Photo by Sarah Jaquay.
“During Carnevale any prank is permissible” says television cooking celebrity and prolific cookbook author Lidia Bastianich. Lidia is the star of “Lidia’s Kitchen,” “Lidia’s Italy” and “Lidia’s Family Table” (broadcast on PBS) and she recently visited Lidia’s Kansas City (KC.)
She was there for the restaurant’s annual Carnevale celebration. “Carnevale is very prominent in Venice and people make pranks behind masks,” she notes. Kansas City residents are happy to drop the masks and partake of this four-course feast at Lidia’s first restaurant outside of New York City. She also owns–in partnership with her daughter Tanya Bastianich Manuali and her son, Joe Bastianich—Becco, Esca, Del Posto and Felidia, which she started with her ex-husband, Felice. Lidia was also in KC to her promote her new cookbook as well as some Bastianich wines from the family’s vineyards in Friuli—a region of Northeast Italy bordering Austria, Slovenia and the Adriatic Sea—and from La Mozza Winery located in the Maremma region of Tuscany (about two hours southwest of Florence.)
For those who aren’t familiar with this Italian-American maven, Lidia has done for Italian cuisine what Julia Child did for French cuisine: made it approachable for the average American cook to make at home. Lidia Mattichio was born in Istria, Italy shortly after the end of WWII. Her family got trapped in communist Yugoslavia when the borders shifted and her family eventually made a harrowing escape to Trieste. Lidia developed her passion for food while living with her grandparents before the family’s escape (and ultimate resettlement in New York City.) Her grandmother kept “all the yard animals…She raised chickens, made wine and collected potatoes,” she remembers.
Lidia’s humble beginnings belie the success she’s had delivering Italian delicacies to New Yorkers and beyond. (Fortunately for Ohioans a Lidia’s restaurant opened in Pittsburgh in 2001.) Both the KC and Pittsburgh locations serve the ever-changing trio of pastas like those plated in New York’s theater district at Becco. Lidia is also invested in the Eataly food markets in New York City, Chicago and Boston as well as the ones opening in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. She describes these massive spaces as “food fairs made for meandering with a piazza in the center.”
But it’s time to get to the vine of the matter. Bastianich wines are available in her restaurants, Eataly locations and other retail outlets. “Friuli is one of the premiere white wine-growing regions in the world…With their climate, topography and soil, they got a head start,” notes Kyle Hall, the knowledgeable bartender at Lidia’s KC who led a friend and me through a tasting before dinner.
Bastianich’s Vespa Bianco is a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc with a touch of Picolit—a dessert wine grape indigenous to Friuli. The citrus aromas mingle with honeysuckle and the lemon, lime and tropical fruit flavors are layered over a vein of minerality. The Picolit gives it just enough creaminess to make it work even with spicy dishes. Vespa Bianco was a wonderful pairing with the lobster tail and sea scallops with white polenta I ordered for dinner.
Their 2015 Sauvignon B is a green and flinty style with citrus flavors and some herbaceous aromas. It was sublime with the baked polenta and cream baked salt cod. Perhaps the highlight of the evening was the 2011 Vespa Rosso, a blend of Merlot, Refosco (an old variety native to Friuli), Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon with ripe berry flavors and an earthy tobacco quality. It’s quite drinkable now–especially with the bruschetta with Venetian-style chicken livers and onions I chose as my “primi” course–but it will age well also.
While it’s true the Bastianich vineyards in Friuli and Maremma produce wines that complement their restaurant menus, these wines also complement homemade Italian food. And Lidia’s next cookbook–slated to be released this fall–is all about how to entertain. “It’s about all modes of entertaining Italian style: from pizza parties and anti-pasta buffets to how to make desserts Italianissimo….It will even show you how to work with a wedding caterer who’s not that familiar with Italian cuisine,” Lidia notes.
Even if you can’t get to Carnevale in KC or to a winter game pairing dinner at Lidia’s Pittsburgh, she’s got you covered when it’s time to eat and drink Italian. “Tutti a tavola a mangiare!” (or Everybody to the table to eat!)
See www.lidiasitaly.com for more information.