This Is What Lidia Bastianich Can’t Stop Cooking Right Now
Hint: It's not banana bread or sourdough.
Lidia Bastianich has been cooking ’round the clock for her 99-year-old mother and her lucky neighbors.
“I am cooking more, and, actually getting back into some of the basics,” says Bastianich from her home in Queens, New York. “I have a little garden. So, I’m gardening all the herbs. I’m making homemade pesto for the winter.”
That’s how the world-renowned Italian TV chef, restaurateur and cookbook author started shooting Eating in With Lidia, a COVID-era spin-off of her long-running PBS show, Lidia’s Italy.
What Is She Eating Right Now?
Lately, in her country-style kitchen, there’s plenty of pork, particularly pancetta and guanciale (pig jowl); organic legumes she Amazons to her home; meats from a few trusted distributors to her restaurants; fresh fish flown in from a Maine fishmonger; and her home-grown herbs and vegetables. She handpicks them all—and, yes, Lidia does her own grocery shopping, too.
As a child, Bastianich says she would pluck the bounty from the rich soil of her grandmother’s garden in Pula, Italy (now Croatia), then watch as her nonna added them into comforting foods like her all-time favorite, homemade gnocchi.
She took that early education with her when she and her family emigrated to New York in 1958. She opened her first restaurant in 1971, and would go on to catch the eye of Julia Child—the rest is history!
The Recipes Lidia Can’t Stop Making
She has hundreds of recipes under her belt, but Bastianich keeps returning to her two favorite—and economical—dishes: pasta primavera and her rice and potato soup.
“I make the primavera with whatever vegetables there are. So I make the pasta, I have the pesto, and then I take whatever I have coming up in the garden. Some peppers, some frozen peas and salad.”
Sometimes she crumbles in sausage or adds in slivers of a lone chicken breast. It’s such a hit, she makes it three times a week!
And the soup? “It’s a simple soup made out of potatoes, tomato paste, carrots and celery, and I give that recipe because I think it’s economical and delicious. I take the fresh bay leaf and put that in with the carrots and the potatoes and cook them down, then slice them up.”
The dish wouldn’t be complete without the perfect cow’s milk cheese. “And I put in the rind of Grana Padano. I always tell everyone to buy chunks of cheese. None of that grated cheese works because it loses some of the flavor. Get a chunk.”
She says it’s a one-pot-meal fit for the whole family, and she’s planning a one-pot cookbook with more recipes for a 2021 release. Bastianich says following her recipes to a T isn’t necessary; but she shared them with us below.
- 6 quarts water for boiling, plus a bowl of ice water
- 3 cups vegetables, such as zucchini, sliced crosswise in 1/2-inch pieces; small broccoli florets on short stems; green beans, trimmed and sliced on the bias in 3/4-inch lengths; frozen sweet peas; asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup onion, sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 (28-ounce) can San Marzano or other Italian plum tomatoes, with their juices, crushed by hand, or 1-1/2 cups ripe cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 basil leaves, shredded
- 1/2 cup Grana Padano cheese, grated
Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot.
In the meantime, prepare a bowl with ice water. When the pasta water is boiling, dump the 3 cups of vegetables in the boiling water. Bring the water back to a boil, and cook uncovered for 2 minutes. Scoop out the pieces with a spider or strainer, drain briefly and drop into the ice water. When thoroughly chilled, drain in a colander.
In the meantime, begin making the sauce. In a wide skillet with the olive oil, scatter the onion slices and crushed garlic cloves. Cook for 2 minutes over medium heat until the onions are wilted.
Pour the crushed tomatoes and juices into the skillet. Slosh the tomato can with 1 cup of water and add to the skillet (or add the cherry tomatoes). Bring all to a boil and let simmer for 5 minutes.
Drop the pasta into the boiling water while the sauce cooks.
Add the blanched vegetables to the skillet and stir them into the sauce, adding 1 cup of pasta water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Bring all to a simmer and cook for about 3 minutes or more, until the blanched vegetables are cooked thoroughly but still al dente. Do things look too dry? Just add a little more pasta water, Lidia says.
Drain the pasta when cooked and add to the skillet with sauce. Toss in the shredded basil and toss it all together. Drizzle the mixture with extra-virgin olive oil and let the pasta and sauce cook together for a few minutes.
When the pasta is well coated with sauce, remove from the heat. Toss in the grated cheese and serve.
Rice and Potato Soup
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 large baking (Idaho) potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/3-inch cubes
- 2 medium carrots, trimmed, peeled, and diced
- 2 center stalks of celery, trimmed and diced
- 2 teaspoons tomato paste
- 10 cups hot water
- 2 fresh or dried bay leaves
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup long-grain rice
- ½ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 2-3 rinds of Grana Padano (scrape the rind slightly with a knife)
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Grana Padano
In a deep, heavy 4- to 5- quart pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Lidia says the potatoes will stick, but that’s fine. Just adjust the level of heat to prevent the bits of potato that stick from getting too dark.
Stir in the carrots and celery and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the carrots are softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Season lightly with salt. Add tomato paste and stir to coat the vegetables. Then, add hot water, cheese rinds and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, scraping up the bits of potato that stick to the pot.
Adjust the level of heat to a simmer and season the soup lightly with salt and pepper. Cover the pot and simmer until the potatoes begin to fall apart, about 40 minutes.
Stir in the rice. Cook, stirring well, until the rice is tender but still firm, about 12 minutes.
Remove the bay leaves and cheese rinds. Cut the rinds—which should be soft—into small pieces and return to the pot. Stir the parsley into the soup and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve in warm soup bowls, sprinkled with the grated cheese.