Cooking with Lidia

I got a new cook book the other day - Lidia Cooks From The Hearty Of Italy by Lidia Bastianich.

When we donated  those hundreds of cook books a few years ago, I thought that I would finally break the habit of getting more and more.  And more.

Let us just say that I have gotten better.

I no longer buy them just for the sake of buying then and I no longer subscribe to the yearly updates and annuals that I did for years and years.  But when Lidia comes out with a new book...  I eventually have to buy it.

I like her cooking.  I like her recipes.  I like the way she puts food together.  She may just be my favorite cook. (Actually, James Beard is my all-time most-favorite favorite cook, but Lidia is my most favorite Italian cook.)  But I digress...

So... armed with Lidia's latest, I went to work.

I started with two different recipes tonight - one for fish and one for rice.

The fish was wildly lemony and just a bit spicy.  The rice and lentils were rich, creamy, and difficult to stop eating!

Both were extremely simple to put together and dinner was done in less than an hour.

Since I can't type for beans, this recipe is verbatim from  The James Beard Foundation website.

Baked Fish with Savory Bread Crumbs

Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy
“Landlocked Umbria does not have a seafood cuisine,” writes Lidia Matticchio Bastianich in Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy. “But its mountain lakes, rivers, and streams abound in freshwater fish, such as the tasty tench. This simple preparation is one I found in Umbria, and it is excellent for fillets of our sweet-water varieties, such as carp or whitefish, or even light ocean-fish fillets like sole.”
Yield:Serves 6


  • 2 pounds whitefish fillets
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of a large lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 6 plump garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
  • 1/2 cup fine dry bread crumbs
  • Zest of a large lemon (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste, chopped fine
  • Fresh lemon slices, for serving

Lightly salt the fish on both sides, using about 1/4 teaspoon salt in all. Pour 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, the lemon juice, white wine, and another 1/4 teaspoon salt into the baking dish, and whisk together well. Drop in the garlic cloves, and stir with the dressing. Lay the fillets in the dish, turn and swish them in the dressing so both sides are thoroughly moistened, and arrange them, skin side down, in one layer.

Toss the bread crumbs in a bowl with the lemon zest, parsley, oregano, chopped peperoncino, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Drizzle with the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, and toss the crumbs well until evenly moistened with oil.

Spoon the seasoned bread crumbs on top of the fillets in a light, even layer. Bake, uncovered, until the crumbs are crisp and golden and the fish is cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Lift the fish out with a spatula, and set on a warm platter to serve family-style, or on individual plates. Spoon it the juices left in the baking dish, and serve right away, with lemon slices on the side.

Recipe Notes:
Recommended equipment: a 4-quart shallow rectangular baking dish; a heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan, 12-inch diameter or larger, with a cover

And the rice and lentils...  These were soooo creamy and good.  I made half the recipe and it was still enough for six people.

Rice and Lentils

Lidia writes: "Lentils and rice are one of my favorite combinations.  I fondly recall savoring a dish just like this often as a child; it was comforting and nurturing.  It can be enjoyed in many ways:  make it dense like risotto or add more liquid to make it soupy.  Just rice and lentils are delicious and simple, but you couls easily add a few sausages or pork ribs to the pot to make quite a festive main dish."

  • 2 ounces pancetta or bacon, cut in pieces
  • 1 cup onion cut in 1-inch chunks
  • 1 cup carrot cut in 1-inch chunks
  • 1 cup celery cut in 1-inch chunks
  • 6 fresh sage leaves
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 8 to 10 cups hot water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups lentils, rinsed and picked over
  • 1 1/2 cups Italian short-grained rice, such as Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano
  • 1 cup chopped scallions
  • 1/2 cup grated granna padano or parmigiano-reggiano, plus more for passing

Recommended Equipment: A food processor; a heavy-bottomed saucepan or soup pot, 5-to-6 quart capacity, with cover.

Drop the pancetta or bacon in the food processor bowl and pulse sevral times, to chop the meat into small bits.  Scrape all the pancetta right into the heavy saucepan.  Put the onion, carrot, and celery chunks and the sage leaves into the empty food processor bowl and mince together into a fine-textured pestata.

Put the butter and olive oil into the saucepan with the minced pancetta, and set over medium-high heat.  Cook, stirring, as the butter melts and the fat starts to render.  When the pancetta is sizzling, scrape in the vegetable pestata, and stir it around until it has dried and begins to stick, 4 minutes or so.  Clear a place on the pan bottom and drop in the tomato paste, toast it in the spot for a minute, then stir together with the pestata.

