Many of Lidia Bastianich’s best culinary creations begin with two words: “Company’s coming!”
The Emmy Award-winning public television host, restaurateur and best-selling cookbook author has a flair for entertaining guests that runs the gamut from extravagant to simple – from a formal sit-down dinner or a holiday gathering, to a buffet, barbecue or football game watch party with an array of hors d’oeuvres that exceeds “chips and dip” expectations.
“Some of the best times are spent at the table with family and friends, and there is always room for a celebration of that, whether it’s an official party or just a regular Saturday afternoon,” she says.
Or a Tuesday evening, which is when Bastianich invites fellow foodies to join her Oct. 24 at her Lidia’s Pittsburgh restaurant for a launch party of her latest cookbook, “Celebrate Like An Italian” (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, $35), written with her daughter, Tanya Bastianich Manuali.
The event will include a book-signing and four-course dinner featuring some of the cookbook’s 220 dishes that she says are foolproof recipes that make every meal a party.
“Most cooks have difficulties cooking for a large group, so in this book, I give them recipes that are ideal for the different parties or events, and I tell them how to plan the party and the food,” Bastianich says. “I am hoping this book makes it easy and enjoyable to entertain.”
Her “Celebrate Like An Italian” dinner will feature recipes selected by Bastianich and Lidia’s Pittsburgh executive chef Daniel Walker and his culinary team, paired with wines from her vineyards and coffee and tea service.
The four courses include:
Antipasti, served family style: Crostata with Wild Mushroom and Onion, Caesar Salad with Baby Kale and Focaccia Croutons, Prosciutto with Spicy Giardiniera, Italian Deviled Eggs and Montasio Frico with Shrimp and Scallions;
Pasta: Pear and Pecorino Ravioli with Cacio e Pepe Sauce and Pappardelle with Beef Guazzetto;
Secondi, choose one: Mixed Seafood Brodetto, Heritage Pork Shank with Barley Risotto, Lemon Chicken with Sautéed Spinach or Portobellos Stuffed with Quinoa, Kale and Goat Cheese, and
Dolci, served family style: Chocolate Ricotta Cheesecake, Coffee Panna Cotta, Fig and Hazelnut Cookies.
With the holiday season just around the corner, Bastianich advises home cooks to wisely prepare ahead of time, and plan on having prepared foods in the freezer, such as stock, soups, sauces and basic sponge cake, foods that can be defrosted and turned into one course during a meal.
She also recommends planning a meal so that not everything is cooked on the stovetop or in the oven, but divided to include some cold salads, some vegetables in the oven, and other items on the stovetop, always striving to time the hot dishes so everything comes out hot together.
“I also personally like baked pasta because it can be prepared the day prior and then put in the oven, alleviating some of the work the day of the event,” she says. “I also prep my vegetables prior and choose the serving platters and utensils I will need in advance, so I am ready to go with everything at hand while cooking.”
A cold appetizer platter set out buffet-style allows the cook to be part of the party.
“The cook can mingle for a bit with a glass of Prosecco while people are enjoying the appetizers, and then head back into the kitchen to move the meal along,” she says.
Get-togethers and celebrations are always fun times at her house, particularly during the holidays.
“We especially love Thanksgiving because we celebrate an American holiday with mostly Italian food,” she says. “We make the turkey a bit Italian by glazing it with balsamic vinegar and everyone has a dish they bring.”
“Celebrate Like an Italian” is the seventh book she has co-authored with Tanya.
Bastianich’s next book, her memoir titled “My American Dream: A Life of Love, Family and Food,” is due for release in spring 2018.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.
Bruschetta with Prosciuttoand Figs
If you have any leftover balsamic reduction, it is good drizzled over cooked vegetables or chunks of Grana Padano. Makes 6.
1 cup balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1 fresh bay leaf
6 thick slices country bread, grilled or toasted on both sides, still warm
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
6 ripe figs, thickly sliced
12 thin slices prosciutto
Combine the vinegar, honey, and bay leaf in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, and cook until thick and syrupy and reduced to 1⁄3 cup, about 5 to 6 minutes. Let cool. Discard bay leaf.
Drizzle the warm bread with olive oil, and season with salt. Lay the fig slices over the bread. Drape the prosciutto over the figs. Drizzle with balsamic reduction. Serve.
Beef and Arugula Bruschetta
For an elegant starter, make this with thinly sliced beef tenderloin and your own homemade giardiniera (Italian relish). For a super-quick version, use sliced rare roast beef and giardiniera from a good deli.
