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Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy: A Feast of 175 Regional Recipes

Lidia Matticchio Bastianich

Reviewed by Claudia Alarcón, Fri., Oct. 30, 2009

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Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy: A Feast of 175 Regional Recipes

by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali
Knopf, 432 pp., $35
Cooking Tent: Saturday, Oct. 31, 12:30pm

One of my favorite pastimes is reading cookbooks, and I own a small but well-represented collection. Some are for pure enjoyment and daydreaming. Others – like Diana Kennedy's – for learning and challenging myself in the kitchen. Then there are those "for doing," books whose pages have remnants of the recipe ingredients on them. Frequent readers already know that I love Lidia Bastianich, her cookbooks, and her recipes, and all of her books belong in the latter "doing" category. Her newest presents staples and traditional family recipes from regions of Italy that are often ignored or scarcely represented in most cookbooks. Rather than expensive ingredients, frugality is at the core of the book. Like many home cooks, Lidia saves and uses everything, minimizing kitchen waste and helping the home economy. She uses Parmesan cheese rinds as flavoring in sauces and stocks, and leftover bread, rice, and pasta find their way into tasty new dishes. And although this is one of those cookbooks "for doing" rather than just "for reading," I quite enjoyed reading the whole thing carefully, learning about gastronomic traditions of places such as Le Marche, Liguria, and Abruzzo.

Of course, reading this book makes you want to head into the kitchen, which I did.

The recipes are neither fancy nor daunting, daring me to try new techniques and ingredients I hadn't previously used. The cooler fall weather inspired me to start with recipes from Northern Italy, including Alto Adige, Valle d'Aosta, and Lombardy. I tried the roasted chicken with beer, flavored with carrots, parsnips, and fresh sage, using apple cider and Real Ale's Firemans 4. I made good use of some local apples in the celery root and apple salad, followed by spaghetti with tomato-apple sauce for a delightful dinner with a delicate sweet-and-sour two-punch from the apples. Two recipes from Lombardy were perfect on a rainy evening: rice with but­ter­nut squash and almond cake alla Manto­va­na. An Umbrian dish of pork chops with capers, with a lemony flavor reminiscent of piccata, was delicious and easy. Having been intrigued by Sardinian cooking for some time, I was glad to see a chapter dedicated to the island's unique cuisine, and I prepared the eggplant with tomato sauce using some eggplants and fresh basil from the garden.

Clearly, this is not just another cookbook from a TV personality, but one that is carefully and lovingly written by someone who relishes learning and sharing the cuisine of her native country. I will turn to it time and again to find seasonal inspiration for everyday cooking.

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