Chef, restaurateur and television personality Lidia Matticchio Bastianich built a career by conveying authentic, regional Italian food to American audiences.
Her eighth book, "Lidia's Italy in America," gathers 175 recipes from the dishes served in the many Italian neighborhoods across the United States, from the deep-dish pizza of Chicago to the Muffuletta sandwich of New Orleans.
Bastianich, who lives in Long Island, New York, spoke to Reuters about Italian-American cooking and how through their cuisine Italian-Americans proudly honor their homeland, even as they create something new.
Q: Why did you write this book?
A: "In the 20 years that I have been preparing regional Italian food I noticed that Italian-American food was thriving all over America. I began to understand these Italian-Americans still felt very Italian. I thought, 'this is a vibrant story. It's part of the way America evolved'."
Q: How much of the Italian-American food in your book is actually Italian? How much American?
A: "You might find maybe five or 10 percent of this Italian-American food being cooked in Italy. So you could say it is not Italian and it is not. Italian-American is an adaptation of the Italian immigrants. It's more a part of Americana."
Q: What's the biggest difference between Italian cuisine and Italian-American cuisine?
A: "The excessive use of meats. Take the Sunday sauce. In Italy they made it with a piece of pork, maybe shoulder or skin, so the tomato sauce had a taste of meat. It was delicious and everybody got a little bit of meat in the second course. Here it comes with meatballs, braciole (rolled beef) and more. Why? Because finally these poor people had meat on the table and they couldn't get enough of it, I guess. "
Q: How do you explain the universal appeal of Italian food?
A: "It's not only the food. Everybody loves the Italian style: the music, the art. I think it has to do with our positioning in the middle of the Mediterranean: great water, sun, temperature and a diversified topography. Enjoying life, food, family, beauty, all that permeates through and I think that's what Americans love."
Asparagus Fritters - Fritelle d'Asparagi
Makes 10 to 12 fritters
2 bunches medium asparagus spears, peeled at the base (about 22 spears)
5 large eggs
1/2 cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons all- purpose fl our
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
Vegetable oil, for frying
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus spears and cook until tender but not mushy, about 8 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water to cool. Drain and dry the spears and cut into 1/2-inch pieces.
Whisk together the eggs, grated cheese, onion, bread crumbs, flour and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the asparagus pieces.
Heat 1/2 inch vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. (The oil is ready when a drop of batter sizzles on contact.) Drop 1/4-cup rounds of the batter into the hot oil, flattening if necessary, to make flat cakes. Cook until golden on the underside, about 2 minutes, then flip, and fry until the fritters are cooked through, about 2 minutes more. Drain the fritters on paper towels, and season with salt.