Chef Lidia Bastianich shares immigrant experience, celebrates the Fourth on PBS
The Fourth of July has special meaning to restaurateur and Chef Lidia Bastianich, whose family get-togethers include traditional grilled picnic fare and, as a tribute to her homeland of Italy, a big bowl of pasta.
If she is celebrating the holiday a little early this year, it's only because she is so enthusiastic about its importance to people of all nationalities who have made America their home.
She explores the immigrant experience through food and cultural traditions in her latest PBS special, “Lidia Celebrates America: Freedom and Independence,” scheduled to air at 10 p.m. June 28 on WQED-TV.
The program looks at the patriotic holiday through the eyes of newcomers who visited Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home in Charlottesville, Va., to be sworn in as U.S. citizens.
Besides hearing their thoughts on their new lives in a new country, viewers are given a tour of Monticello's grounds. Bastianich helps to prepare a meal for the group, using fresh produce from the garden to make bruschetta with fresh figs and prosciutto and tomato panzanella.
She says she identifies with the hopes and dreams shared by new immigrants because she, too, came to this country from Italy with her family at age 12. During the meal, she tells about their escape from communist Istria after World War II and how, at age 18, she was the first in her family to become naturalized.
Food plays a role in a segment of the program devoted to France's national holiday. She meets up with her friend, Chef Jacques Pépin, at his Connecticut home for a Bastille Day celebration. They host a party for a group of French-Americans that features traditional crepes with Gruyere and ham, pâté and a special brioche dessert.
The celebration then moves to Galveston, Texas, where actress Anna Deavere Smith takes Bastianich on a tour to explore the history of “Juneteenth,” an observance of the freeing of Galveston's slaves a full two years after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. She gets some grilling tips from local legend “Dr. Barbeque” as he prepares a traditional Texas dry-rub brisket.
With time for one more party, the action moves to New York for Philippines Independence Day with comedian and actor Alex Mapa and, of course, some ethnic specialty foods, including pork adobo, and Kinilaw, a Filipino version of ceviche marinated in coconut milk and ginger.
Bastianich says the program, the third of her ongoing “Lidia Celebrates America” series, proves that “what's fascinating about us is we are all different. I wanted to celebrate America because of me. I am so grateful that our country allows each ethnicity to celebrate its own traditions.”
The chef is convinced that many of the world's diplomacy issues could be settled at the table — the dining table.
“I use food as my conduit,” she says. “It's nonthreatening to everyone, and it opens the doors. People are willing to talk.”
Here, she shares a few favorite recipes from two of her cookbooks, “Lidia's Favorite Recipes” and “Lidia's Commonsense Italian Cooking,” to help get the Fourth of July party started:
Stuffed Hamburgers Hamburger Imbottiti
Even the Italians love hamburgers. But, in the Italian culture, it cannot be only about meat. The Italian meal needs to have balance, so the addition of a little veggie and a little cheese rounds out this meaty meal. For the record, the Italian-Mediterranean diet is the ideal diet because of its diversity and moderation.
1 1⁄2 pounds ground beef
1⁄2 cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces low-moisture mozzarella, cut in small cubes
6 large basil leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Hamburger Sauce (see recipe), buns or salad, for serving
In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, sun-dried tomatoes, vinegar and salt. Mix the ingredients together with your hands to combine. Form into 6 equal size balls.
In a small bowl, toss together the mozzarella and basil. Make an indentation in each ground-beef ball and press in some of the mozzarella-basil mixture. Seal the mozzarella in and press to form patties, about 1 inch thick.
Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the patties and cook until cooked through and the cheese inside is melted, for about 8 to 10 minutes in all. To check whether the cheese has melted inside, stick a toothpick into the center; if the cheese has melted, it will stick to the toothpick. Serve with Hamburger Sauce — homemade ketchup — on a bun or with a salad.
Makes 6 servings.