Makes 16, serving 8 as a first course, more as part of an antipasto buffet
16 ½-inch-thick slices hearty country bread
2 cups drained giardiniera, plus 2 tablespoons of the brine
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups loosely packed baby arugula, coarsely chopped
Kosher salt, to taste
1 pound beef tenderloin, cooked rare to medium, thinly sliced (or 1 pound thinly sliced rare roast beef from the deli)
Lightly toast or grill the bread on both sides. In a large bowl, toss together the giardiniera, brine and olive oil. Add the arugula and toss gently. Taste, and season with salt if necessary. Layer the beef on the bread. Top with the giardiniera mixture, and drizzle with any juices left in the bowl. Serve immediately.
Cannellini and Pancetta Bruschetta
The beans can be made a day ahead; just warm them up before serving. This recipe might give more beans than you need, but they will keep for several days and also freeze well. Stir them into soup, or serve as a side dish next to a big grilled steak. In a pinch, canned cannellini can be used. Drain them and sauté them with the oil and parsley for a few minutes, until warm.
1 pound dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 large stalk celery, finely chopped
2 fresh bay leaves
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
16 thin slices pancetta
16 slices country bread, about 3 inches long each, grilled or toasted
Drain the soaked cannellini, and put in a pot with water to cover by 2 inches. Add the carrot, celery, bay leaves, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.
Cover, bring to a simmer, and cook until the beans are tender, about 1 hour.
Uncover the beans, and simmer to reduce the cooking liquid down so it just covers the beans, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, season with the salt, and let cool until just warm. Drain the beans, and toss with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and the parsley.
Meanwhile, lay the pancetta in a nonstick skillet (you may have to do this in batches), and cook over medium heat until crisp.
Drain on paper towels.
To serve, mound some of the warm beans on the bread slices on a platter. Drizzle with a little more olive oil. Break the pancetta into shards, and set them on top of the beans.
Crostata with Kale, Butternut Squash and Ricotta
You can make this crostata, or tart, earlier in the day and serve at room temperature.
It makes for a lovely first course or lunch with a side of dressed greens—and is just as good cut into bite-sized squares as part of a buffet. You can wrap leftovers in foil and freeze them; thaw and reheat before serving.
Serves 10 to 12 as a first course, more as an hors d’oeuvre
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Unsalted butter, softened, for the sheet pan
1 pound peeled butternut squash, grated on the coarse holes of a box grater
½ cup Arborio or other short-grain rice
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for cooking water
1 bunch kale, stemmed and chopped (about 8 cups)
1½ pounds fresh ricotta (about 2½ cups)
2 cups grated Grana Padano
2 bunches scallions, white and green parts, chopped (about 2 cups)
3 large eggs, beaten
1 ½ cups milk
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup golden raisins (optional)
For the dough, in a food processor, combine the flour and salt and pulse to mix. In a spouted measuring cup, whisk together the olive oil and 1⁄3 cup cold water. With the machine running, pour in the liquids and process until a soft dough forms on the blade, about 30 seconds. If the dough is still crumbly, add a bit more water. If it is too wet, add a bit more flour. Dump the dough on a floured countertop, and knead until it just comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap, and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes (or refrigerate, if making a day ahead).
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a rimmed half-sheet pan. For the filling, in a large bowl, stir together the grated squash and rice and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour, so the rice absorbs some of the liquid from the squash.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and add the kale. Simmer until just tender, about 10 minutes. Rinse, drain, cool and squeeze very dry and finely chop the kale.
Add to the bowl, along with the ricotta, grated cheese, scallions, eggs, milk, cream, raisins (if using) and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix well.
On a floured work surface, roll the dough to a rectangle 2 inches longer and wider than the sheet pan. Center the dough in the pan and press to fit. Pour and spread the filling into the crust, and fold the edges of the crust back over to create the sides of the crostata. Bake until the crust is deep golden brown and the filling is set, about 50 minutes. Cool on a rack before cutting into squares.
Fig and Hazelnut Butter Cookies
These cookies can be made a day ahead. Store them in an airtight container between layers of parchment so they don’t stick together. You can play around with combinations of jam and nuts for the filling, as you like.
Makes about 48
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1⁄3 cup fig preserves
1⁄3 cup coarsely chopped toasted skinned hazelnuts
Sift the flour and salt together. Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until very pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes, then beat in the egg and vanilla extract. At low speed, mix in the flour mixture until a dough forms. Wrap dough in plastic, and chill until firm, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees with racks in the top and bottom thirds. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Pinch off heaping-teaspoon-sized pieces of dough and roll them into balls. Place balls on the prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart, and flatten them slightly with the palm of your hand. Bake them until they are puffed but not browned, about 8 minutes.
Remove baking sheets from oven, and carefully make a small crater in the middle of each cookie, using a teaspoon-sized measuring spoon.
Fill each crater with 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 teaspoon preserves, and sprinkle some chopped hazelnuts into the preserves.
Finish baking the cookies until they are golden brown on the bottom and edges, about 8 minutes more. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer them to racks and cool completely.
Store in airtight containers at room temperature.
Recipes from “Lidia’s Celebrate Like An Italian” (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)