Lidia Bastianich loves the new cookbook in which she collaborated with her grandson (and son-in-law), Michael Weber, and he has clearly loved it too. Titled “Lidia’s Family Table” (William Morrow), the cookbook offers some serious practical wisdom as well as the recipes Bastianich has been preparing her whole life.
The 98 recipes in the book take readers on a passionate journey through the Italian-American woman’s culinary journey, from her first recipes, for a chocolate pudding (Alfredo Cavalieri) and beef stew (Otto Antinori), to juicy braised red meat to elegant desserts like souffle and Frangelico (a bitter, alcoholic liqueur by Pernod Ricard).
“The key to cooking any dish is to taste it until you can taste it straight from the earth,” says Bastianich, adding that you should always be thrilled by what you taste. But if you don’t taste it, you don’t cook it. “You should try as many things as you can, then when it comes to a specific dish, make sure that your technique and what you add in to it will bring it to life, to wow your guests.”
Bastianich introduced each recipe at the Italian American Heritage Museum, where Weber works as director of events.
The author, whose husband, Robert Bastianich, has helmed the popular market food delivery service Eataly, calls the cooking process very improvisational. “We rarely plan when it comes to food,” she says. “So you never know where the ingredients will come from. And that’s the spirit I like.”
Once a recipe is chosen, Weber and his grandmother would collaborate and gather ingredients together. “We would sit around and cook together,” Bastianich says. “It was like one big Sunday dinner.”
And yes, the family galiano, as she refers to the cookbook and herself, sometimes brings a baby pig to the table. She says, though, that she and her niece don’t get as crazy with the pigs as people might think. “I always say no pig, no sauce!” Bastianich says with a laugh.
Bastianich typically works with one or two items in her recipe book that she spends a lot of time experimenting with and that are not featured in her other cookbooks. In this case, for example, she and Weber took the St. Louis-style sandwich, a traditional east coast specialty, and put fresh Italian-style salami (not gorgonzola) on top. They also took the fixings (tomato, lettuce, green onion) and created a surprisingly substantial baked pasta dish using rotini pasta, spaghetti sauce and mozzarella cheese.
Bastianich says her favorite recipe in the cookbook is for beer-braised beef short ribs. She can’t remember the name of the original, but says it’s not unusual for her to tell people it’s the only thing she uses to cook for her family. She makes sure to get everyone together to share the recipe, which she adds is more savory than sweet. And she can even make it gluten-free.
Bastianich says that if you love short ribs or simply love beer, this is the perfect recipe for you.
“It takes a little longer than an Italian meal, but it’s so delicious,” she says. “It’s not gimmicky. It’s not the big fancy, finger food, but for those who love short ribs, which they should, this recipe is so good.”
Beer-braised Beef Short Ribs
Total time: 1 1/2 hours, plus refrigeration time | Serves 6 to 8
2 racks (8 ounces each) lamb shanks
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon each: chopped fresh parsley, allspice
1 (12-ounce) can beer
1 (10-ounce) jar beef broth