The best-selling chef’s latest writing venture joins 15 other fantastic cookbooks on the shelf that she has authored exploring Italian cooking, with what may be the simplest no-fuss preparations that demand fewer of everything in the kitchen than she has ever reached before — minimal ingredients, kitchen pans and fuss.
It’s a beautiful comfort food cookbook co-authored with her daughter Tanya Bastianich Manuali that features classic flavors and simple ingredients that are the hearty foundation Italian cuisine is built on — olives, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, porcini mushrooms, truffles, tomato paste, and, most importantly, pasta.
“It takes me two years to do a book — collecting the recipes, working on and editing them. A lot of times chefs have a tendency to show how much they know and that brings complexity. The recipes that I do are all based in the Italian tradition... Italian cuisine is not about complicating things, it’s about the seasonality and the products,” Bastianich said. “Food is at the basis for all things. it’s the one thing that we all do the same — we all need to eat, we need to nourish ourselves. When you are at the table a rapport happens that is very open. The table is a special place to connect.”
The idea of this simple connection combined with the pandemic and the isolation it ushered in inspired her.
“This last book I began just before the pandemic, and then the pandemic came and everyone was cooking in their kitchen and I knew I needed to give them a book to get in the kitchen and cook like the Italians,” Bastianich said.
As she cooked and experimented with her daughter through the pandemic, she realized she needed to look at recipes and empower overwhelmed chefs at home. She needed to de-complicate and make Italian recipes even more doable as the world looked to simplify and relax, rejoicing in beautiful, fresh ingredients.
As a fan myself, Chef Lidia is every bit as sweet, smart, kind, humble, talented and so much more, as readers and viewers would expect. She owns celebrated restaurants Felidia, Becco, and several others, and is a partner in the acclaimed Eataly. She’s a chef that continues to innovate and achieve and it was a renowned chef, much the same as her, who discovered her and helped bring her to us.
There’s not enough room in this column to tell the entire, beautiful story of how French chef Julia Child discovered Bastianich, brought her to PBS and ultimately to her adoring public. If you love Child, Bastianich and James Beard you should look it up, or I can write another column on another day about just how much Child helped influence the food and local chefs we love today.
Like Child would probably share, regardless of the time in her cooking career, Bastianich said some things never changed.
“Choose the best ingredients, good food needs the right products. Second, have a guideline — either know the recipe by heart or have a recipe to follow,” said Bastianich. “Feel comfortable in the kitchen. Everybody can cook something. If you cook it 10 times it will be better than the first. What happens is you form your own kind of corrections as you go along. Practice does make perfect.”
Still to this day it’s the simple, fresh flavors that continue to attract and inspire her in the kitchen.
“I love working seasonally. I love vegetables, I love pasta I love fish in that order. The product has to be fresh,” she said.
For Easter it’s asparagus, ramps and fresh peas among other greens and flavors that will make the way to the table as she welcomes the next season to her kitchen.
She’s always learning, always traveling, visiting markets and chefs and home cooks and continuing to challenge herself.
“Live is evolving, it’s growing... When you are at a peak and you are successful and everyone appreciates you, then there is a period that you want to give back. I’ve worked hard yes, but I hope to pass it on and to share the knowledge. Hopefully it will bring my family and others the gratitude and satisfaction that it gave me. The future is more or less to continue the books and television as long as I can,” said Emmy-winning Bastianich, who adds she loves supporting PBS. “Now more than ever people are getting into the kitchen and cooking. It’s an act of love, it’s an act of nurturing. It’s feeding them and giving them love. Through cooking it’s a way of them loving their families.”
Bastianich is beloved because she is the best kind of chef and cook — one who is passionate, restless, hungry for knowledge, hungry for recipes, hungry for stories from other cooks and hungrier to share all that she learns along the way as she innovates and imagines more.
She is known for saying “Tutti a Tavola a Mangiare!” or “Everyone to the Table to Eat,” and many of her fans will have the pleasure of hearing the stories behind the food, some of them even more fortunate to be at the table to eat while they do.
Dayton Eats looks at the regional food stories and restaurant news that make mouths water. Menu updates, special dinners and events, new chefs, interesting new dishes and food adventures. Do you know of new exciting format changes, specials, happy hours, restaurant updates or any other tasty news you think is worth a closer look at?
How to go
What: Chef Lidia’s Visit to Dayton
When: 6 - 9 p.m., Thursday, April 21
Where: Dayton Metro Library - Main, 215 E 3rd St, Dayton
When: 4-6:30 p.m., Friday, April 22
Where: Cincinnati State Technical and Community College Midwest Culinary Institute, 3520 Central Pkwy, Cincinnati
Tickets for each event: $40 for Patron, $75 for VIP
Note: Tickets for lunch and cooking demonstrations with Chef Lidia Bastianich on April 21 at Dorothy Lane Market and April 22 at Turner Farm are sold out
Info: For more information on tickets and opportunities to hear and see Chef Lidia Bastianich, https://thinktv.org/chef-lidias-visit-to-dayton.