Raise the heat, pour in the white wine, and cook, stirring, until the wine has almost evaporated.  Pour in 8 cups of hot water and the tablespoon of salt, stir well, and heat to the boil. (Add all 10 cups of water if you want to serve the rice and lentils as a thick soup rather than a denser riso.)  Cover the pan, and reduce the heat slightly, to keep the water at a moderate boil, and let it bubble for 20 minutes or so, to develop the flavors.

Stir in the lentils, return to a gentle boil and cook, partially covered until the lentils just start to soften, 10 to 15 minutes.  Stir in the rice, return to a bubbling simmer, and cook, cover ajar, until the rice is al dente, 13 minutes or so. If the dish is thickening more than you like, lower the heat and cover the pan completely.  If it seems too thin and wet, remove the cover and cook at a faster boil.

When the rice and lentils are fully cooked, turn off the heat.  Stir in the scallions and grated cheese.  Serve in warm bowls, passing more cheese at the table.

It took me longer to type that than it did to cook it!

There are 175 recipes in the book.  I have a feeling I'm going to be making lots of them.....

Chicken and Ham

It's the ham that keeps on giving!

Armed with my trusty FoodSaver, I finally dealt with that monstrosity of a ham in the refrigerator today.  Two packages of sliced ham for future meals and the bone and lots of ham for a future soup went into the freezer.  Another packet is sitting in the fridge to become fried ham on Sunday.  And several slices for tonight's dinner...

Tonight's dinner.  Yum.

I lightly browned two chicken breasts and placed them in an oven-proof pan.  I then covered them with slices of ham.  Then a layer of San Joaquin cheese, and then sliced tomatoes.  I put them into a 350° oven for about 25 minutes.

Prior to starting that, though, I started the side dish - a multi-grain melange of mixed brown rices, black barley, spelt, French lentils, leeks, mushrooms, tomatoes and arugula.  Oh yum.

Multi-Grain Melange

  • 1/4 cup minced leek
  • 1/4 cup chopped mushrooms
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup assorted brown rice
  • 1/4 cup black barley
  • 1/4 cup spelt
  • 1/4 cup French lentils
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with juice
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 good handfuls arugula
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • S&P to taste

Saute leeks, mushrooms, and garlic until wilted and lightly browned.

Add grains, tomatoes, and broth bring to boil.  Add arugula and stir in.  Add spices.

Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 45-55 minutes.

It came out great and would make a great base for a lot of other dishes.  It could also be easily made vegetarian by using vegetable broth or water.

All-in-all, a successful use of just a little more ham.

Life is good.

Monday Ham

An 8.6 pound ham is a bit of a commitment for two people.  Ham sandwiches last night, sliced ham tonight.  I think tomorrow a good portion is going to be vacuum-packed and placed in the freezer.  I want fried ham this Sunday.  Besides veal cutlets and dirty potatoes, nothing can invoke my father more than fried ham.  And french bread toast.  It's just amazing how some foods can conjure up someone.  Not that we ever has "spiral cut" hams growing up.  Back in the dark ages, ham came in a funny-shaped can you opened with a metal key.  (Coffee cans were opened the same way).  Fond memories, indeed.

But back to the present...

I had sweet potatoes, I had carrots, I had mushrooms, I had asparagus, and I had fresh herbs.  I had our side dish.

I peeled one sweet potato and one large carrot.  Sliced both and nuked them for about 5 minutes.  I then put them into a buttered casserole with the mushrooms and asparagus, chopped dill, rosemary, basil, and oregano, salt and pepper.  That went into a 400º oven for about 15 minutes.

The fresh herbs from the garden were great.  Veggies perfectly cooked.

And there's Buttermilk Cake for dessert tonight.

I can't wait for Sunday!

Stuffed Pork Chops

Victor cooked dinner tonight.  He had a rough day at the office and wanted to decompress a bit in the kitchen.  I had a great day at the office, and was more than happy to oblige.

I had pulled a couple of thick bone-in pork chops out of the freezer this morning with no real idea for them, other than I thought I would stuff them with something.  Victor had the same idea.

The first thing he did was make a cold green bean salad.  He blanched some fresh beans and then cooled them quickly.  Diced a ripe tomato and mixed it in with some chopped garlic, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, fresh basil from the garden, salt and pepper.  Mixed it all together.

It was perfect.  Simple flavors that blended perfectly together, yet were individually present.  Did I mention perfect?  Perfect.

And the pork chops...

