Lidia Bastianich, portrait of an Italian-American mother

Preparations for Mother’s Day at our house got me thinking about one of the most famous Italian-American mothers, Lidia Bastianich. Here are some notes from a recent lunch hosted by her at the Bastianich summer home in Friuli for the Colli Orientali del Friuli blogger project.

It’s difficult to overestimate the impact that Lidia Bastianich has had on gastronomic culture in the United States and on the renaissance of Italian cuisine throughout the world.

She is to our generation what Julia Child and James Beard were to my mother’s generation (my mother was a James Beard devotee, for the record).

And to her credit, she has never wavered from her devotion to regional Italian cuisine. Long before “peasant” food (what an awful and despicable term!), “rustico” cuisine, or even “Northern vs. Southern” Italian cooking ever appeared in the American gastronomic lexicon, Lidia championed regional culinary traditions from Italy, first in the Croatian neighborhood in Queens where she and her family got their start and then later at Felidia in Manhattan (a restaurant where I used to regularly take my mother during the decade that I lived in New York).

In 1998 — the year that Babbo opened and the year that “regional Italian” became bywords of food culture in America — Lidia launched her first cooking show, “Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen” on PBS. To this day, Tracie P’s Saturday morning ritual is not complete without watching a DVR’d episode.

I asked Lidia to share her thoughts about the renaissance of Italian gastronomy and her role in Italy’s culinary conquest of the U.S. palate and hedonist imagination.

Her response, I must say, surprised and inspired me.

“When you look at the great beauty of Italy,” she said. “It’s easy to understand why the Italians are such creative people. From the [historic] Renaissance to this day, Italians have made so many contributions to the arts and culture. It was only natural that Italian cooking would do the same.”

“I don’t know if I’ve been an architect of the Italian culinary renaissance as you put it,” she added graciously. “But when I am surrounded by this beauty and the goodness of the ingredients I find here, I know that I am inspired by them.”

Lidia also told me that she has been asked to be the madrina (i.e., the grand marshal) of the first-ever “Biennial of Cuisine” in Venice. I wasn’t surprised by this news: her celebrity and her contributions to the dissemination of Italian cuisine and culture in the U.S. is not lost on Italians — at least, gauging from my Italian colleagues and counterparts.

“But it’s really Joe [Bastianich, her son] who’s become a celebrity here,” she told me. His appearances on “MasterChef Italia” (the number-one rated show in Italy this year, I was told by a journalist at our luncheon) have made him a megawatt star there.

“Just the other day, we were stopped by school children in Venice who wanted his autograph,” she said.

Whether or not her celebrity is or will be eclipsed by her son’s is irrelevant, really. After all, if it weren’t for Lidia, there would be no Joe, would there?

As a proud new father myself, I couldn’t resist the urge to share a photo of Georgia P with Lidia.

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” she said, “but she’s a prettier version of you.”

Words only a mother could utter.

Di mamme, ce n’è una sola… You only have one mother…

Here’s a link to some photos of what Lidia made us for lunch that day.

ZinFANdel is the new Beaujolais? Julia is the new Julia

julia

Tracie B and I went on a date last night to the movies, to see Julia and Julia. Our favorite movie house is Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse, where you can have dinner (bar food and pizza) and drink during the movie. But the coolest thing about Alamo is that as people are filing into the theater, before the previews, they show all these really cool vintage clips that are somehow related to or inspired by the film — often with great comic effect.

Yesterday’s pre-show reel included a number of 1960s commercials for instant foods (like Quaker instant grits, useful for “southerners traveling in the north,” or Cool Whip, “instantly frozen to preserve freshness”) and vintage Julia Child.

In one of the vintage Julia clips, she discusses how to throw a wine tasting party and talks about a flight of roughly ten wines. She calls Beaujolais a “hardy” wine and it seems to be her go-to wine. And when she gets to Zinfandel she pronounces it zin-FAN-del, with the penultimate syllable as the tonic syllable. Zinfandel, she says, is the American equivalent of Beaujolais. She also discusses Burgundian and Californian “Pinot Chardonnay” and she tells the viewer that Cabernet Sauvignon is the most noble of wines.

pinot

We’ve come an awful long way since the late 1960s, haven’t we? The labels of the wines are covered but on a number of them, you can see a strip label that looks like that old Oakie Bob Chadderdon. Is that possible?

I wouldn’t exactly call Julia and Julia a bildungsroman but I won’t conceal that we enjoyed it immensely. Meryl Streep is great, as always. And the tableaux from Paris and the discussion and descriptions of food were super fun.

But the funniest part — at least to me and Tracie B — was the discussion of blogging and its novelty in post-9/11 New York. After all, we both know the difference that blogging can make and the wondrous new paths it can take you on.

It was a year ago tomorrow that I first got on a plane in San Diego and came to Austin to meet the wonderful, intriguing, and gorgeous lady whom I met through a comment on my blog.

Bats! Bats! Bats! And awesome 2001 Inferno

From the “this blew my mind” department…

Last night Tracie B and I were the guests of the lovely LeVieux family, whose daughter-in-law Laura and I grew up together in La Jolla. They live in Austin in a high-rise on Lady Bird Lake (which until recently was called Town Lake and isn’t a lake at all but rather a bend in the Colorado River).

I had heard about the famous Austin bats that emerge every night at dusk but I had never seen them. Wow… bats! bats! bats! They put on quite a show last night — even for those at the dinner party who consider themselves veteran bat spectators.

Watch the videos and you’ll see.

Mrs. LeVieux made her excellent Julia Child osso buco and so I brought a bottle of 2001 Balgera Valtellina Superiore Inferno, which sang in the glass. We’re at the peak of summer temperatures here in Austin and so we served it at cellar temperature. Its tannins were masculine yet gentle, its fruit voluptuous, a fantastic more-mineral-than-earthy expression of Nebbiolo.

The osso buco was tender and fell off the bone and the gelatinous marrow paired superbly with the rich but light-in-the-mouth wine.

Thanks for reading and happy Sunday to everyone!