Lidia's Christmas Kitchen - just like your nonna's
By Rita Papazian
Posted: Monday, November 29, 2010

Even if you don’t know Italian, you will probably recognize “ Tutti a tavola a mangiare!” - the familiar signature closing to Lidia Bastianich’s popular public television series in which she invites “Everyone to the table to eat.”

Known by her fans as simply “Lidia,” the 63-year-old television personality is extending another invitation this holiday season in the form of a children’s book “Nonna Tell Me A Story: Lidia’s Christmas Kitchen,” (Running Press Kids; $15.95) in which she invites families to gather together to share their own memories of holiday traditions, as she shares her own memories with readers. Her first children’s picture book includes 15 holiday recipes and tree-trimming advice.

The James Beard Award-winning chef, best-selling cookbook author, restaurateur is owner of a flourishing food and entertainment business, debuted her children’s book at a recent talk and book-signing at R. J. Julia Booksellers in Madison. Her local appearance attracted over 75 fans who took advantage of the opportunity to ask this grandmother of five some of the secrets of her Italian cooking’s success.

Dressed in black pants and sweater with a cascading long fringed red wool scarf accenting the festive upcoming holiday season, Lidia greeted her audience with her familiar conversational tone. It is this familiarity in her approach that has drawn fans to Lidia’s television programs, her cookbooks, her restaurants and most recently to Eataly, an Italian-food market and restaurant complex that opened this fall at 200 Fifth Avenue between 23rd and 24th Street, with partners: son Joseph Bastianich, chef/restauranteur Mario Batali and Oscar Farinetti, who originally conceived the market and restaurant concept in Turin, Italy and brought it to New York in partnership with the Bastianiches and Batali.

“Nonna Tell Me A Story” is a story within a story in which Lidia recounts to her own five grandchildren her childhood memories in Italy when she, her brother and parents visited Lidia’s grandparents to celebrate Christmas. Lidia’s grandchildren call her “Nonni,” which she says is an “endearing” way of calling her grandma in Italian. Her own mother, Ermina, 90, lives with Lidia and is referred to as “Nonna Mima.”

The book is beautifully illustrated by Laura Logan who captures Nonni, Nonna and the five grandchildren as Lidia, as a young child, visits her grandparents’ house, “set around a courtyard. And my, that courtyard was a whole world in itself.” Lidia and her brother Franco “would scout out the best juniper bush for our Christmas tree.” In her picture book, Lidia describes how as a little girl she would help her Nonna Rosa make little wreaths from dried figs and bay leaves. They would tie fresh fruit, including tangerines, small apples and sickle pears to the tree. Growing up in Istria, the family didn’t have much, but they would creatively make use of what the land provided. Christmas was more about being together than presents.

Lidia writes: “We didn’t have fancy colored lights back then…We put tiny candies all over the tree. They came in shiny wrappers of different colors that shone like little gems among the branches.”

In the storybook, when Lidia finishes recounting the Italian holiday celebration, she and her grandchildren set to work creating new memories with Nonni Lidia as they decorate the Christmas tree and bake cookies. A key illustration depicts Lidia with her daughter Tanya and her husband and two children, along with her son Joseph, his wife and three children and Nonna Mima sitting around the Christmas tree. Lidia’s grandchildren include Julia, 7, Ethan, 8, Miles, 9, Lorenzo, 10 and Olivia, 12.

“This is a story that brings families and friends together,” Lidia told her audience in Madison soon after commenting how “It was a nice ride up, a little trafficky.” She noted to her audience that when she left her home, her 90-year old mother asked what time she would be home.

Lidia, whose cookbooks include “Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy” and “Lidia’s Italy” – both companion books to the Emmy-nominated PBS series, wrote the children’s book so that she could share some memories of the holiday season with her own grandchildren, whose facial features the artist Logan captured in the illustrations. “That way we involved the children as well,” Lidia said.

“Oh, Grandma, I don’t smile like that,” one of her grandchildren told her after seeing how she was depicted, Lidia recalled.

“I hope the book is something that should be kept as a reference in the kitchen said Lidia, who described some of the recipes, such as “Angel Food Cupcakes” as “more contemporary.” Also, she said she kept the focus on the nutritional aspects and therefore included some flourless recipes, ‘”recipes that had been out there that I had modified.”

Following her talk, Lidia fielded a variety of questions ranging from how she makes her own ricotta to whether she rolls her pasta by hand or uses a machine. Sisters Phyllis Carrone and Diane Carrone of Branford are big Lidia fans. Phyllis Carrone, who is the cook in the family, finds Lidia’s television show very instructional, asked her why she never wears an apron when she cooks.

“I find aprons cumbersome,” said Lidia, who recently introduced a signature line of serving and cookware for QVC.

Anna Recine of Clinton attended the book-signing with her two daughters, Isabella, 8, and Angela, 10. Recine, who is a Spanish teacher at Abraham Pierson Elementary School, said she and her daughters enjoy watching Lidia’s PBS cooking show.

“There’s such a warmth about her,” said Racine before Lidia’s arrival at the bookstore. She anticipated that warmth would be evident in meeting Lidia in person. Lidia did not disappoint.

Judith Jacobson, a retired fourth grade elementary school teacher, also at Pierson, said, “I just want to move in with her and have her cook for me. She’s so fascinating.” Jacobson who owns “Lidia’s Family Table,” said she “read it like a novel.” Jacobson praised Lidia’s approach to her cooking: “She lovingly cooks. It’s not like some of those other shows on the food channel that grind out the meals.”

In the introduction to her book, Lidia writes:

Wherever your family comes from, whether privileged or less fortunate, I am sure there are special holiday traditions that you honor each year. I hope what I share in this book will encourage you and your family to celebrate, and bring simple heartfelt warmth into your own holidays. Perhaps you will discover a favorite recipe or two, and start a new tradition of baking or cooking them together each year.

In addition, Lidia offers one message “to every child of the world…May their food be healthy and grown in harmony with the earth and its seasons.”


© 2013 Sh