2 pounds ground veal
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium onion, minced
1 carrot, minced
4 stalks celery, minced
2 tablespoons basil, chopped
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
5 1/2 cups canned tomatoes, hand crushed
1 cup red wine
1 cup water
2 cups veal stock
1/2 cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 1/2 pounds rigatoni
1 teaspoon butter
4 ounces heavy cream
1/4 cup grana Padano, grated (optional)
To make the sauce: In a large skillet, cook the ground veal by breaking it into small pieces and cooking until lightly brown. Drain the fat and set cooked veal aside.
In a large pot, add the olive oil, garlic, onion, carrot, and celery, and sauté until the vegetables are translucent in color, about 6 to 8 minutes.
Add the basil, parsley, tomatoes, red wine, ground veal, water, veal stock, and cinnamon stick. Stir until well combined with the vegetable mixture. Season with the crushed red pepper, salt, and black pepper to taste. Bring to a soft boil and let simmer, uncovered, for 30 to 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the rigatoni until al dente. When the sauce is finished cooking, stir in the butter and heavy cream, and continue to let simmer for an additional 5 to 10 minutes.
Drain the rigatoni and add the pasta to the sauce pot to finish cooking. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese. Serve immediately.
From looking through the cellophane, you can’t much tell how dried pasta will cook or
taste. It should have an even buff color, and don’t be alarmed if you see tiny black spots–
semolina is milled much more coarsely than ordinary flour, and flecks of bran usually show. A finely pitted, dull surface is far preferable to a glossy one–it suggests that the pasta was made with a bronze die and will hold sauce better.
Gauging portion sizes is always tricky. The standard portion in Italy, and the size usually recommended on packages, is two ounces.
Cook pasta in abundantly salted water at a full rolling boil so that the pasta will keep moving as it cooks and not stick together.
Add the pasta all at once. And don’t add oil to the cooking water, as it reduces the starch on the pasta’s surface. Only use oil when cooking long or large shapes, such as lasagna noodles, in order to keep them from sticking.
Always combine pasta with the sauce, and let the two cook together for a minute or so before final seasoning and serving.
A dish of dressed pasta should be flowing, not sticky or soupy. All the pieces should be separate and have a uniform texture.
Add a last touch of extra-virgin olive oil, either drizzled into the pasta and sauce as they simmer together or drizzled over the pasta on the plate. It makes a plate of pasta “smile.”
Stir in grated cheeses at the very end, after you remove the pasta and sauce from the heat and just before you plate it.
Pasta should be served hot and as soon as it’s ready. To serve, make a little pasta nest, or nido. The pasta will be more contained and will stay nice and hot.
Cooked, dry pasta should have a clean, slightly nutty flavor and, above all, a texture that stays firm until you finish eating.
Playing for Team Lidia
Late one rainy weekday evening, Lidia’s guys–that is, the chefs from the restaurants Lidia Bastianich has full or part ownership of–did something they rarely ever do: they made some food, wrangled up some beer and a few good bottles of wine, and hung out together under the auspices of some good, clean competition over a game of foosball. The location, the upstairs dining room at Felidia, is not usually home to a foosball table, but a portable one was installed just for the evening and somehow seemed a perfect fit, along with the meatball wedges and the big wheel of Grana Padano, in the elegant wood-walled space.
Being a player for Team Lidia is not unlike playing for an Italian National Soccer Team whose players also participate on a variety of other professional teams, both in Italy and around the world. While they go out and accomplish their own goals, when it comes time to play for Italia, they all return with a common objective in mind. Lidia’s guys play the same way.
The chefs straggled in, one by one, after working the dinner service in their respective kitchens. Host Chef Fortunato Nicotra busily put together several stacks of panini, some stuffed with smoked-salmon pastrami and egg-white frittata and others speck and fontina. This dish is featured on his new bar menu at Felidia. Sometime between service and heading upstairs, Dodo–as Fortunato is adoringly called by almost everyone he meets–had donned a jersey from his favorite Torino soccer team, Juventus, which a friend had made especially for him, with his name on the back.