Fresh bread crumbs, sun-dried tomatoes, onion, garlic, celery, carrot, mushrooms...

He sauteed the vegetables in olive oil, then added the sun-dried tomatoes to the milk-soaked crumbs.  He added just a bit of the sun-dried tomato butter I made a while back just for grins and giggles.  He slit the chops and stuffed them, adding the leftover stuffing on top.  They baked at 400° for about 35 minutes.

He boiled some yukon gold potatoes and served them simply with butter and parsley - also from the garden.  (The herbs have taken off!)

It was one of those meals that just work on every level.  Simplicity and complexity of flavors, colors, textures.  I loved it!

Not that I would ever wish a bad day on someone, but...  It was definitely my gain that Victor had one, today!

(And speaking of gain - I was down a pound at weigh-in today!)

Mushroom Ravioli with Gorgonzola Sauce

Homemade ravioli.  It doesn't get much better.  Really.

Another issue of La Cucina Italiana has arrived - and more things are jumping out at me to make.  This particular recipe is actually a combination of several ideas I've seen recently - from wildly different places.  The over-sized ravioli idea came from the magazine.  The sauce and filling... well... you know how it is...

The ravioli pasta was actually fresh lasagna sheets.  I thought they would be a bit easier to work with but they're not as thin as I would have liked them.  They worked, but barely.  And I had to par-cook them.

The original concept is a cheese filling with an egg yolk sitting on top.  They barely simmer, the egg yolk barely cooks, life is beautiful.  Alas, working with thick pasta tends to make egg yolks break and cook hard because of lengthened cooking time.  (Regardless, they tasted awesome!)

Instead of plain cheese, I very finely chopped an assortment of mushrooms, and sauteed them in a bit of butter.  When they were dry, I added a splash of Marsala and a pinch of salt and pepper.

I then added some fresh French goat cheese that was covered in fresh herbs.  It made it nice and creany.

I cut the lasagna sheets in half and par-cooked them for about 5 minutes.  I then added the mushroom filling and made an indentation and added the egg yolk.  I brushed the sides with egg and topped them with another half-sheet of pasta.

I broke three of the four yolks trying to seal the ravioli.  The picture in the magazine shows a much thinner pasta.  Oh well...  live and learn.

I then simmered them in a really large skillet with water for another 7 or 8 minutes.

For the sauce, I used a cup of heavy cream, about 4 ounces of an outrageously good Italian gorgonzola, and a pinch of parsley, salt and pepper.

OMG it was good!

The spelt side dish was very interesting.  I was reading a food blog and came across it...  here it is verbatim from Becks & Posh:

Autumnal Farro Salad with Smokey Roasted Grapes, Walnuts & Mushrooms

Last weekend I threw a casual buffet supper for a few 'dead-celebrity' impersonators before we all headed to a Hallowe'en party where being an expired famous person was the raison d'etre. As you all know, celebrities can be a needy bunch and consequently I had to juggle several dietary preferences in a meal where I hoped I could include things that everyone might like. I wanted to make a seasonal salad that would be wholesome and comforting without screaming out "Hey I am a *vegan* salad".

The inspiration came from a fabulous feast we were invited to last Christmas day at the home of some restaurant-owning friends who had built a wood-fired oven in their back yard. One of the the appetizers they sent out was a wonderful smokey dish of roasted grapes and walnuts. So simple, but delicious, it had been playing on my mind ever since a more recent roasted grape salad at Incanto had reminded me of it. Now that grape season is upon us, I wondered if I could riff on that idea a little and create something inspired by the grape and walnut combination in my far-less-glamorous-than-a-wood-fired-oven electric stove.

Turns out that my gut instinct served me well and I knocked up a dish that I was congratulated on from several quarters. It couldn't be much simpler to make, here's how:

Cook up half a pound (or more if you are feeding a larger group), of farro in salted boiling water. I find that using the farro I purchase from Boulette's larder, it only takes about 10 to 15 minutes before the grain is perfectly al dente. Use your own taste buds to make that judgment. Drain the farro.

In the meantime, heat the oven to 400F and pop a handful, or two of walnuts into a roasting pan. Toast them in the heated oven until you start to smell their nutty aroma, but before they become too deeply browned. Remove the pan from the oven (using gloves of course) and throw in some seedless grapes (I like the green/blush ones), and small whole mushrooms. I favour a mix of shiitake, tree oysters and maitake (which I tear into smaller pieces). Sprinkle with a scant teaspoon of smoked Spanish paprika and a couple of bold pinches of Maldon salt before dousing in a decent glug of olive oil. Using a spatula, fold all the ingredients together until everything is evenly coated and well mixed. Pop back into the oven to roast, for 20 about minutes, stirring once half way through.

