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Recipe of the day: Bastianich reflects on Italy

September 22, 2009|by MICHELE KAYAL

Think of "Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy" as part cookbook, part travel memoir.

The newest volume from America's godmother of Italian cooking, Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, captures the intense regionality of the cuisine and the distinct land and seascapes that inspire it.

The book is organized by region. In each of its 12 chapters, Bastianich reflects lovingly on her experiences, bringing to life the clusters of pink, yellow and blue houses that enthralled her as a child zipping along the Ligurian coast by train, and the taste of thumbnail-sized clams prepared by an aunt in Le Marche.

Each chapter ends with advice and observations from the author's daughter, Tanya, who leads tours to Italy.

In 175 recipes that range from easy to involved, the book offers a comprehensive survey of real Italian food. Which means it includes all the expected staples: veal scaloppini, spaghetti with clam sauce, several varieties of risotto, osso bucco, tomato sauce.

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The Tagilatelle with Walnut Pesto from Emilia-Romagna is surprisingly light despite its load of ricotta and roasted nuts. The dish's subtlety could be nicely offset by a peppery salad of arugula, tomatoes and raisins dressed in walnut oil and red wine vinegar.

The Fish Soup from Basilicata bathes firm white fish in white wine, pepperoncini and herbs. A splash of vinegar gives it just the right kick, and a piece of thick white toast in the bottom of the bowl soaks up the flavorful broth. One tip: It's even better the next day.

Many dishes call for homemade pasta, and the recipes are offered. But high-quality fresh pasta from the supermarket makes a good stand-in for those without the time or machinery to make their own.

So if you weren't able to visit Italy this summer, this new book and the public television series it's meant to accompany can help make you a dining room chair traveler.




Also worth considering:

- The cooking that comes from Italy's boot isn't all pizza and pasta. Arthur Schwartz's "The Southern Italian Table" brings a folksy style and clear passion to recipes for the region's well known tomato sauce, pork ragu and, yes, Neapolitan pizza. But he also offers lesser-known fare like Orange and Onion Salad with Olives from Sicily and Lentil Soup with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe from Campania. Of course, tasty-sounding seafood recipes abound, as well as the occasional twist: Enna's Ground Pork Ragu with Chocolate, apparently inspired by Mexico via Spain.

- "Encyclopedia of Pasta" is a quirky little tome intended for anyone who needs to know absolutely everything about absolutely every kind of pasta. Published by the University of California, author Oretta Zanini De Vita offers an academic look at the history, ingredients and uses of traditional Italian pasta according to its shape: long, short, layered, rolled, stretched, stuffed.

- "The Silver Spoon Book of Pasta" features 350 recipes from Italian cooking Bible "The Silver Spoon," along with new recipes published in English for the first time. Organized according to type (dried, fresh) and shape (long, short) of pasta, dishes like Bucatini with Fennel (plus raisins, pine nuts and saffron), Elbow Macaroni with Pumpkin and Radicchio, and Bigoli with Sea Urchins promise meals as tasty and unusual as your palate can handle. There's just enough history and cultural observation to feed your mind as well as your belly without overloading either.




BOOKS:

Lidia Matticchio Bastianich's "Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy," Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.

Arthur Schwartz's "The Southern Italian Table," Clarkson Potter, 2009.

Oretta Zanini De Vita's "Encyclopedia of Pasta," University of California Press, 2009.

"The Silver Spoon Book of Pasta," Phaidon Press, 2009.




SHEPHERD'S RIGATONI



Start to finish: 20 minutes

Servings: 6

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon pepperoncini or red pepper flakes
1 pound sweet Italian sausage (without fennel seeds), casings removed
1 pound rigatoni pasta
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups fresh whole-milk ricotta (about 2 pounds), drained overnight
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (preferably Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano)
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil, shredded

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high, heat the olive oil. Add the red pepper flakes and let them toast for several seconds. Crumble the sausage into the skillet, breaking it into small clumps.

Cook the sausage, breaking up any clumps, until well browned and crispy, about 10 minutes.

While the sausage cooks, add the pasta to the boiling water.

When the sausage is browned and crisp, ladle about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water into the skillet to deglaze the pan. Be sure to stir the sausage and scrape up any bits off the bottom of the pan. Stir in the salt.

When the pasta is al dente, drain it then add to the skillet. Toss the pasta and sausage, then remove from the heat and stir in the ricotta and Parmesan cheeses. Scatter the basil on top, then toss well.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 659 calories; 274 calories from fat; 30 g fat (12 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 72 mg cholesterol; 59 g carbohydrate; 35 g protein; 1 g fiber; 827 mg sodium.

(Recipe from Lidia Matticchio Bastianich's "Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy," Alfred A. Knopf, 2009)

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