The first to arrive is Mark Ladner, Executive Chef at Del Posto, the hip, upscale ristorante on the Hudson River. Ladner came armed with a bag of “pecorino cheese poofs” that he whipped up with a little help from his friend and molecular gastronomy chef, Wylie Dufresne, of restaurant wd-50. These “poofs,” made with something called methylcellulose, are served in Del Posto’s bar and are dangerously addictive–Dodo may have even slipped a few in his pocket. Perhaps inspired by being in Lidia’s eponymous restaurant, Ladner muses: “I don’t know if you know this, but Lidia knows more about regional Italian cuisine than anyone else out there. She is single-handedly responsible for preserving Italian cuisine in this country.” And Ladner is happy to help carry out this mission by serving incredibly polished, delicious, and timely authentic food in Del Posto. Ladner is also fortunate to be able to travel to Italy several times a year for what he calls a “self-corrective exercise,” in order to honorably represent Italy’s cuisine in his restaurant. Much of what he learns is centered on simplicity and regionalism. “Local might not always be the most fashionable,” he declares, “but it is the most relevant.”
Next to arrive is Chef William Gallagher, from Becco restaurant, a staple in the theater district for the past 15 years, serving an average 1,200 diners a night. Whereas Del Posto affords more experimentation, Becco is responsible for making exquisite northern Italian cuisine that plucks at the chords most American diners expect when eating at an Italian restaurant. Anything but cliché, Gallagher’s food is comforting and homey. He came armed with his famous meatballs, renowned among theatergoers and regulars. If asked what is in them, Gallagher simply replies “love,” with a hearty laugh.
The last to arrive is Chef David Pasternack, from Esca, who had just heard about the gettogether that afternoon, on returning from a trip, and so came empty-handed. But he made up for it with his conviviality, settling right in and joking with Gallagher, whom he has known since he was ten as they grew up together in Rockville Centre, Long Island. In fact, it was Pasternack who introduced Gallagher to Lidia’s son, Joe Bastianich. Pasternack’s menu at Esca primarily comprises seafood, and the restaurant can be credited as the first to introduce the Italian notion of crudo to New Yorkers. Pasternack stays within the bounds of Italian-inspired dishes by creating a menu that is both simple and beautiful. He is also an avid fisherman, and it is not rare for him to serve his catch at Esca, bringing fresh, local fish directly from the water to the table. This spring, Pasternack will have a fish shack in the new Mets stadium.
At the heart of it all, Lidia serves as the mentor and inspiration. She’s the common thread between all these restaurants: from the elegant Felidia and the stylish Del Posto to the family-style Becco and the sea-inspired Esca. And while these chefs and their food can be as different, or not, from one another as they choose, they are ultimately all responsible for respectfully presenting Italian cuisine in Lidia’s name–something they all take very seriously.
Executive Chef at Felidia
As one of the country’s most-beloved and well-respected chefs, surely it must be a daunting task, to say the least, to select the right person to man the kitchen of your namesake restaurant?
But Lidia Bastianich found exactly who she was looking for when she hired Fortunato Nicotra, a Piedmont-trained and Michelin-starred chef, nearly 13 years ago. Nicotra brings the same sense of adventure and appreciation for quality to his cooking at Felidia that Lidia brings to each of her endeavors around the world.
The inventive and refined palate of flavors and ingredients that Chef Nicotra employs in his dishes are his way of cooking as true to his Italian roots as possible. “I don’t really like the term ‘modern Italian cuisine,’ ” states Nicotra. “Using fresh, local ingredients is more traditional in terms of Italian cuisine than anything else. When Italians cook, they get the best and the freshest tomatoes they can–they’d never use any that came from far away or were out of season.”
Speaking of tomatoes, when in season, guests at Felidia encounter a large variety of local heirloom tomatoes on Nicotra’s menu–called out by their individual names, like Toy Box and Lemon Boy. The chicken comes fresh from Four Story Hill Farm in Pennsylvania, and Long Island fluke and tuna are used whenever possible.
Beyond what’s local, Nicotra especially enjoys using a variety of ingredients that he’s discovered since moving to New York, experimenting with items that aren’t frequently put to use in Italy. One such ingredient is peanut butter, which Nicotra has become fanatical about. He has found inventive ways to integrate it seamlessly into his dishes through such recipes as his foie gras sandwiches and the peanut-butter-and-jelly panna cotta. He has also developed quite a taste for corn, which is usually found in Italy only in polenta, and it is used in a variety of Felidia’s menu items. During the fall and winter months, Nicotra loves cooking with American-style squashes like the acorn, butternut, and hubbard varieties, which have never been readily available in Italy.