Ketchup is the all-American condiment, but instead of squeezing the bottle, try making your own version. This recipe can easily be doubled, and the ketchup will keep in the refrigerator for a week or so.
1 cup finely chopped onion
1⁄2 cup shredded carrot
1⁄2 cup finely chopped celery
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1⁄2 teaspoon cayenne
1⁄8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 can (28 ounces) San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
1⁄4 cup red-wine vinegar
In a medium saucepan, combine the onion, carrot, celery, thyme, mustard, cayenne, cinnamon, tomato paste, honey and salt. Stir in 1 1⁄2 cups of water and bring to a simmer. Simmer until the vegetables begin to soften, for about 5 minutes.
Add the crushed tomatoes and vinegar. Simmer until the sauce is very thick and flavorful, for about 20 to 30 minutes.
Makes about 2 cups.
Serve with the Stuffed Hamburgers
Reduced Balsamic Vinegar for Drizzling Sauce and Glaze
Lidia Bastianich uses this condiment on a range of dishes, as a thick sauce to drizzle on meats and vegetables and, in a somewhat thinner state, as a glaze on roasts. The vinegar reduces with honey and a bay leaf, but you can give it other flavor notes. You can vary these with the dish you intend to dress. For vegetables, for example, add whole cloves; for meat and poultry, add rosemary; for fish, add thyme. The basic formula will provide you with syrup for drizzling on a half dozen dishes. It will keep forever in the refrigerator but you'll use it up quicker than that!
1 pint (or a 500-millileter bottle) good-quality balsamic vinegar (commercial grade)
1 tablespoon honey
1 bay leaf
One of the following, optional:
4 whole cloves
Fresh rosemary: a tender branch with lots of needles
Fresh thyme: several small sprigs with lots of leaves
Pour the balsamic vinegar into a heavy-bottom saucepan and place over moderate heat. Stir in the honey, drop in the bay leaf and optional cloves or herbs and bring to a low boil. Adjust the heat to maintain a steady simmer and allow the vinegar to reduce slowly. After a half-hour or so, when it has lost more than half of its original volume, the vinegar will start to appear syrupy, and you should watch it closely.
To use as a glaze: Cook the sauce to 1⁄3 of its original volume (when it will measure 2⁄3 cup). It should be the consistency of molasses, thick but still spreadable. Pour the syrup through a small strainer into a heatproof bowl or measuring cup. Discard the bay leaves and seasonings. Brush on the glaze while warm.
For use as a condiment and an elixir to drizzle over vegetables: Reduce the vinegar even more, until it approaches one-quarter its original volume. Slow bubbles will rise from the syrup and it will take on the consistency of honey, leaving a thick coating on a spoon. Pour it through a small strainer into a heat-proof bowl or measuring cup. Use a heatproof spatula or spoon to clean out the saucepan before it sticks to the pot for good. Drizzle on the syrup while it is still warm.
Store in the refrigerator, in a sealed container. It will congeal but will keep indefinitely. To use, spoon the hard sauce into a bowl or heat-proof measuring cup and heat it slowly in a pan of hot water or at low level in the microwave. For a thinner consistency, stir in drops of hot water.
Makes 2⁄3 cup of thin syrup for glazing or 1⁄2 cup thick syrup for drizzling or for dipping.
Sorbetto di Pesche
Granita can be made of any deliciously ripe fruit; here the combination of aromatic peaches and Prosecco makes for a festive delight.
1 cup Prosecco
1 cup sugar
Juice of 2 lemons, divided
6 sprigs fresh mint
5 ripe medium peaches (about 2 pounds), chopped
In a small saucepan, combine the Prosecco, sugar, juice of 1 lemon, mint and salt. Bring to a simmer and cook just to melt the sugar, for about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.
