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Italian-American Tradition

We invited back our favorite Italian grandmother, Lidia Bastianich, to take our Chef on a Shoestring challenge.

Lidia Matticchio Bastianich is the author of two previous books, "La Cucina di Lidia" and "Lidia's Italian Table," and the host of two public television series, "Lidia's Italian Table" and "Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen." She is also the co-owner of three New York City restaurants, Felidia, Becco and Esca. This month she kicks off a book tour to celebrate her new book, "Italian-American" cuisine.

Bastianich says she grew up around food. Her grandparents owned a trattoria, and they grew most of the food they sold and ate - producing their own olive oil and curing their own meat. Bastianich says she filled her cookbook with the earthy flavors she grew up with and has stayed with through the years.

Our Chef on a Shoestring says she recognizes that food is not static, so she revels in learning something new every time she visits Italy. She believes that Italian-American food should not be dismissed because it is not true to regional Italian cooking. Instead, Bastianich says, Italian-American food should be celebrated because it is the perfect symbol of the people who made their lives in a new country. It incorporates the new and the old, and it reflects the adaptable spirit of the Italian people who came to America.

Bastianich went back to her Italian roots to make a filling three-course meal for four for under $30. Her menu: an appetizer of Risi e Bisi; an entrée of Orecchiette with Braised Artichokes; and for dessert, Baked Peaches.

Terminology:

Risi e Bisi: A spring soup of rice and peas typical of the Veneto Region of which Venice is the capital. It's best and sweetest when peas are young and fresh.

RECIPES

Risi e Bisi
Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely diced (about 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pound fresh peas, shelled (about 1 1/2 cups shelled peas), or 1 10-ounce box frozen peas, defrosted and drained
1/4 cup finely chopped celery, including leaves
salt to taste
freshly ground pepper
6 cups chicken stock or canned reduced sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup Arborio or other Italian short grain rice
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Heat the olive oil and butter in a 4 to 5-quart pot over medium heat until the butter is foaming. Stir in the onions and cook, stirring, until light golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until golden (1 to 2 minutes). Stir in the peas and celery, season the vegetables lightly with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the peas are softened (about 5 minutes). Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Adjust the heat to simmering and cook until the peas and vegetables are very tender (about 20 minutes).

Stir in the rice and cook until tender (12 to14 minutes), stirring occasionally. For a firmer texture, cook the rice a few minutes less.

Remove the soup from the heat and check the seasonings, remembering the cheese will add a little saltiness. Stir in the grated cheese and serve immediately.


Orecchiette with Braised Artichokes
Orecchiette Con Carciofi
Serves 4

Ingredients:
8 small fresh artichokes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
juice of one lemon
water
salt to taste
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil (plus more for finishing the pasta, if you like)
4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 cup chicken stock or canned reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or less to taste)
1 pound orecchiette pasta
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Bastianich suggests that you buy baby artichokes. They are about 2 to 3 inches long and are ideal for this recipe. The larger an artichoke grows, the more developed the inedible choke becomes and the tougher the leaves that surround the choke.

The artichokes can be trimmed to make the pieces completely edible as they are in this recipe. The larger the artichoke, the more it needs to be trimmed to make it completely edible.

First you want to make acidulated water. Cut a lemon in half, squeeze the juice into a bowl of cool water and keep the halves close by to rub over the cut surfaces of the artichokes to prevent them from darkening. You should have enough water to cover the artichokes completely. Clean the artichokes, putting the pieces in acidulated water as you go to prevent it from darkening.

With a paring knife, trim the base of the leaves flush with the artichoke bottom. Snip or pluck off the outer layers of leaves to expose the leaves that are pale yellow, almost all the way to the tip. (In small artichokes, this will be one to two rows; in larger artichokes you may have to remove several layers of leaves). Cut off the top third of the artichoke leaves with a sturdy serrated knife.

With a vegetable peeler or a paring knife, trim the dark outer layer of the artichoke stem. Cut the artichoke in half through the stem. Scrape out the fuzzy choke with a small teaspoon or espresso spoon. Pull out the inedible purple tipped leaves (if there are any) that surround the choke. Place the trimmed artichoke halves in the acidulated water as you go. These completely edible artichoke halves may be cooked as is or sliced or cut into wedges as described in a recipe. When all the artichokes are cleaned, drain them thoroughly and slice them very thin for this recipe.

Bring six quarts of salted water to a boil in an 8-quart pot over high heat. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Scatter the garlic over the oil and cook, shaking the pan, until golden brown (about 2 minutes). Add the sliced artichokes and crushed red pepper and season lightly with salt. Stir well to coat the artichokes with oil, and cook, stirring often, until the artichokes are softened, 5 to 10 minutes. Pour in one cup of the chicken stock, add the mint and parsley and lower the heat so the sauce is at a lively simmer. Cook until the artichokes are very tender and the liquid is reduced by about half, about 10 minutes more. Add the remaining stock as necessary to keep the artichokes moist as they cook.

Stir the orecchiette into the boiling water. Return to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta, semi-covered, stirring occasionally until done (about 8 to 10 minutes). The pasta should be al dente.

If the skillet is large enough to accommodate the sauce and pasta, fish the pasta out of the boiling water with a large wire skimmer and drop it directly into the sauce. If not, drain the pasta, return it to the pot and pour in the sauce. Bring the sauce and pasta to a boil, stirring to coat the pasta with sauce. Check the seasoning, adding salt if necessary. Pour in a drizzle of olive oil, if you like. Remove the skillet from the heat sprinkle the grated cheese over the pasta and toss to mix. Serve immediately in warm bowls.


Baked Peaches with Armaretti Filling
Pesche al Forno con Amaretti
Serves 4

Ingredients:
10 amaretti cookies, coarsely crumbled
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus more for dipping the peaches
1/4 cup amaretto liqueur or malvasia or other sweet dessert wine
1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted almonds
1/4 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa
2 large ripe but firm peaches
1 lemon, cut in half
1/2 cup water
vanilla ice cream, optional

Preheat the oven to 375 degree F. Place the amaretti cookies in the work bowl of a food processor. Process, using on/off pulses until coarsely ground. Add 3 tablespoons of the butter, 1 1/2 tablespoons of the sugar, 2 tablespoons of the amaretto liqueur, the almonds and cocoa and process until finely ground.

Cut the peaches in half and remove the stones. Brush the cut surfaces of the peaches with a lemon half and dip them in sugar. In a baking dish, combine the water and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Squeeze in the lemon juice from the lemon halves and add the remaining amaretto liqueur.

Divide the amaretti stuffing among the peach halves, packing it lightly into the cavity and forming a thin, even layer over the cut side of the peach. Arrange the peaches stuffed side up side-by-side in the prepared baking dish. Dot the top of each with about a teaspoon of the remaining butter.

Cut the remaining butter into 4 pieces and add to the liquid in the baking dish. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake 15 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the filling is lightly browned and the juices in the pan are bubbling and lightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Remove and cool at least 10 minutes before serving. The peaches can be served hot or at room temperature, with vanilla ice cream, if you like. Spoon some of the juices in the baking dish over the peaches and, if serving, the ice cream.