And while he’s happy to use whatever can be found close at hand, there are still a few staples that Nicotra has sent from Italy–like the big, cylindrical wheels of Grana Padano cheese, melt-in-your-mouth burrata, and aged Balsamic vinegar. His guests seem pretty content to have a taste of the old world, too.
A Love for Panini Fortunato features several Italian-style panini on his lunch and bar menus,
including the focaccia with speck and taleggio and the Felidia favorite:
the smoked salmon, egg-white frittata, and robiola sandwich.
A Love for Panini Fortunato features several Italian-style panini on his lunch and bar menus, including the focaccia with speck and taleggio and the Felidia favorite:
the smoked salmon, egg-white frittata, and robiola sandwich.
Smoked Salmon, Egg-White Frittata, and Robiola Sandwich
Makes 4 Small Panini
frittata INGREDIENTS :
2 egg whites
3 tablespoons chives, chopped
2 scallions, chopped fine
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil sandwich INGREDIENTS :
2 slices of whole wheat bread
1 tablespoon soft robiola cheese
2 slices of good quality smoked salmon
2 slices of tomatoes plus a few arugula leaves for garnish
Whisk the egg whites, chives, and scallions until blended together.
Salt to taste.
Whisk the egg whites, chives, and
scallions until blended together.
Salt to taste.
Heat the oil in a small frying pan
until it just starts to sizzle, then pour
in the egg-white mixture and turn the
heat down very low. Cook gently
for approximately 2 minutes. Lift a
corner of the frittata with a spatula
and check to see if the bottom has
started to brown. When it has, flip
the frittata over by giving the pan a firm, quick shake up and over
toward you so that it dislodges and
flips over in one piece. (Or you can
turn it over gently with a spatula.)
Cook the second side for 1 1/2 to 2
minutes, again checking to see if the
bottom has browned to your liking.
Slide the frittata out of the pan and
onto a plate.
Meanwhile, toast the bread in a
panini press or nonstick pan. Spread
the robiola onto one toasted slice,
then add the smoked salmon, frittata,
tomatoes, and arugula. Top with
the second slice of toasted bread,
press down firmly, and cut into four
triangles and serve
On a drive through Italy’s Trentino-Alto Adige region, Lidia spotted a couple sitting on a park bench. She asked Mario to turn around and head back toward them. After chatting with them for a bit, Lidia and Mario learned that the couple had been out for a little walk, and had stopped to sit and listen to the birds.
One morning this past summer, Lidia Bastianich looked out into her garden and was struck by the diversity of the vibrant red, yellow, orange, and green tomatoes that were practically begging to be picked. Harvesting a good quantity of them, she brought them into her kitchen and set to work. But rather than using a knife and whipping up some tremendous dish, she hauled out her camera, arranged the tomatoes in various still-life poses, and photographed their splendor. Still not yet ready to devour them, Lidia sliced up a few of the tomato beauties and photographed them in their new form. She added a bit of sea salt to the shot, then a wedge of purple onion, and finally a bottle of Bastianich Rosato–which, as she will tell you, was not meant as a marketing ploy but just happened to look nice with the red fruit.
The very definition of an overachiever, Lidia is a supremely multifaceted woman who manages to straddle the roles of chef, entrepreneur, television star, tour guide, mother, grandmother, cookbook author, and educator, without missing a step. And if that’s not enough, she’s recently added yet another title to her repertoire: photographer.
“Photography is my way of capturing a moment,” Lidia says. “When I’m taken by something, I go for my camera.” This medium has become a way for Lidia to communicate her take on what she encounters in both her travels and her daily life, and it’s almost strictly focused on the subject of food. Her photographs evoke a sense of place and person with a timeless quality–as though these moments are firmly set and can be easily revisited. The cherries are always ripe, the pasta shells always perfectly formed by wrinkled hands, and the Umbrian potter remains in pose, making his rustic pots.
Capturing characters that she encounters along her way, from shepherds to zucchini farmers, Lidia is incredibly fascinated by food people, focusing on their hands. “Their hands speak of food,” she explains. “I see what they do. Hands almost seem to give a profile of a person; they have a lot to say.”