Once you can smell the mushrooms, the grapes are just on the verge of starting to shrivel and everything else looks golden brown you can remove the pan from the oven and stir in the strained farro grains. Taste and add more salt as necessary (but be careful doing that whilst those grapes and nuts are still piping hot).

I like to serve this salad warm or at room temperature. I am hoping you might like to too...

We did.

Spring Salads

The calendar is saying Spring, but the weather is saying winter.  Dayum, it's cold outside!

I did my weekly shopping for decent weather - salads.  I'm thinking I'd rather have stew.  But I have all of these salad ingredients to use up.  So it's damn, the temperature - we're having salads!

The salads were basic mixed greens, grilled beef, tomatoes, broccoli, yellow squash, mushrooms, raspberries, and egg salad.  The highlight, was Victor's Tomato Vinaigrette!

It was olive oil, balsamic vinegar, tomato paste, anchovy paste, Greek oregano, minced garlic, salt and pepper.


A couple of slices of raisin walnut bread with last night's tomato butter, and it was a salad to remember!

Lamb Chops with Sun-Dried Tomato Butter

I used to make compound butters all the time when I worked in those fancy hotels.  Maitre d' Butter, Chipotle Butter, Chive Butter, Herb Butter... The things you can mix with butter are pretty endless.  But I think of all the one's I've had in the past, this one is the tops!

Everything about it is good.  The recipe called for sun-dried tomatoes in oil, but I have some really good fresh sun-dried and used them, instead.

Sun-Dried Tomato Butter

  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Put all ingredients except butter in a food processor and pulse until paste.  Blend in butter and lemon juice, then season with salt, as desired.

It rocked on top of pan-fried lamb chops.

Victor made some awesome risotto cakes to go with the chops.  He added  a bit more rice, cheese, and an egg to last night's leftover risotto, breaded them with fresh bread crumbs, and then baked them at 375° for about 40 minutes, flipping them half-way through.

Vegetables were green and yellow squash, leeks, and a variety of mushrooms.

My stomach is smiling!

Green Rice and Spice

Green rice and white asparagus.  Yes, a decidedly different dinner!

We tried out th Bamboo Green Rice tonight.  Way fun!  Taste is a bit difficult to describe...  definitely "rice" but an almost tea-like flavor from the bamboo.  Besides looking great, it tasted great.

I grilled a pork tenderloin and topped it with a fresh mango salsa...  Diced mango, minced jalapeño, minced onion, minced red pepper, cilantro, parsley, a squirt of lemon, salt & pepper.  I don't recall the variety of mango other than it's from Mexico and very yellow when ripe.  It had just the right amount of sweet and tart flavor.

The white asparagus was topped with diced tomato mixed with a bit of adobo sauce from a can of chipotles in adobo.

And Victor baked off the last of the brioche dough.

This batch of dough has definitely gotten a work-out.  I made it last Friday for hamburger buns on Sunday.  I made cinnamon apple rolls with it - twice - and then tonight's sesame braid.

I'm going to have to get another batch going soon.

Artichokes and Steaks

The bigger-than-a-softball-artichokes are back.  Oh yum.

They're big enough to feed a small army or emerging nation.  They're big.  And oh, so good!

I brought them home with no real plan.  Victor took one look and said "leave them to me".  I did.  I'm glad I did!

He trimmed them up and made a stuffing of fresh bread crumbs, black olives, garlic, Italian seasoning, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.  After stuffing them, he liberally drizzled olive oil on them and then steamed them for an hour.

Mashed sweet potatoes with a drizzle of maple syrup, and steaks on the grill.

The perfect meal.

Needless to say, there was actually more food on those plates than we could eat.  We both ate half of the steaks, half of the sweet potatoes, and all of the artichokes.

Leftovers are my friend.....


I don't remember the first time I ate an artichoke.  Like many foods, they just seem to have always been.

Artichokes grew just a few miles south of the ancestral home until they were plowed under for the Serramonte shopping center, 280 freeway, and houseshouseshouses. There's a card room in San Bruno called Artichoke Joe's that's been around since 1916.  Artichokes have been around the area for a long time.  They were always on the table in season.  Mom used to put out mayonnaise for dipping, but I wasn't a huge mayo fan in my youth and preferred them plain.  Still do, I think, although I certainly won't turn down a good dipping sauce.

Which leads me to tonight's dinner...

