Lidia Matticchio Bastianich to tell her story in cooking demo

Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, the famed restaurateur, cookbook writer, TV star and Italian matriarch, has a "real immigrant story" to share at "Lidia LIVE!," a cooking demonstration, story-telling, Q&A and book-signing show at 2:30 p.m. June 2 at the Byham Theater, Downtown.

Her show dovetails with a new cookbook written with her daughter, "Lidia's Italy in America." The book narrates Lidia's story as well as the stories of Italian enclaves in the United States -- including the one in Pittsburgh. The book includes recipes from Del's in Bloomfield (see recipes accompanying this column) and Primanti's in the Strip District.

But back to Lidia's story.

Born in the town of Pula (once Italian, then in communist Yugoslavia) she lived under President Tito's rule when Italians were not allowed to speak their native language or practice their religion, she said.

In 1956, her family escaped to Trieste, Italy. They spent two years in a refugee camp before immigrating to New York in 1958 when Ms. Bastianich was 12. Although the experience was hard, "I feel very positive about it," she said. "It has built me. It's who I am."

As she looks back on her childhood, she focuses on the sweet, sun-kissed memories of time on her grandparents' farm. "Grandma and Grandpa produced everything we ate," she said. "She made fresh ricotta, she had a garden, we harvested wheat and raised goats, we took the wheat to the mill to grind it, we made our own olive oil. I can still remember picking the cherries off the tree and eating them, still warm, with the flavors just bursting in my mouth."

Reminiscing in her lilting Italian accent, she makes food sound like poetry. "Food connects me to a place and time that I was happy, when I was a child."

But New York was a far cry from the farm. As a high school and college student, she focused on sciences, but every job she held to finance her education dealt with food. Finally she realized she wanted to be a restaurateur; at first she focused on the chemistry and anthropology of food and took cooking courses.

She and her then-husband, Felice Bastianich, bought their first restaurant, "Buonavia" in Queens, in 1971. Their son, Joe, was 3 at the time; their daughter Tanya was born a year later. The kids grew up in the restaurant, "doing their homework on the tomato boxes."

But "it provided a good living for us," and her children understood that. Lidia urged her children to take advantage of America's opportunities and get the best possible education, but in the end they joined the food business, too.

Joe Bastianich has a master's in finance, but he's now a restaurateur, TV star, winery owner and cookbook author in his own right. His sister, Tanya Bastianich Manuali, earned her doctorate in art history from Oxford University but now manages her mom's product line, owns a travel company that specializes in tours to Italy, and helped to write "Lidia's Italy in America."

Lidia Bastianich says the cookbook is not so much an Italian cookbook as an Italian-American one -- a story of how immigrants adapted their cuisine using the ingredients they found in a new homeland. That's the sort of food served up at her restaurants, too, she said.

Her children, growing up in those restaurants, treasure their Italian heritage despite being native New Yorkers.

"For my work, we went every year to Italy," she said. "We visited family, but I was also researching, traveling up and down the peninsula. That's how they got infected with" their Italian heritage.

And now she is passing her heritage to a third generation, her five grandchildren, for whom she wrote "Nonna Tell Me a Story: Lidia's Christmas Kitchen." In it, she tells how her family made its own Christmas tree with preserved apples, oranges nuts and cookies hanging from the boughs. She's in the process of writing a second children's book about the fruits and vegetables of every season.

And despite her stardom, she says her favorite part of her career is "being a grandma. I love using food as a communicator."

Tickets for Ms. Bastianich's show start at $38.25 and are available at A portion of the proceeds will benefit Autism Speaks.


Speaking of learning from cookbook authors, this first class offers a chance to hobnob with some local ones:

Cooks, Books and Bites: Five local cookbook authors demonstrate and serve sample recipes and "dish" on the creation of their cookbooks in a 6 p.m. class June 18 at Crate, Scott. The authors are:

Mario J. Porreca and Kirk Kolich, "The Good, The Bad, The Cookbook"; Miriam Rubin, "Grains"; Lori Karavolis, "Lori Bakes Gluten-Free Snacks and Sweets"; and Theresa DeCaria, "The Table My Mother Set." $30. Register ahead:

Summer Cocktails at Andys: Learn to make some refreshing beverages to sip on your deck at home this summer. 1 to 3 p.m. June 2 at Andys Bar inside the Fairmont Pittsburgh, Downtown. $65 includes instruction, materials, apron and lunch. Register ahead: 412-773-8848.


Mountain Madness Chili Cook-Off: Three months ago, fire destroyed the Sundial Ski Lodge at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington. Starting at 10:30 a.m. June 9, the resort is holding a fund-raising festival for the Farmington Volunteer Fire Department -- and it's sure to be a hot one. It's a regional competition for the International Chili Society, but the bigger draw likely will be Pittsburgh Steelers Brett Keisel and Cameron Hayward, serving as celebrity judges. Other activities include radio broadcasts, a craft fair, brewfest, family activities and live music. Admission is free; chili tasting kits are $5. Information:

Greek Food Festival: Opens at 11 a.m. daily June 4-9 at All Saints Greek Orthodox Church, Canonsburg. Information:

Fettuccine with Mafalda Sauce (Fettuccine al Sugo di Mafalda)

PG tested

Lidia Bastianich credits Del's Bar & Ristorante DelPizzo in Bloomfield for this recipe. She ate it there with shells but switched the pasta to fettuccine for this recipe. I doubt the pasta matters; I'm pretty sure I could eat my hat if it had this sauce on it.

-- Rebecca Sodergren

  • Kosher salt
  • 3 cups marinara sauce (recipe below)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 pound fettuccine
  • 10 large fresh basil leaves, shredded
  • 1/2 cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for pasta. Bring the marinara sauce to simmer in a large skillet. Stir in the heavy cream, bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 5 to 6 minutes.

Slip the fettuccine into boiling water. When the pasta is al dente and the sauce is ready, drop the pasta directly into the sauce. Add the shredded basil, then toss to coat the pasta with the sauce. Remove from heat, stir in the grated cheese and serve immediately. Serves 6.

Basic Marinara (Sugo alla Marinara)

PG tested

  • 35-ounce can (4 cups) San Marzano or other Italian plum tomatoes, with juices
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup sliced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or more to taste
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 teaspoon salt or more to taste
  • 1 stalk or big sprigs fresh basil (with 20 or so whole leaves)

Pour the tomatoes and their juice into a big mixing bowl. Using both hands, crush the tomatoes and break them up into small pieces. (You don't have to mash them to bits; I like chunkiness in my marinara, with the tomatoes in 1-inch pieces.)

Pour the oil into a big skillet, scatter in the garlic slices, and set over medium-high heat. Cook for 11/2 minutes or so, until the slices are sizzling, then push the garlic aside to clear a dry spot to toast the peperoncino for another 1/2 minute. Shake and stir the pan until the garlic slices are light gold and starting to darken. Immediately pour in the crushed tomatoes and stir in with the garlic. Rinse out the tomato can and bowl with 1 cup hot water, and dump this into the skillet as well.

Raise the heat; sprinkle in the salt and stir. Push the stalk or sprigs of basil into the sauce until completely covered. When the sauce is boiling, cover the pan, reduce the heat slightly, and cook for 10 minutes at an actively bubbling simmer. Uncover the pan and cook another 5 minutes or so. The sauce should be only slightly reduced from the original volume -- still loose and juicy.

Remove the poached basil stalk or sprigs from the skillet and discard.

-- "Lidia's Italy in America" by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali (Knopf, 2011, $35)

Rebecca Sodergren:


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