Bastianich dishes out common sense in latest cookbook

Tue Feb 11, 2014 9:47am EST
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By Richard Leong

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lidia Bastianich serves up a helping of common sense along with techniques for home cooks to make creamy risotto, moist meatballs and other popular Italian dishes in her 11th cookbook, "Lidia's Commonsense Italian Cooking."

The award-winning chef co-owns six Italian restaurants, including four in New York, one in Pittsburgh and one in Kansas City. Whether in a casual or upscale atmosphere, she says each restaurant showcases the styles and flavors of Italy.

The 66-year-old, who was born in Pula, Croatia - once part of Italy - spoke to Reuters about her latest best-selling book, which she co-wrote with her daughter, Tanya, as well as her tips for home cooks.

Q: In the beginning of your book, you quoted Voltaire, who said: "Commonsense is not so common." What is your common sense approach in the kitchen?

A: You cook pasta. You put the cover on the pot. You save a third of the energy. You put the pasta in boiling water. It cooks faster and it doesn't stick together. When you salt your food, you do it intermittently. Salt your major ingredients as you are cooking instead of putting it all in. If you add it all in the onion, it might not get to the meat. Look at the oven. We all cook with the middle rack. There is a top rack and it's there for a reason. You want crispness with your roasts or meats or your pudding? Put it on the top rack.

Q: You speak often about not wasting food. What ingredients do most Americans end up throwing away?

A: We all have carrots. We munch on them every now and then, but we don't use them for much else. You could make an apple and carrot salad with shoestrings of apples, shoestrings of carrots and a bit of lemon juice. It's a great winter salad. Recycle bread whether it is in a salad or a bread pudding. You spend a lot of money on expensive Italian cheeses. Don't throw that rind away. Scrape it and put in a soup or a broth.

Q: You travel to Italy frequently. Are there dishes there that you think Americans should know more about?   Continued...

American chef Lidia Bastianich poses in a photo in 2011 provided by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, to Reuters on February 10, 2014. REUTERS/Diana DeLucia/Handout via Reuters