When the Prosecco syrup has cooled, put it in a blender with the peaches and remaining lemon juice. Puree until it is smooth. Pour into a wide, shallow metal pan so the mixture comes about 1 inch up the sides. Put in the freezer. When ice crystals begin to form around the sides of the pan, in about an hour, scrape the granita with a fork to incorporate the crystals back into the slush. Keep freezing and scraping every half-hour to an hour, until the granita is completely frozen in light, fluffy crystals.
Makes 4 servings.
London Broil Steak With Sun-dried Tomatoes Marinade
Bistecca con Pomodori Secchi
This inexpensive cut of steak, when marinated and grilled, becomes tender and flavorful. The marinade is complex and full of flavors and leaves the steak packed with flavor. If the whole family is coming over, just double the recipe and marinate it overnight, and a tasty and economical meal will be ready for all.
1 cup red wine
1⁄2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained
1⁄4 cup packed fresh basil leaves
4 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1⁄4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1⁄2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 (1 3⁄4 pound) boneless beef shoulder London broil steak, about 1 to 1 1⁄2-inches thick
In a food processor, combine the wine, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, garlic, salt and crushed red pepper. Pulse to make a chunky paste. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and then, with the machine running, pour in 1⁄2 cup of the olive oil in a steady stream to make a smooth sauce.
Put the steak in a resealable plastic bag and pour in the marinade. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Remove the steak from the marinade (but don't pat it dry; let the marinade coat it) and put it in a roasting pan. Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and roast until medium-rare, for about 20 minutes. Remove the steak to a cutting board, let rest for 5 to 10 minutes, then thinly slice against the grain and serve.
Makes 6 servings.
Grilled Corn and Figs With Balsamic Reduction
This is a simple recipe to do ahead: You grill the corn on the cob and then grill the figs — they take barely a minute. Slice off the corn kernels, toss them with the figs and serve the dish at room temperature.
The golden vegetable and dark fruit are a great-tasting and pretty combination just as they are, but if you happen to have some balsamic drizzling sauce already made (or a bottle of balsamic vinegar to reduce) it's definitely worth applying the final swirl of sauce. The acidic tang sets off the sweetness of all the sugars in the corn and figs, already intensified by the heat of the grill. You can use either a gas or a charcoal grill for this, but keep the fire moderate (and pay attention, especially with the figs) so the sugars are caramelized, not burned.
6 large ears sweet corn
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3⁄4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 pound (about 1 pint) ripe fresh figs, preferably a dark variety
1 to 2 tablespoons reduced balsamic vinegar, for serving, optional
Clean the grill rack very well. Heat it to medium heat, if you're using a gas grill. If using a charcoal grill, ignite and spread a bed of coals in a low layer that will cook all the ears of corn over moderate — not searing — heat. (If you can, adjust the height of the rack, too, to avoid burning the corn.)
Shuck the corn and remove all of the silks. Put the ears in a big bowl or on a tray, pour the olive oil and sprinkle 1⁄2 teaspoon of salt all over them. Roll them around and rub them with your hands so they're well-coated.
To prepare the figs, trim the stems and slice them in half (through the stem end to the pointy blossom end).
Lay the ears of corn on the grill, and cook them for 7 minutes or more, turning frequently, until the ears are nicely grill-marked and the kernels are tender. Don't burn them, and do shift them around the grill so they cook evenly. Let them cool while you grill the figs.
Wipe off the rack, if necessary, and have it hot so the figs don't stick. Set the fig halves on the rack, cut side down, and cook them for only a minute or so, to caramelize the cut side and soften the flesh. Don't let them burn or get mushy.
With a sharp knife, slice the grilled kernels off the cobs and gather them in a mixing bowl. Put in the fig pieces and toss together with the corn, adding another 1⁄4 teaspoon of salt, or more to taste.
Serve warm or at room temperature in a wide bowl or platter. If you're drizzling with the balsamic reduction, it's best (and prettiest) to spread the corn and figs in a shallow layer on a platter and swirl the vinegar with a teaspoon or fork in thin streaks over the top. This will give every spoonful of corn a delicate accent of sauce.
Makes 6 servings.