Let’s face it—nobody can cook like Nonna. If you have ever attempted to dazzle family and friends by recreating authentic Italian recipes and you don’t have an Italian grandmother handy, you need to go to the source. It doesn’t get more authentic than Lidia Bastianich, the Emmy-winning host of WGBH’s Lidia’s Kitchen.
Bastianich’s newest book, Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Great Italian Cook (Knopf, October 28 2015), is a comprehensive guided tour through the world of real Italian ingredients, recipes and techniques.
In the introduction to the cookbook, Lidia Bastianich writes about growing up in Northern Italy and cooking with her grandparents under the Communist Yugoslavian regime. According to her, food was one of the main ways she preserved her culture in a world that was dramatically changing, politically and personally, as her family emigrated the United States. The recipes of Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine are a collection of a lifetime’s knowledge from someone who has dedicated her entire life to living and breathing authentic Italian cooking as a labor of love.
The sheer amount of detail in this cookbook is a testament to that labor of love. The entire first section of the book is devoted to ingredients and techniques, where Lidia gives tips and background knowledge on nearly every ingredient you would think to include in an Italian meal. However, all of that knowledge is presented in a way that is neither intimidating nor difficult to understand, because, as Lidia writes, “Italian food at its best is simple.” Lidia Bastianich really does keep it simple enough for anyone to cook. The book even includes a helpful glossary of ingredients and terms in the back, as well as a short section on Italian culture and language.
This is clearly the cookbook you need. Even Nonna will be impressed.
Lidia Bastianich’s Braised Kale with Bacon (Cavolo Nero Brasato)
Here’s a recipe that balances our favorite healthy green with the always fabulous bacon. Cook this up for dinner or even as a side dish for Thanksgiving. Like great Italian food, it’s perfect for any occasion.
Serves 6 as a side
1 ½ pounds kale (about 2 medium heads)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
½ cup diced bacon or pancetta
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
Remove the outer kale leaves if damaged or discolored. Cut off the bases of the stems, and cut the leaves crosswise in 1-inch strips. Wash and drain, letting a little water cling to the leaves.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until golden, about 2 minutes. Stir in the bacon and cook, stirring, until the bacon fat is rendered, about 4 minutes.
Stir as many of the kale leaves into the skillet as will fit comfortably. Cook, stirring, until they are wilted enough to make room for more kale. Continue adding he kale, a handful at a time, until all of it is in the skillet. Season lightly with the salt and red pepper flakes. Cover the skillet, lower the heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes. If all the liquid in the pan evaporates and the greens begin to stick to the pan, sprinkle a tablespoon or two of water over them. Taste the greens and season with additional salt and red pepper if you like. Remove garlic and serve immediately.
Recipe from Lidia Bastianich’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Great Italian Cook (Knopf, October 28 2015).