The New York Diet

Lidia Bastianich Treats Restaurants Like Her Children

“It has a spicy cuttlefish and calamari sauce with a little bread crumbs on top; it’s nice and spicy.” Photo: Melissa Hom

Lidia Bastianich’s Italian-American fiefdom began in 1998 with a PBS show called Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen and filled with cultural anecdotes, big sauté pans, and family cameos. She’ll sit down with Donatella Arpaia at the 92nd Street Y on Sunday to discuss Italian cooking but admits that popular “Iron Chef, sensationalism cooking … setting things on fire” was never her style. Still, the iconic TV chef is as in demand as ever. After taking part in Monday’s Columbus Day Parade, Bastianich heads to Washington to cook for Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, then to Rome for an audience with the Pope (she prepared a meal for him on his spring visit to New York), and will finish her next PBS series, Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy, for a debut next fall. We caught up with her after a taping for a WLIW holiday pledge drive — keep an eye out for the limited seats at three dinner parties she donated — for what could be our first all-Italian diet.

Saturday, October 4
In the morning I had coffee, whole-wheat toast with jam, and yogurt with blueberries and honey.

My mother lives with me, and my daughter Tanya Corrado and her family [children Lorenzo and Julia] lives down the block, so Grandma Erminia and I always cook Saturday lunch. Saturday is such a busy day for young moms with the soccer, gymnastics, haircuts, so we give her the luxury and have lunch ready. Lorenzo’s request is pan-roasted chicken with golden-brown potatoes, and Julia loves her chicken soup with pastina. We had spinach with garlic, broccoli with garlic, red cabbage, some Bastianich Tocai, and a tasting of chocolate.

When I came home from working at Felidia, I just had a baccalà sandwich. I toasted some Italian crusty bread and spread the baccalà I took out of the fridge, which warmed it to room temperature. I watched CNN and sipped a glass of Tocai Bastianich with a few almonds and had a pear.

Sunday, October 5
About 10 a.m. I just had coffee, I went to get the paper, drank some Activia, and then started prepping for this buffet for a reunion of twelve couples from my Aegean cruise hosted by Michael and Bea Tusiani in July.

For the buffet I put out octopus potato salad, shrimp and beans salad, baccalà manteccato, four kinds of string beans in a salad, braised sauerkraut with sausage, grilled lamb chops, grilled quail, grilled cevapcici (small sausage-shaped chopped meat), a mixed tossed salad, risotto with truffles, cookies, apple crostata, Concord-grape sorbet, and I had put out fresh Concord grapes so I was picking on those. We drank all family wines and grappa. They stayed until about 8 p.m. I’m right on the water. It was kind of overcast, but then the sun came out. We ended up at one long table outside watching the sunset. My brother was here as well with my sister-in-law, and we chatted at the table with some water and went off.

Monday, October 6
Monday morning I was hungry, so I had some scrambled eggs, almonds, some melon leftover from the party, coffee, and I’m sure I had some whole-wheat toast. I usually get my trainer on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 7:30 to 8:30, and then I have my breakfast and then I went in to Felidia.

I felt like having a plate of pasta, and I had the bianco e nero pasta we make with cuttlefish ink. It has a spicy cuttlefish and calamari sauce with a little bread crumbs on top; it’s nice and spicy. And a glass of Vespa. I usually drink about half a glass, not much at lunch, but I do like my wine, especially if I eat something piquant and good. And an espresso.

For dinner, I went over to Becco, and chef Billy Gallagher wanted me to taste some fall menu items because he was doing the osso bucco with farrotto, a barley risotto, and he put in the beginning of the fall vegetables, like mushrooms and squash. He was doing braised pork chops nice and spicy, with savoy cabbage. And to begin soft polenta: He puts a little olives in the polenta and tops it with a mix of braised seasonal mushrooms, simple, garlic, oil, and parsley.

Tuesday, October 7
I was kind of full. I just had a large cup of coffee because I expected this big lunch.

We had a press luncheon for Grana Padano in our private room at Felidia. I spoke about using Grana in its natural form, then in soups and pasta, and chef Fortunato Nicotra did a demo and came up with this great menu. Zuppa di scorzette, which means the soup of the rinds. I remember my mother making it and my grandmother as well. It’s very rich and full of flavor, and in it he put little disks of ravioli stuffed with Grana and egg yolk. He also made carpaccio of young Grana Padano with aged beef, mushrooms, celery, crisp speck, and basil seeds. Il Granaio, with grains of farro and grains of the cheese and shredded pears. Rolled slow-poached chicken. And a tuile of Grana with caramel crunch.

At Del Posto, I didn’t have a whole dinner. But these are all like my children. I go visit the chefs, and you encourage them. Mark Ladner, who is an American but is really cerebral: He really thinks about his things. The Dungeness crab with scallion and jalapeño we used to have with spaghetti, so he thought for the wintertime he wanted it with risotto so he wanted me to taste that. The gnudi also — like the filling of ravioli in a little ball — he usually cooked it in sage in butter, and here he wanted to bake it with a little bit of fonduta. The sunchoke crudo, just thinly sliced with truffle fonduta and walnut gremolata, chopped walnuts and lemon rind. And roast duck the way he does it is really good with all the herbs and with sweet-corn polenta. It’s a collaboration, [though] some of the dishes are strictly Mario’s, some are mine, some are Mark Ladner’s. The veal shank is strictly from the Friuli region and that’s mine. When we do the apple strudel, that reflects my style.

Wednesday, October 8
I just had a whole-wheat toast with a little jam and a cup of coffee.

For lunch I just had a salad with beans and tuna because I was expecting my friend from Italy.

Dinner at Felidia with my friend Mario Piccozzi from Italy, Erminia, Wanda, Louisa. We multiplied. My friend Verena lost her father about two months ago, and we had her mother, Anna. We ended up about ten; it was very nice. I shared with my friend Mario beet risotto with Humbolt Fog cheese on top and just a plain grilled codfish tail with salad, that’s all I had. Everyone else ate. Another three friends joined us just for dessert so it worked out nice.

Lidia Bastianich Treats Restaurants Like Her Children