In 2011, Gourmet released their list of the 50 Women Game Changers in Food. I stumbled on this entirely by accident. One week a couple of months ago, I was meal planning, and didn’t have access to my Ina Garten cookbooks. So, I googled the recipe I was looking for and found it on a blog that was making its way through the list (she’s number 39… I’m a little disgruntled that Rachael Ray is higher up than she is). I was inspired to do the same. I need to challenge myself more in the kitchen, and I thought this would be an excellent way to do so. As I’ve been planning for this, I’ve been flipping through cookbooks, checking out websites and buying new equipment, and I’m excited. I’m also really looking forward to learning more about these game changing women, and introducing myself to recipes I’ve never cooked before.
(And since this entire year-long project will be all recipes I’ve never made before, I can’t promise that everything will turn out the way I want it to. But whether a dish is a winner or an epic fail, I’m going to be completely honest about it.)
Lidia Bastianich is number 12.
Lidia Matticchio was born in Pula, Croatia (at the time it was Italy) in 1947. After nine years of living under Tito’s communist regime, the family escaped to Trieste, Italy in 1956. While her parents were able to find good jobs in Trieste, they lived on a refugee camp, that had previously been a Nazi concentration camp. They remained on the camp for two years, until their displaced persons application was approved, and they were allowed to immigrate to the United States. They moved to New York, and built a life there.
At the age of 14, Lidia started working in the food industry. First, in a bakery, and then in local Italian restaurants. When she was 16, she met her future husband, Felice Bastianich, a fellow immigrant. They married in 1966, and had two children: Joseph & Tanya. In 1971, the couple opened their first restaurant, Buonavia, and after Tanya’s birth, Lidia began training with the chef they had hired and learned to cook some of the more popular dishes on her own. Soon after, they opened a second restaurant, Villa Secondo. However, following her father’s death in 1981, they sold both restaurants and opened up what would become their flagship restaurant – Felidia. The restaurant opened to rave reviews. They continued to open more restaurants over the years, even expanding outside of New York to Pittsburgh & Kansas City. Lidia and Felice divorced in 1997, and he sold his shares of the business to their children. The business continued to be a family endeavor, and in 2010, Lidia and Joseph collaborated with Mario Batali and opened Eataly, a “50,000-square-foot food emporium in Manhattan that is devoted to the food and culinary traditions of Italy”.
Along with her restaurants, Lidia has also authored 13 books and has hosted a television show on PBS.
From Lidia’s book, Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen, I chose to make her recipe for gnocchi. And since I promised to be completely honest, I was not happy with the way that these turned out. This was my first time ever making gnocchi, and the directions were frustrating. They mentioned to add flour in until the dough felt workable. Having never made gnocchi before, I had no idea how it was supposed to feel. So, I added it till it felt workable, and cooked a few, and it tasted watery and gross. So, I added more flour. And more. And more. And finally it tasted kind of like gnocchi.
The other problem I had with this recipe was the cooking time. It said to cook each batch for 2-3 minutes, or until they floated to the top. The first batch, I let cook for three minutes, and they turned out sad, deflated, and once again, watery. So, I kept a closer eye on the next batch, and as soon as they rose to the top, we pulled them out, typically around one minute. (I keep saying “I” and “we”, but if I’m being honest, it was all Graham was doing the cooking. I was getting really, really frustrated and just wanted to throw the whole mess away. So, he was boiling them, and I kept rolling and cutting them.)
They were a lot better once I sauteed them, tossed them with pesto and some shredded mozzarella. But I doubt I’ll ever make this again. Even though I felt like I had figured it out by the very end, it was a lot of work, and a huge mess. I will happily stick with the packaged stuff from Trader Joe’s in the future.
(Original recipe can be found here.)
- 6 large Idaho or russet potatoes
- 1 teaspoon salt (plus more for water)
- dash of freshly ground pepper
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- Boil the potatoes in their skins about 40 minutes, until easily pierced with a skewer. When cool enough to handle, peel and rice the potatoes, and set them aside to cool completely, spreading them loosely to expose as much surface as possible to air.
- Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil, adding a good bit of salt once boiling. On a cool work surface, gather the cold potatoes into a mound, forming a well in the center. Stir the salt and pepper into the beaten eggs, and pour the mixture into the well. Work the potatoes and eggs together with both hands, gradually adding 3 cups of the flour and scraping the dough up from the work surface often as necessary. (Incorporation of the ingredients should take no longer than 10 minutes – the longer you work it, the more flour it will require and the heavier it will become).
- Dust the dough, your hands, and the work surface lightly with flour and cut the dough into six equal parts. (Continue to dust as long as the dough feel sticky.) Using both hands, roll each piece of dough into a rope ½” thick, then slice the ropes at ½” intervals. Indent each dumpling with a thumb, or use the tines of a fork to produce a ribbed effect. (This helps the sauce stick to the gnocchi).
- Drop the gnocchi into boiling water a few at a time, stirring gently and continuously with a wooden spoon, and cook for 2-3 minutes, until they float up to the surface. Remove the gnocchi from the water with a slotted spoon or skimmer, transfer them to a warm plate.