A Feast of 175 Regional Recipes
A cookbook can be just a list of ingredients and ways to prepare them, or it can be a much richer experience, an exploration of tastes and textures that can make our mouths water. Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, who is well known for her wonderful Italian cooking and sharing that knowledge on her public television show, has a new cookbook! And Lidia's newest cookbook, Lidia Cooks From The Heart of Italy, is the kind of cookbook that is not only a feast for the taste buds, but a feast for the heart as well. Lidia invites us along to explore little-known parts of Italy and the wonderful foods and recipes that come from them. The recipes are divided by the region of Italy they are from, such as Lombardy, Liguria, & Umbria, and Lidia introduces us to each region with the people and flavors that are rooted there. She writes snippets of history, such as how Apples have been a major product of Va id Non since the Middle Ages and how an 1856 nursery list listed 193 apple varieties and now there are over 8000! And at the end of each chapter Lidia gives us further places to explore in the region we are cooking in, such as the wonderfully romantic city of Sirmione in the region of Lombardy, or the antique shops in the Navigli quarter of Milan. Her passion for cooking is infectious, even in the the way she describes the food , " Just a small amount of saffron can imbue extra-virgin olive oil with the spice's captivating perfume and distinctive flavor", the recipes are easy to understand with thorough directions, even down to the recommended equipment to prepare it with, and with 175 recipes there is plenty of great cooking for everyone! Definitely a nice variety of recipes. Everything I have made from Lidia Cooks From The Heart of Italy has been delicious! And with permission from the publisher, Alfred A Knopf, I am able to share one of the recipes from Lidia's new cookbook that was a BIG hit in my house! Baked Penne & Mushrooms! I've also included Lidia's intro to the recipe. Here it is... (along with a couple photos of my cooking)
Baked Penne & Mushrooms (Pasticcio di Penne alla Valdostana) ©Lidia cooks from the Heart of Italy (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009)
The marvelous melting qualities of authentic fontina are particularly evident in baked pasta dishes such as this delicious pasticcio. When it is in the oven with penne (or other tubular or concave pastas, like ziti, rigatoni, or shells), the molten cheese oozes around each peice of pasta and is caught in all of its nooks and crannies. The cheese on top of the pasticcio melts and then becomes crusty and carmelized.
Recommended Equipment: A large pot for cooking the penne; a heavy-bottomed skillet or saute pan, 12 inch diameter or larger; a 3 quart baking dish, 9 x 13 inches, of shallow casserole of similar size.
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces fontina from Valle d’Aosta (or Italian Fontal)
1 cup freshly grated Granda Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano - plus more for passing
4 tablespoons soft butter
1 pound mixed fresh mushrooms - (such as porcini, shiitake, cremini, and common white mushrooms) cleaned and sliced.
1 cup half and half
1 pound penne
1 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400 degrees. Fill the pasta pot with 6 quarts of water, add Tablespoon salt, and heat to a boil. Shred the fontina through the larger holes of a hand grater, and toss the shreds with 1/2 cup of the grana (grated parmigiano-reggiano).
Put 3 Tablespoons of the butter in the big skillet, and set it over med.-high heat.When the butter begins to bubble, drop in the mushroom slices, stir with the butter, season with 1 teaspoon salt, and spread the mushrooms out to cover the pan bottom. Let the mushrooms heat, without stirring, until they release their liquid and it comes to a boil. Cook the mushrooms, stirring occaionally,as they shrivel and the liquid rapidly evaporates. When the skillet bottom is completely dry, sitr the half and half into the mushrooms, and continue stirring as the sauce comes to a boil. Cook it rapidly for a minute or two to thicken slightly, then keep it warm over very low heat.
Meanwhile, stir the penne into the boiling pasta water and cook until barely al dente. Ladle a cup of the pasta cooking water into the mushroom sauce and stir. Drain the pasta briefly, and drop into the cream and mushroom sauce. Toss the penne until all are nicely coated, then sprinkle over them the remaining 1/2 cup of grana (not mixed with fontina) and the chopped parsley. Toss to blend.
Coat the bottom and sides of the baking dish (13 x 9 or 3 quart) with the last tablespoon of butter. Empty the skillet into the dish, spreading the penne and sauce to fill the dish completely in a uniform layer. Smooth the top, sprinkle the mixed fontina-grana evenly all over.
Set the dish in the oven, and bake 20 - 25 minutes, until the cheese topping is crusty and deep golden brown and the sauce is bubbling up at the edges. Set the hot baking dish on a trivet at the table, and serve family-style. ©Lidia cooks from the Heart of Italy (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009)
This is a great cookbook! If you make this recipe, let me know what you think! Learn more about Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, her tv show, recipes and books at Lidia's website Lidia's Italy. In the meantime enjoy her recipe! Thank you to Caitlin of FSB Associates and Alfred A. Knopf for a copy of Lydia Cooks From The Heart of Italy to review!