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Lidia cooks from the heart of Italy

Lidia brings the feasts of Italy to your tableIf you are a fan of Lidia Bastianich's popular public television cooking series, you will find her latest cook book, Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy (Alfred A. Knopf, 411 pp., $35) delightful.

This latest cookbook with 175 regional Italian recipes has the voice, feel and style of Lidia's television broadcasts, which,to those sadly unfamiliar with them, is warm, familial and inviting. 

Lidia makes us feel as if we are one of her brood and that we too can cook deliciously savory and sumptuous traditional Italian meals.

The cookbook, written with daughter, Tanya Manuali, who earned a Ph.D. in Italian Renaissance Art History from Oxford and conducts food, wine and art tours in Italy, is as much a guide for cooking as it is a peek into the food culture and history of Italy.

Lidia and daughter take us into the lives and places of the people of Italy, from north to south. With essays that explain food history and its importance to each region as well as glimpses into the places where these succulent dishes derive, from Trentino-Alto Adige to Sardinia, the cookbook reads like both travel guide and cooking compendium. Its lavish photographs by Lidia and Hersheimer & Hamilton depict intimate glimpses of gorgeously prepared food as well as beautiful Italian landscapes.

The cookbook transcends the usual homage to cuisines of Italy's better known gastronomic regions - Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna - presenting recipes from these epicurean giants as well as those from lesser known areas.  

The recipes are often simple to prepare yet complex in texture and taste, creating meals that are steeped in Italian tradition and rich in the flavors of locally sourced foods. The mother-daughter team, with David Nussbaum, showcase many of the little known delights of Italian regional cuisine.

From Abruzzo, there is the renowned Maccheroni alla Chitarra, freshly made strands of pasta serving as the foundation for numerous sauces and from Valle D'Aosta, there is Soup with Bread & Fontina Pasticciata (Seuppa ou Piat), a layered bread and cheese baked casserole served in bowls of hot broth. 

From Le Marche, there is Lamb Chunks with Olives (Agnello 'ncip-'nciap), a piquant and hearty dish; and from Sardinia, there is Flatbread Lasagna (Pane Frattau), the traditional Sardinian shepherd's meal of layered flatbread, tomato sauce, grated pecorino and poached eggs.  

Three things make this cookbook, from a technical standpoint, a beginning cook's pleasure - the way Lidia presents possibilities for variations on recipes, teaching one to cook from intuition and experimentation; ingredient lists where the ingredient text is highlighted in red so cooks can easily see necessary items; and equipment lists suggesting tools needed for recipe preparation.  For more experienced cooks, the commentary on the provenance of particular foods and their uses in the Italian kitchen is invaluable.

Lamb Chunks with Olives

Agnello ’ncip ’nciape

Serves 6 or more

3½ pounds boneless lamb shoulder or leg
2 teaspoons kosher salt
¼ cup extra- virgin olive oil
7 plump garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
½ teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, stripped from the branch

1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons red- wine vinegar
1½ cups brine- cured green Italian olives or oil- cured black Italian olives, crushed and pitted

Recommended equipment: A deep skillet or sauté or braising pan, 11- to- 12- inch diameter, with a


Trim the exterior fat from the lamb shoulder or leg, and cut the meat into 2- inch pieces, removing fat and bits of cartilage as you find them. Pat the pieces dry with paper towels, and season all over with 1 teaspoon of the salt.

Lamb Chunks with Olives

Pour the olive oil into the pan, and set it over medium heat. Scatter in the crushed garlic cloves and peperoncino. When the garlic is sizzling, lay in all the lamb pieces in one layer, scatter the rosemary on top, and season with the remaining teaspoon salt. When the meat starts to sizzle, cover the pan, lower the heat, and let cook gently, browning slowly and releasing its fat and juices.

After about 10 minutes, uncover the pan, turn the pieces, and move them around the pan to cook evenly, then replace the cover. Turn again in 10 minutes or so, and continue covered cooking for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the lamb is nicely browned all over and the pan juices have thickened and caramelized. If there is a lot of fat in the bottom of the pan, tilt the skillet and spoon off the fat from one side.

Stir the wine and vinegar together, and pour them into skillet, swirling them with the pan juices. Turn up the heat, bring the liquids to a boil, and cook them down quickly to form a syrupy sauce. Drop the olives into the pan, all around the lamb chunks, then cover and adjust the heat to a bubbling simmer. Cook for another 10 minutes or so, again concentrating the juices and marrying the flavors. Finally, cook uncovered for a few minutes, tumbling the meat and olives in the pan, coating them with the sauce.

Serve immediately, right from the skillet, or heap the meat chunks on a platter or in a shallow serving bowl. Spoon out any sauce and olives left in the pan, and drizzle over the lamb.


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