifeletti di Patate, or Fried Potato Crescents, often made from the potatoes and flour leftover from making gnocchi.
This is true Italian cooking, with recipes for Trota Arrosto alla Salvia (Baked Trout with Sage), Pollo Arrosto al Rosmarino e Arancia (Roast Chicken with Rosemary and Orange), and Salsiccia Mantovana (Mantuan Sausage). There is a whole section about Risotto, and dishes made with every conceivable meat and seafood, including shrimp, lamb, veal, tripe, liver, beef, pheasant and duck.
If you love Italian food, this is the cookbook that will help you experience Italy through the eyes of a woman who knows the country and its food.
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