I'm now 3000 miles and too many years away from those artichokes of my youth, but one thing I don't remember are artichokes the size of cabbages.  We're talkin' huge artichokes.  Really huge.

And sweet, and tender, and flavorful.

I loved every one of the million and a half petals that came off as I ate my way to the finish.

Two of them barely - and I do mean barely - fit into a 12 qt stock pot.

I added about 4" of water to the pot and a splash of apple cider vinegar and a pinch of salt.  Then covered and cooked for about 40 minutes.

Dipping sauce tonight was mayonnaise with lemon juice and dill, salt & pepper.

And if you happen to find artichokes out there with a nice stalk or stem - cook it, don't cut it all off!  The stem is just an extension of the heart.

It's all good eatin'!

Strawberry Fields Forever

What do ya do when you have two people and two pounds of perfect strawberries?  You get creative and eat them.  That's what ya do!

And that's what I did tonight.

I bought the strawberries yesterday and they went on last nights salad.  They made a guest appearance tonight as well - along with a strawberry walnut (and garlic!) dressing.

The salad itself was mixed greens with a bit of grilled flank steak, a slice of triple cream brie, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and a hard-cooked egg.

Strawberry Walnut Dressing

  • 1 cup sliced strawberries
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup grapeseed (or other neutral) oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste

In blender, puree strawberries, walnuts, garlic clove, and balsamic vinegar.

With machine running, slowly add oil.  Blend until thick.

Add S&P to taste, if desired.

And then we had to have dessert!

Zabaione with Strawberries!

I don't think I've made zabaione since I worked at Hugo's at the Hyatt Lake Tahoe.  That was circa 1977. The recipe hasn't changed in all those years.  Actually, the recipe hasn't changed for a few centuries.  It is traditionally made with marsala, but any sweet wine will do.  You can even make a whiskey zabaione.  I had one of those a few years back and it was pretty good.


  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup marsala

Mix the egg yolks, sugar, and marsala in a heat-proof bowl.  Place the bowl over barely simmering water and whisk continually for 8 minutes.  You want to get at least triple volume.

Remove from heat and continue to whisk for another 30 seconds or so.

Serve warm over strawberries.

You need a good arm for this, but it is so worth the effort!

Bean Soup and Madeleines

That roasted chicken from Sunday just keeps on giving.  Tonight, it was Bean Soup.  The soup itself was pretty basic and simple.  I boiled down the broth I had made yesterday just a bit more to concentrate the flavor and then added the leftover gravy I had made.  I then added three cans of beans - pinto, roman, and pink beans (I always have a variety of canned beans on the shelf.)  I hit it with the immersion blender and pureed it pretty well.  I just added a bit of S&P because it had a pretty good flavor and I was looking for a simple soup because I was going to add stuff.

And the fun began.

I had seen a recipe in La Cucina Italiana for a chick pea soup with cabbage and chicken on top.  It was a really really thick soup, but from looking at the recipe, not overly exciting.  Victor pretty much loathes cooked cabbage in any form, so that idea was out.  I decided to work with the concept...

I cooked a chicken breast with 2 links of fresh chorizo, removed from the casing.  I then wilted spinach in a bit of roasted garlic butter and spooned that on top of the soup.   I added the chicken and chorizo on top of that and dove in!

Oh...  and I baked another loaf of bread identical to the one yesterday.

And for dessert...


I don't think I have made a Madeleine since CCSF circa 1974.  Years and years and years...  But our friend Ann posted a recipe back in December and I've been wanting one ever since.  I finally broke down and bought a Madeleine pan, and yesterday made the dough.

I baked after work today.

Ann's Madeleines

This recipe makes a dozen of the med to large size.

Make up batter the day before or at least a couple of hours before:

  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 1 C sifted flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • Zest of one orange, more or less
  • 2 eggs, room temp
  • 3 1/4 oz butter, melted and cooled

Mix dry ingredients in bowl, add zest, stir in.

Add eggs and melted butter, stir, don't beat until just combined.  You don't want to incorporate a lot of air into the batter.

Chill for 2 hours up to 4 days.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Oil and flour pans (Lady in store said grapeseed oil gives the best crust)

Using pastry bag, pipe batter into molds.  I didn't use a tip as I didn't have one big enough, isn't as if you are going to make a design you know.

Bake 7-11 minutes until edges are browned and the top springs back when tapped with a finger

Turn out onto rack and let cool.

These outdo Julia.

And who am I to argue?  They came out rich and buttery and just properly crisp.

I see more of these in our future...