Lidia Bastianich is about as synonymous with popular Italian cooking as Paula Deen is with butter and fried chicken. She’s an award-winning public television host, best-selling cookbook author, restaurateur, and owner of a flourishing food and entertainment business. Catch the Queen of Italian Cuisine on Lidia’s Italy, Lidia’s Italy in America, and Lidia’s Family Table on TLN. We caught up with Lidia recently to talk all things food and Italia!
From your expert POV, what is the most common mistake people make when cooking Italian?
The most common mistake is to think that Italian food is complex and complicated. People use too many ingredients and too much of each ingredient. Too much garlic, too much spice… Italian cuisine is all about a beautiful product. Simple recipes, simple ingredients. North Americans need to calm down and slow down! Work with and react to the product rather than to what you think Italian cuisine should be.
What is your go-to quick and easy dish? 5 Ingredients or less.
Spaghetti Aglio e Olio. Chop up some garlic, use good olive oil, some peperoncini, cooked spaghetti and use some of the pasta water for the sauce. Sauté the garlic in the oil with the peperoncini, add a ladle of the pasta water (it’ll sizzle!), throw in some chopped parsley, then the pasta and you’ve made yourself a great dish.
When you’re around Toronto, what’s your favourite Italian restaurant in the city and why?
Campagnolo. I met the two chefs last time I was here and I’m looking forward to that!
I know you have had an amazing career, but can you think of one thing that you’d call your greatest accomplishment thus far?
Besides family, one of the greatest rewards I’ve had so far was cooking for Pope Benedict. I’ve cooked for him twice, once with 55 Cardinals and the second for his birthday. It was emotional, it was professionally challenging, it was spiritual.
What are the three things in your kitchen that you can’t live without?
A good knife. A blue-steel, hand-forged knife. Absolute must-have. Other than that, I need my rolling pin for my pasta. And… a spider. A good chicken-wire spider for draining pasta, vegetables, soup… it’s simple.
When not cooking and eating Italian, what other cuisines capture your fancy?
I like Thai cuisine, Chinese cuisine… I’m now into Korean cuisine! I love kimchi and all that fermented food and spiciness.
What was your most memorable meal?
That’s difficult. I think my most emotionally-tied meal was my grandmother’s polenta. The olive oil was just made, the polenta was nice and coarse, a little bit of garlic on top. With the polenta, she made a little nest and put in an egg and the polenta cooked it perfectly. It was the simplicity of it all.
I always say, “To love Italian food is to love wine.” What are your favourite vinos right now?
From my region, I like Vespa Bianco (it means “wasp”). It’s a Chardonnay Sauvignon that’s a beautiful, buttery wine. That’s my white. Going around Italy, I like the Morellino Tuscany Chianti. It’s a red with cherry and berry flavours that goes great with grilled meat. Primitivo from the south of Italy is a Zinfandel varietal that’s jammy but it doesn’t tie up your mouth. It has a lot of fruit but not too much acidity. It goes amazing with tomatoes, especially pasta and tomato sauce. And of course, who doesn’t love Prosseco? You can take it from the beginning to the end of a meal, especially in the summer. It’s refreshing, fruity, and quite thirst quenching.
Stay up-to-date with Lidia Bastianich via her amazing website – with recipes, tips, videos, and more – here.