Take your stomach on a tour of Italy at the Capitol
Italian cooking isn't stuffy, but it takes someone like Lidia Bastianich, the high-spirited, hard-working cookbook author and television host, to guide you in how to make the quintessential ethnic comfort food at home.
With the help of several television shows in the past 10 years, Bastianich has gone from a being well-known New York restaurant owner and cookbook author to an international authority on Italian cuisine. She is one of at least a dozen authors of food books who will be in Austin this weekend for the Texas Book Festival at the Capitol. Her cooking demonstration is at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in the cooking tent.
For her new book, "Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy" (Knopf, $35), Bastianich traveled with her daughter, Tanya, all across the country her father left for America in 1958. Bastianich writes him a tender dedication at the beginning that sets the reverential tone of the whole book.
"These two adults, not speaking the language, had the courage to take these kids into unknown situations," she says in an interview recently about her parents. "It took a tremendous amount of courage, foresight and faith."
Bastianich says that she and her daughter, who has a master's degree in art history, didn't set out to make a guide book highlighting Italy's beaten path or merely a collection of recipes.
"One of the greatest love affairs is between America and Italy," she says. Americans have become well-versed in Italian culture and food in the past 50 years. "The world has become so small now," she says. "For anyone to go to Italy is not a big deal. Not just to go to Rome, but to permeate these regions."
These niche regions are what inspired many of the recipes in the new book. Bastianich and her daughter traveled to small towns and rural areas to meet artisans and farmers, and the cookbook conveys their passion for using ingredients and products that are in season and available nearby.
Family comes first in Bastianich's book as in her real life, where her son and daughter are both involved in projects within what has grown into a Bastianich empire. A travel company, a production company, a line of pasta sauces and two vineyards keep her and her family busy, but she says she's energized by it.
Bastianich relishes her role as a mentor to both home cooks and the young chefs who pass through the kitchens of her six restaurants. "Knowing that someplace in America, in multiple homes, my flavors are gracing the tables," she says. "It makes me happy."
Starting with a broad and pretty arbitrary definition of what Central Texas is geographically, "Republic of Barbecue" takes a penetrating and wide-ranging look at the national food of Texas and how it has influenced the state's culture and history. Englehardt, a professor of American studies at the University of Texas who will appear at the festival's cooking tent at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, shepherded a team of nearly a dozen grad students as they fanned out and collected stories — and not just from the pit bosses.
There is, for example, information on where all that wood comes from and the environmental impact of barbecue. "We were interested in things at the edges," Englehardt says in a recent interview. "The person at the front of the restaurant is crucial, but that person can't stand there without a lot of other people supporting him."
The goal, as much as anything, was to collect stories that hadn't been told before — and along the way to chase away some persistent myths, like the one that holds that barbecue is ancient and unchanged by time and technology.
"We hold onto what we think is the real true authentic barbecue because we're saying something about ourselves or the world we live in," Englehardt says. "There's nothing wrong with that. I think there's something profound and touching in that. But for barbecue, that can miss some of the other stories. We say barbecue is frozen in time, and that's a way to miss a lot of the stories."
— Patrick Beach
With "Music in the Kitchen," music fans can know which dish Jason Mraz loved growing up, what the Polyphonic Spree likes to eat after a late night out and what dessert satiates B.B. King's sweet tooth.
Glenda Pierce Facemire — the head makeup artist for "Austin City Limits," who will appear at the festival's cooking tent with musicians Sara Hickman and Kevin Welch and "ACL" producer Terry Lickona at 3:30 p.m. Saturday — came out with the cookbook in time for the PBS music show's 35th anniversary. Facemire has worked on the show since 1989 and said she wanted to give fans a chance to connect with artists through more than just music. Now they can connect much like friends and family do — through food. Tastebuds instead of earbuds.
"I wanted a unique way to express the artists, and I thought what better, more enjoyable way than through a cookbook?" Facemire said.
The 304-page book features favorite recipes sent in by "ACL" performers past and present, from country singers to indie-rock bands. The book is divided by courses, covering appetizers to desserts. Each spread features a Scott Newton photo of the artist or group performing at "Austin City Limits," a biography and the years they performed on the show. The recipes range from easy, like Joan Baez's Sweet Potato Dip, to challenging, like Dr. John's Wild Duck and Goose Gumbo.
— Amira Jensen
By Jennie Kelley of the Polyphonic Spree, from "Music in the Kitchen"
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
8 oz. mushrooms, thinly sliced (button or baby portobello)
3/4 of a red onion, chopped
1 lb. lean ground turkey
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken stock (optional)
3 tsp. ground cumin
3 tsp. chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
4 oz. Manchego cheese, grated
1 Tbsp. butter
6 large cage-free brown eggs
Pico de gallo (prepared ahead; recipe follows)
Preheat the broiler. Drizzle 1 Tbsp. of the olive oil into a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Sauté the mushrooms and the red onion with a dash of salt and pepper until soft, about 5 minutes.
Set the mushrooms and onions aside and lower the heat to medium. In the same pan, add the remaining olive oil and coat the entire base of the pan. Add the ground turkey in small bits to cook thoroughly. To keep the lean turkey moist, cook slowly and add chicken stock if it seems to be drying out or overcooking.
Add the ground cumin and chili powder, then salt and pepper to taste. When the meat has just browned, add the mushrooms and onions back to the pan and simmer for about 5 minutes to cook the meat through entirely. Drain and plate on a large serving tray. Sprinkle with parsley and Manchego, then cover with foil and set aside.
Lightly butter a large nonstick, oven-safe pan and place over medium heat. Crack in 6 eggs and season with salt and pepper. When the egg whites just begin to set, place the pan in the preheated oven and broil to cook completely (1 to 2 minutes, depending on yolk preference).
Remove and immediately place the eggs on the hash, maintaining the integrity of the yolks. The pico de gallo can be added on top or served on the side. Serve immediately. Yields 4-6 servings.
Pico de gallo
2 tomatoes, chopped and drained (heirloom is recommended but not required)
1 large bell pepper, chopped
1 large jalapeño, finely diced
1/4 of a red onion, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 limes, freshly squeezed
1/2 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
This can be done the day of, but it's recommended that you prepare this the night before so the flavors can fully combine.
In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, bell pepper, jalapeño and red onion. Add salt and pepper to evenly coat the vegetables. Add the lime juice and cilantro, then stir all together. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Willie's Tequila-Mango Salsa
By Willie Nelson, from "Music in the Kitchen"
1/3 cup Austin Slow Burn Spiced Peach Jam with Habanero
3 Tbsp. red onion, diced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
2 cups mango, coarsely chopped
1 large avocado, chopped
1 cup strawberries, chopped (optional)
1/2 cup jalapeños, diced (optional)
Jose Cuervo Especial to taste (set to the side with a shot glass and drink at your own risk)
Mix all ingredients and serve with chips. Great on chicken or fish.
Texas Book Festival notes
For more information and a schedule of the Texas Book Festival, see our special Austin Review of Books publication in today's American-Statesman. For more coverage, go to statesman.com/books.
At the Texas Book Festival: The festival is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Sunday. Authors will speak at scheduled times, but in tents outside the capital building, you'll find books for sale, live music, children's events and concessions throughout the day. The event is free. Go to www.texasbookfestival.org for more information and to find the complete schedule of events and author talks.
At Cru: Lidia Bastianich will be on hand at the wine bar on Halloween night for a dinner featuring dishes from 'Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy' and wines from the Bastianich wineries. Tickets cost $99 and include a copy of the book. Call 472-9463 to reserve seats. 238 W. Second St. www.cruawinebar.com.