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Chef Lidia Bastianich Shares Her Thanksgiving Traditions

Felidia Executive Chef Fortunato Nicotra with Lidia Bastianich [Jennifer May]

Renowned chef Lidia Bastianich is a native of Italy, but when it comes to making Thanksgiving dinner her menu is pretty close to all-American.

“Thanksgiving in an American holiday. My children were born American. It’s their and my holiday. It’s a way of us being really American,” Bastianich said.

Thanksgiving Day, Bastianich prepares a traditional feast with a few twists. She glazes her turkey with a little balsamic vinegar.

It “gives a nice mahogany coat,” Bastianich said.

For the stuffing, she likes to use chestnuts and rosemary. But her dinner includes some Italian favorites, like antipasto and capon soup.  

“Every holiday we need to have a little capon soup, but otherwise the main is going to be American style,” Bastianich said.

 Lidia Matticchio Bastianich [Diana DeLucia]

The traditional Thanksgiving plate is loaded with several different types of food, all eaten at the same time, which runs counter to the Italian approach of dining in courses. Bastianich said there are reasons that foods are eaten separately at an Italian table.

“I think it is a philosophy of appreciating and staying at the table and the social element of dining. I think also one would say of the Mediterranean diet, it's also how you eat that makes a difference. You have a beautiful, diverse antipasto, which Italians have, with prosciutto and capicola, three or four different cheeses, maybe some pickled vegetables. You have a little bit that begins a stimulus because those are  intense flavors,” Bastianich said.

Antipasto is followed by the primo course, which is usually pasta and then the main course of meat or fish is served with a large helping of vegetables. Salad is eaten at the end of the meal, either with the meat course or separately after that course is finished, which is said to aid in digestion.

While it might sound like a lot of food, portion sizes in Italy are smaller.

“Italians don’t eat mounds of pasta, just ‘due forchette’ (two forkfuls). We eat a whole, main course of pasta at lunch with salad, that’s acceptable, but in the course of a meal, it is less. If you look at the ratio on an Italian plate, it's one third protein and two thirds vegetables versus in America where it’s two thirds proteins. Eating it slowly within a meal, it helps the digestion, but it also gratifies you. So by the time you're finished, you eat less,” Bastianich said.

"Felidia" restaurant [Alfred A. Knopf]

In the foreword of “Felidia,” Bastianich recounts the numerous problems her family encountered in opening the restaurant. She also describes how she incorporated dishes onto the menus of restaurants from her childhood growing up in rural Pula, Istria, which was part of Italy but now belongs to Croatia. Bastianich said those dishes were driven by what was in season at the time, a concept she fears is being lost.

“In Italy, I recall the excitement of what they call, ‘la primizia,’ which means ‘the first of,’ the first asparagus, the first broccoli di rabe, the first cherries.  When there is no more, there is no more. Now we fly across the continents to bring the food because we want it, and you know maybe we should revisit that,” Bastianich said.

In 1998, Bastianich hosted “Lidia’s Italian Table” which was her first series for PBS. Since then, she has been a staple on the network, hosting both series’ and specials.  Bastianich’s long-running show, “Lidia’s Kitchen,” airs Saturdays at 1:00 p.m. on WVIZ-PBS.

Unlike many of today’s cooking shows, which are often built around travel and competition among chefs, Bastianich continues to spends her time demonstrating the art of cooking.

“That's what they expect out of me, and that's what I promised them. I think that if they give a half an hour or one hour of their time, that they need to take something away from it. That's what PBS is all about. You give information. People benefit in some way from watching the shows. Hopefully, watching me, they can go to their stove and come up with a meal,” Bastianich said.

 

[Alfred A. Knopf] 

Bastianich recently launched a new cookbook, “Felidia,” with recipes that have been showcased at her flagship restaurant of the same name. 

Listen to Bastianich’s full conversation with ideastream’s Dan Polletta.

 

Lidia Bastianich, ideastream's Dan Polletta [Dave DeOreo/ideastream]

Bastianich hosts “Lidia Celebrates America: Return of the Artisans” December 20 at 9 p.m. on WVIZ-PBS.