Lidia Bastianich Talks New Book and Boston Event
More than four decades into her career, the PBS chef is still all about connecting with the home cook.
It's hard to keep up with Lidia Bastianich. The chef and entrepreneur is a partner in some of New York City's best restaurants, has penned several best-selling books and has a line of food products; on top of all that, she's an Emmy award-winning television personality, whose presenting station happens to be WGBH!
We managed to catch up with her for a few minutes and dig into one of her latest projects, her new book, Lidia's Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Great Italian Cook, which contains over 400 recipes and is a veritable tome of Italian-cooking knowledge.
We also chatted about her latest business in Boston, and how you can connect with her in person.
In the intro of the book you remind us that you have been sharing your knowledge of Italian Cuisine for 46 years. Why was now the time to take on writing this big, seminal book?
I’ve been collecting a lot of information for myself along the way—things I've put into practice—so I felt that it was time that I put it all together and give it back. All the things that kind of show the technique and all the little bits and pieces of information that I think will make the home cook better.
You refer to yourself as a cook-chef. Could you explain that a little bit?
Mine is a profession, but it’s also a passion. It’s a way of life. So I come to it from both sides, but I think in this book I am more of a cook than a chef. And that’s the way I want to be because I want to communicate [with home cooks] on that level.
You work with your daughter [Tanya Bastianich Manuali] in a lot of capacities, but what was it like to co-write this particular book with her?
This was our fifth book together. She is a great researcher and an academic in her own right; she kind of put the academics into this book. The glossary at the end is her work and research, and the big intro in front she helped me pull off, with more research. It was very helpful to me, and I’m sure that others out there at home will find it very helpful. She kind of guided me in a way, because [the book] has almost a dictionary element to it. There are a lot of little paragraphs of explanation and that had a lot to do with her.
One of the things that you talk about is the importance of the seasonality of ingredients. Here in New England, it’s a tough time of year for the home cook. Do you have some advice for making the most of winter produce and what we have available?
I think the best cooking is done in season and that should apply to the ingredients. You just need to get into the products of the season and apply the proper techniques. You know, you have fresh string beans in the summer, but in the winter you have those great dried beans and lentils. So you soak them and cook them into soups and into braises. You have to know the logistics, and that is what this book helps with, what technique is good for what. Also, remember that root vegetables, with a piece of meat, braised for two hours, make a darn good meal.
Why did you choose to go with illustrations rather than photographs in the book?
Because with all the content that it has—all the 400 recipes, over 500 pages with the glossary—this is a book that could be cooked from for generations, sitting on the kitchen shelf. Photos kind of date the food, so I didn’t want to date this book. I felt that you didn’t need the picture; sometimes you can try to be as perfect as the picture, as great as it is, and it never happens! For the picture you have food stylists, this and that. I didn't want that. I wanted every dish to be for the home cook.
You have this event coming up at the Shubert Theater and we are going to be giving away a couple of tickets. Can you tell me a little bit about what that will be like?
A conversation with Lidia. It’s turned out very well in the sense that I am interviewed by a moderator, but also, there is an opportunity to open up the discussion. It's an opportunity to meet and get the signed book—it's kind of like 'Lidia in the living room.'
Can you tell us any news about Eataly Boston, opening in 2016?
I was up there two weeks ago with my hard-hat on to see the space. We are so excited and it should be great. We have a school as part of that, in the same vein of educating and sharing information. I will be coming up and doing some classes as well.
It is the holiday season. What are you looking forward to most when it comes to food?
You know I love my chestnuts. The truffles. I look forward to Baccalà [dried salted cod]. It's very traditional. We have it every Christmas Eve with all the children.
This interview has been edited and condensed by Catherine Smart.
Want to meet the chef in person? Purchase your tickets for An Evening with Lidia at the Shubert Theater on January 26th. Each ticket comes with a pre-signed copy of Bastianich's new book, Lidia's Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Great Italian Cook, which contains this recipe and many more.
For a chance to win a pair of tickets, support WGBH by making a donation here.