Cookbook review: Lidia’s Favorite Recipes
This hearty ziti and sausage dinner layers flavors of Italian sausage, onion, fennel bulb, crushed red pepper, tomato, and Parmesan deliciously. It's adapted from 'Lidia’s Favorite Recipes.'
When does Lidia Matticchio Bastianich sleep? The star of PBS’s popular "Lidia’s Italy," she is also chef/owner of restaurants in New York, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City. She’s a partner (with son Joe, Mario Batali and Oscar Farinetti) in New York’s wildly successful Eataly. She and son Joe have a winery in Italy. Lidia and her daughter Tanya design a line of cookware (they’ve also launched a line of pastas and sauces). Oh. And in her spare time, she writes cookbooks.Skip to next paragraph
Terry Boyd is the author of Blue Kitchen, a Chicago-based food blog for home cooks. His simple, eclectic cooking focuses on fresh ingredients, big flavors and a cheerful willingness to borrow ideas and techniques from all over the world. A frequent contributor to the Chicago Sun-Times, his recipes have also appeared on the Bon Appétit and Saveur websites.
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Her most recent is "Lidia’s Favorite Recipes: 100 Foolproof Italian Dishes, from Basic Sauces to Irresistible Entrees," published in October 2012. She calls it her “most accessible cookbook to date, a gathering of recipes that have become her go-to meals for her very own family.” These are not the deconstructed or re-imagined recipes you’ll find in some chefs’ cookbooks (not that there’s anything wrong with that approach). The recipes here reflect yet another of Lidia’s roles, one she takes great pride in – that of Italian grandmother or nonna.
Much as grand-mères are responsible for the simple, perfect meals that I most cherish in French cuisine, nonnas have long been the source for the best of traditional Italian food. They get meals on the family table and pass their culinary skills and techniques on to daughters and granddaughters, keeping classic recipes alive. You’ll find many of them here, from veal osso buco to escarole and white bean soup, olive oil mashed potatoes, eggplant Parmigiana and savory seafood stew. "Lidia’s Favorite Recipes" is particularly rich in pasta dishes. That’s where I decided to start exploring.
I love when recipes teach me something. When I first started cooking, once something went into the pan, it was in there. Period. Then one day, I came across a recipe that had you brown an ingredient – probably meat of some sort – and remove it from the pan while you completed other steps, then return it to the pan for finishing. It was a revelation. Now it’s standard operating procedure to me, of course. Well, this recipe uses my earlier cooking style, layering flavor upon flavor as you keep adding ingredients to the pan. And it does it in a way that nonnas have always done, I think.
Besides being fairly quick and easy to prepare, this dish is just fun to cook. You put something in the pan and cook it for a bit, then make a hole in the center of the pan and add the next ingredient. After that cooks for a minute or two, you mix everything together and then make a hole for the next ingredient. The recipe was so simple and rustic, I was expecting good but basic. What I got was transcendent.
Ziti with sausage and fennel
Serves three as a main course, four or five as a primi course
1/2 pound ziti (see Kitchen Notes)
1/2 pound mild Italian sausage
1 fennel bulb, 1 pound or slightly less
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and sliced into half moons
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup tomato paste
3 tablespoons finely chopped fennel fronds