The Culinary Library

Worthwhile gift choices from Santa's book bag

The Culinary Library

Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen

by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich

Knopf, 432 pp., $35

I am not a big fan of "television personality" chefs. I find most of them gimmicky (can you say, "bam!"?), artificially "funny," and not particularly interesting. I do, however, like Lidia Bastianich and enjoy watching her television series because of her warm personality and her no-nonsense, authentic, and simple approach to cooking. I recently had the pleasure of meeting her and found her to be as charming and warm in person as she appears on her PBS series. Her latest book, Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen, is a very personal account, full of family history and recipes, and a must-have cookbook for anyone with Italian-American roots or just interested in Italian-American cuisine. It pays homage to the first Italian immigrants to America, explaining their adaptation of traditional recipes to the availability of ingredients and their change of lifestyle in their New World environment, giving birth to "a cuisine of adaptation born of necessity." The easy-to-follow, enticing recipes -- some familiar and some new for most of us -- are lovingly interspersed with family photographs and anecdotes. Informative insets about ingredients and cooking techniques with step-by-step photographs, ranging from cutting live lobsters to rolling gnocchi to stuffing veal chops, complete the learning experience. This book reflects Bastianich's passion for cooking, her love for her family, and for her native and adoptive countries and their people. To me, that's what Christmas is all about. Her philosophy may be best summed up in her own words: "Culinary culture is not just what has happened in the past; it is what is happening today and what will be tomorrow. Today's innovation is tomorrow's tradition." Grazie mille, nonna Lidia!

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