Lidia Bastianich is one of my very favorite chefs. With many years of being cable-free, I realized what a goldmine KLRU, the local PBS station, is. Antiques Roadshow! NOVA! Doctor Who! And, of course, Lidia’s Italy! I came to love Lidia, and her totally unfussy way of cooking. She cooks like a normal person — with food full of love and flavor.
I was beyond excited to learn that Lidia was coming to Austin on November 30. BookPeople is hosting her across the street at Whole Foods Market at 6:30 PM that day, for a signing of her brand new cookbook, Lidia’s Italy in America. This cookbook is a look at Italian American cooking today, and I couldn’t wait to try some recipes of my own.
I decided to try out the Macaroni and Cheese, and the Pizza Margherita. With a four year-old in the house, I knew these recipes would please even the pickiest of palates. Plus, MAC ‘N CHEESE! Who says no to that?!
The Macaroni recipe starts off with cheese. A lot of it. Lidia uses a mixture of fontina and cheddar, with parmesan added in later as well. Then, soak the cheese in milk for about an hour so it starts to break down. The cheese soak even allowed us to take a quick trip to the playground, so that’s a win right there!
The sauce was totally easy. Once you put it over heat, Lidia has you whisk in sage leaves. Oh man, that is so genius. The whole dish ends up getting that herbal infusion. You could probably use any fresh herb you wanted there. My husband and I also thought we would try recreating this dish with hatch chiles at some point as well — hey, this is Austin!
With my sauce getting all saucy, I drained my noodles and then combined them both. Transfer all that to a baking dish, with breadcrumbs all over the top, and into the oven until brown and bubbly. The kitchen smelled AWESOME, and my son was sitting at the table waiting for the macaroni the entire 20 minutes it baked.
And, as you can see, it was a big hit.
That evening, we decided to try out Lidia’s Margherita Pizza. I’ve made pizza dough before, and it is always kind of a crazy mess. This time was no different – although through NO FAULT of Lidia’s! My yeast, a crucial dough ingredient, was apparently no longer alive. Meaning that there was no rising of the dough. Sigh. With dinner time fast approaching, I decided against a run to the store to grab some new, alive, yeast and went ahead with this non-rising dough, knowing it wouldn’t be as good as it should be. But there were hungry people in this house, so I just went with the flow.
Putting the dough together was actually really easy. It (should) take you at least 2 hours to get the dough to sit and rise once you’ve blended and kneaded it all together. Of course, if your yeast is dead, sitting for the 2 hours doesn’t really do that much, but oh well.
I then rolled out the dough and got to work on the toppings. I used marinara sauce and some fresh mozzarella dotted all over the top. With the addition of some basil that I had, and a drizzle of olive oil, this puppy was ready for the oven.
I think my favorite thing about this recipe was Lidia’s kitchen advice. One of the crazy parts for me when making homemade pizza had always been getting the correct crispiness, even though I used a pizza stone. Plus, transferring the dough onto the pizza stone was always a disaster, needing like 3 people to help complete the transfer without totally losing the pizza. But Lidia set me straight on this: put your pizza stone in the oven for the pre-heat, which will ensure you a crispy crust. Then, just roll out your dough on parchment paper, transferring all of that to the pizza stone. Well, DUH! I can’t believe I never figured that out before, but it sure made all the difference.
Once the cheese was bubbly and the crust was golden, I took the pizza out and we all started digging in. With my dead yeast debacle, the crust was not airy like it should have been. But, the flavor was good and Lidia’s advice had made it super crispy. The toppings were great, and I may have accidentally eaten 3 pieces. Oops.
All in all, I loved my little foray into Lidia’s cookbook, and can’t wait to meet her on Nov. 30!