20 Things I Learned While Cooking with Lidia Bastianich (and a Recipe!)
Lidia Bastianich is an Emmy Award–winning public television host, a bestselling cookbook author, restaurateur and owner of a flourishing food and entertainment business. Her show, Lidia’s Kitchen airs nationally on Public Television and the CREATE channel. For exact times, check local station websites or visit lidiasitaly.com/schedule.
I recently had the privilege of participating in on a cooking class taught by the insanely talented and charming chef Lidia Bastianich at Eataly. Figuring that getting schooled in Pasta 101 by Bastianich—in person!—is nothing short of a big deal, I figured it would only be the sharing thing to do to pass on her tips, tricks, and fun factoids absorbed from that unforgettable evening. Some of what I learned was surprising, helpful, interesting, or even life-changing—for one, I vow to never boil my pasta noodles with a bit of oil ever again.
And if you're wondering what to make for dinner tonight, scroll down for an easy spaghetti and pesto recipe that can be whipped up in just under 20 minutes.
1. There are over 170 different pasta shapes and all the nooks and crannies are designed to hold various types of sauce (that's why certain shapes are ideal for different sauces)
2. When boiling the pasta, don't add oil! The oil clogs the pores in the pasta, which hinders the sauce from sticking to it the starch.
3. Do not break your pasta (noodle types like spaghetti, linguini, etc) before adding it to a pot of boiling water. It's bad luck!
4. If you plan on freezing any leftover pesto sauce, cover the surface with a thin layer of olive oil. It will keep the sauce from oxidizing.
5. Store your olive oil in a dark, cool place, in a small container. It's unstable and can change when exposed to elements like light and heat.
6. To make meatballs in a pinch, simply de-case a sausage link (they're pre-seasoned and flavored) and roll the filling into balls.
7. Know your oven like you know your Ferrari.
8. Olive oil is meant for flavor, not for frying, so don't use it if you're cooking with very high-heat.
9. Instead of using oil, try greasing your grill with the fatty end-cut of a piece of meat (ask your butcher for it).
10. Does your pasta sauce call for butter? Add it to the end of the cooking cycle because if you add it early on, the flavor will evaporate and leave just the fat by the time you're ready to serve.
11. Add cheese off the heat, just before serving. You don't want to cook it and potentially lose some of its flavor.
12. Olives all start out green: their colors indicate their level of maturity, so a black olive is much older than a green or speckled olive.
13. That being said, black olives yield more oil than green, but do not carry the best flavor so they are typically not used to make oil.
14. Cold pressed olives are more flavorful because flavors evaporate once there's heat applied during the extraction process.
15. Roasting 101: if you want the surface to be crispy, place it on the top rack, and if the juices are too watery, move it to the bottom rack to thicken.
16. When making sauces that call for cheese, add the cheese just before serving to the serving dish. That way, any leftover sauce you have will last longer.
17. Indulging in a multi-course meal? The appropriate amount of pasta to serve or consume is just 2 forkfuls.
18. Don't toss hard, inedible cheese rinds—instead, save them for soups.
19. When cooking dried beans, all you need is water and an aromatic (like bay leaves) for flavor. Don't add salt during the boiling process because it hardens the beans.
20. Do not over sauce! All you need is just enough to coat the pasta.
Spaghetti and Pesto Trapanese
You may think that you need to be a pastry chef to construct this showstopper. Think again. The parts go together easily enough and you will be the star of the holiday buffet with this dessert. The beauty and delight of this dish is that it is so fresh and clean—and it is a cinch to make. It's important to make the pesto with the best ingredients then just toss in the hot cooked spaghetti to coat it and enjoy.
Yield: 4-6 servings
¾ lb. (about 2½ cups) cherry tomatoes, very ripe and sweet12 large fresh basil leaves1/3 cup whole almonds, lightly toasted1 plump garlic clove, crushed and peeled¼ tsp peperoncino, or to taste½ tsp coarse sea salt or Kosher salt, or to taste, plus more for the pasta½ cup extra-virgin olive oil1 lb. spaghetti pasta½ cup Grana Padano, freshly grated
1. Rinse the cherry tomatoes and pat them dry. Rinse the basil leaves and pat dry.
2. Drop the tomatoes into a blender or food processor bowl followed by the garlic clove, almonds, basil leaves, peperoncino and salt. Blend for a minute or more to a fine puree. Scrape down the bowl and blend again if any large bits or pieces have survived.
3. With the machine still running, pour in the olive oil in a steady stream, emulsifying the puree into a thick pesto. Taste and adjust the seasoning. (If you're going to dress the pasta within a couple of hours, leave the pesto at room temperature. Refrigerate if for longer storage, up to 2 days, but let it return to room temperature before cooking the pasta.)
4. To cook the spaghetti, heat 6 quarts of water, with 1 tablespoon salt, to a boil in a large pot.
5. Scrape all the pesto into a big warm bowl.
6. Cook the spaghetti al dente, lift it from the cooking pot, drain briefly, and drop onto the pesto.
7. Toss quickly to coat the spaghetti, sprinkle the cheese all over, and toss again. Serve immediately in warm bowls.