November 24, 2009 / 3:28 PM / 9 years ago

Chef Lidia Bastianich explores regional Italian cuisines

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Chef Lidia Bastianich explores the lesser known regions of Italy and serves up recipes in her new cookbook that highlight the complexity of the country’s history and cuisine.

Lidia Bastianich poses in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/Paul Gelsobello/Handout

In “Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy,” the award-winning U.S. chef includes recipes from regions such as Valle D’Aosta and Sardinia which have been influenced by neighboring France and Spain.

The 62-year-old, who was born in Pula, Croatia, spoke to Reuters about her passion for Italy, collaborating with her daughter and saving cheese rinds.

Q: What do you want people to learn from your latest book?

A: “This particular book I have really chosen the less traveled roads in the regions of Italy. The jewels, the flavors and the intensity they have to offer on the table. Italy was first homogenized into one country, and slowly the regionality came out. The focus has always been on Tuscany and Veneto and maybe Rome and Naples. There are jewels in Italy that have so much to offer and which haven’t been explored.”

Q: What make these regions special?

A: “These regions not only reflect their topography and climate, but reflect their border situation and different occupations. Valle D’Aosta, which is a drop between France and Piedmont, is very French in their cooking and even the speaking. There is also a German-Slavic influence — the sauerkraut, the horse radish. Beer is drunk. Then you go down to Basilicata, the in-step of the peninsula, and Calabria, the tip of the boot. You had the Greek occupation, couscous and all those flavors.”

Q: What is the contribution of your daughter Tanya (who has a PhD in Italian art history) to the book?

A: “With each chapter, I come into it by talking about the positioning, the topography, the food, the artisans and parts of culture left behind from the occupations. What they also left behind is art, statutes and architecture, so that’s what Tanya follows through. When people visit these places, they can also explore these archeological and art sites.”

Q: You speak about cooking from the heart in the book. Do you have to have a heart of an Italian to cook Italian cuisine?

A: “We have quite a few restaurants. Not all the chefs are Italian. The reality is that Italians are not immigrants anymore. Who is going to carry on this culture in America? That’s why I feel like such a mentor to these young American chefs and the public. I take my chefs regularly to Italy because the enthusiasm of young Americans to become chefs is just wonderful. I feel chefs are using the Italian culture, Italian products and Italian cuisine in the most wonderful way, even if they don’t cook Italian food. You see the influence permeating in every ethnic cuisine.”

Q: You are passionate about not wasting food, even water. What advice do you have for the home cook?

A: “Cooking the vegetable, fish them out, and cook the pasta in the same pot. Another one is save the cheese rinds of grano padano or parmigiano reggiano and throw them into a soup. If you have enough of them, it creates a wonderful stock.”


Brodo di Pesce con Verdure (Fish Soup with Vegetables)

(Makes about 4 quarts, serves 8 to 10)

12 ounces monkfish fillet (silver skin removed)

8 ounces sea scallops,

preferably “dry” (not soaked in preservatives)

1 pound large shrimp

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 medium onions, chopped (about 2 cups)

5 plump garlic cloves, crushed and peeled

1/4 teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste

1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

4 Anaheim peppers, seeded and diced (about 2 cups)

1 cup canned Italian plum tomatoes,

preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand

6 quarts cold water

1 pound Swiss chard, sliced in 1/2-inch shreds

1. Slice the monkfish into 1/2-inch chunks. Pull off the side muscle or “foot” from the scallops, and discard. Remove the shells, tails, and digestive vein from the shrimp; rinse them and pat dry.

An undated handout photo of "Brodo di Pesce con Verdure" (Fish soup with vegetable". REUTERS/Christopher Hirsheimer/Handout

2. Pour the olive oil into the soup pot and set it over medium heat. Scatter in the onions, sliced garlic, and peperoncino, and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are softened and slightly caramelized for about 8 to 10 minutes. Then stir in the diced peppers, and cook another 3 minutes or so, until the peppers are tender.

3. Pour in the crushed tomatoes, raise the heat a bit, and cook, stirring, until the tomatoes have dried out, about 3 to 4 minutes. Pour in the water and the remaining tablespoon salt, stir well, cover the pot and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle boil and cook covered for an hour. Then stir in the Swiss chard shreds. Return the broth to a steady simmer and cook uncovered for 45 minutes, or until the chard is very tender and the broth has reduced to 4 quarts.

4. To finish the soup add the chunks of monkfish to the simmering broth, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Drop in the scallops, stir, and simmer for 7 minutes more. Add the shrimp, return the broth to a bubbling simmer, and cook for a minute or two, just until the shrimp are cooked through. Serve immediately in warm shallow soup bowls.

Reporting by Richard Leong; editing by Patricia Reaney

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