Cooking With Foods Columbus Found Here

It was on this day 516 years ago that Italian explorer Christopher Columbus first reached the Americas.

For Italian-Americans, Columbus Day is a celebration of their heritage.

So, The Early Show decided Monday was the perfect day for one of American's favorite Italian chefs, the renowned Lidia Bastianich, to drop by. And Columbus Day never tasted so good!

Bastianich is a successful restaurateur and cookbook author, and host of "Lidia's Italy" on PBS.

When Columbus got here, he found such native foods as tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and squash, then brought them back to Europe.

On the show Monday, Bastianich prepared great dishes using some of those indigenous ingredients, particularly winter squash.

She says, "Squash is not one of the most popular vegetables, but I love squash and I love cooking with it. It is nutritious, versatile, and delicious. Northern Italy consumes more zucca -- winter squash -- than Southern Italy, especially in the areas near Modena in Emiglia Romagna and Padova in the Veneto.



Makes 6 servings

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 plump garlic cloves, crushed
1 small onion, thinly sliced (1 cup slices)
3 cups butternut squash, cut in ½" cubes
3 cups cauliflower, cut in small florets (about 1-inch)
4 tablespoons small capers, drained
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt or to taste plus more for cooking pasta
1/2 teaspoon peperoncino or to taste
2 cups (or a 28-ounce can) canned Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand
1 pound [dry] fettucine or bavette
1 cup freshly grated pecorino

Recommended equipment:

• A heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan, 14-inches diameter with a cover
• A large pot, 8-quart capacity or larger, with a cover, for cooking the pasta

Pour the olive oil into the big skillet and set over medium-high heat. Scatter in the sliced garlic and let it start sizzling. Stir in the onion slices and cook for a couple of minutes to wilt. Spill in all the cut squash and cauliflower pieces, scatter the capers, salt and peperoncino on top and with tongs toss all together for a minute or so. Pour a cup of water into the skillet, cover tightly, and steam the vegetables for 2 or 3 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally.

Pour in the crushed tomatoes along with a cup of water sloshed in the tomato containers. Stir well and cover; when the tomato juices are boiling adjust the heat to keep them bubbling gently. Cook covered for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the vegetables are softened, uncover and continue cooking to reduce the pan juices to a good consistency for dressing the pasta, about 5 minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste and keep at a low simmer.

While the sauce is cooking, heat the salted pasta cooking water to a rolling boil (at least 6 quarts water and a tablespoon salt) . Drop in the fettucine or bavette and cook barely al dente. Lift them from the water, drain for a moment then drop onto the simmering vegetables. Toss and cook all together for a couple of minutes, over moderate heat. Moisten the dish with pasta water if it seems dry; cook rapidly to reduce the juices if they're splashing in the skillet.

When the pasta is perfectly cooked and robed with sauce, turn off the heat. Sprinkle over the grated cheese, toss into the pasta and serve.

For more of Bastianich's recipes, go to Page 2.