Bastianich brings stories and skills to Macomb Center

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

One of the world’s most authoritative voices on Italian cuisine, Lidia Matticchio Bastianich brings her sharp expertise and grandmotherly demeanor to the stage of the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts this month.

Bastianich — best known for her many PBS cooking shows and more than a dozen cook books — is also traveling in support of her newest tome, “Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine.” On Jan. 14, she will be interviewed on stage by Ann Delisi, host of WDET-FM’s “Essential Cooking” show, and after she’ll take questions from the audience.

“I’ve done a few of these and I love them, I really do because you sort of get the vibe from the audience, and their interests,” says Bastianich. “We connect directly with the audience and what they want to know, and it usually ranges everything from my personal life to my passion, to why I do what I do, to my family, to grandma and to their cooking questions.”

For example, Lidia can wax on and on about olive oil: how oils are graded, what the best ones are, how to cook with them and how to properly taste them.

Bastianich was born in Pola, Italy, which is now part of Croatia. She came to New York in the late 1950s after living in a refugee camp in Trieste, Italy. She says she first got into cooking with her grandmother.

“We had all the courtyard animals ... ducks and geese and rabbits and we had goats and we milked the goats. We had pigs, we made sausage, we made prosciutto.”

These stories of her early life inspired a new line of books for children, including “Nonna Tell Me a Story.” She says the stories her own grandchildren like to hear most are tales of from when she was a young girl.

“Those stories are really real and kind of brings a child to understand that the chicken gives us eggs, and the chicken makes a good soup. Most of the ideas for my books are real things that I want to tell and share.”

Bastianich said she was first prompted to write a cook book by Gourmet restaurant reviewer Jay Jacobs, who co-wrote her first book, “La Cucina Di Lidia.”

It was Julia Child that led her down the path of cooking show host.

“She wanted me to teach her how to make the perfect risotto, and then she invited me on her show,” she says. “The producer says ‘You know, Lidia, you’re pretty good, how about your own show.’ ”

“And of course (Julia), encouraged me and I think she really did mentor me.”

Her latest show, “Lidia’s Kitchen,” was launched in 2014. But Lidia isn’t the only Bastianich on television. Her son Joe, who is a New York restaurateur and author, appears on CNBC’s “Restaurant Startup” and was a judge on “MasterChef” on FOX.

Her daughter, Tanya Bastianich Manuali, helped Lidia co-write her most recent book, which she calls “very special.”

“It’s a big book, it has over 400 recipes,” she says, adding that Manuali, who has a Ph.D. in art history, helped her with the research. “We have a great glossary in the back and in the beginning there’s about 65 pages of prose in a sense, reading material. Everything from Italian traditional ingredients to how to use them, how to buy them, the techniques. Roasting, steaming, braising, grilling, dry roasting, wet roasting ... all about that.”

She has tips on how to store fresh pasta, what to know when buying octopus and explanations on what crodino is (it’s a nonalcoholic aperitif). The book also has an interesting section on Italian culture and language.

Bastianich describes her books, televisions shows and restaurants (she has businesses in Manhattan, as well as “Lidia’s” restaurants in Pittsburgh and Kansas City) as a way of reaching out to people.

“My show is aired across the world ... South Africa, the Middle East, Canada and all of South America, so today’s world is getting smaller and smaller. (I’m) on the Internet now, Hulu and all of those they run my show. It’s endless and it’s beautiful.”

“I connect, and I get responses from people and they say ‘you know, I made that (recipe) and it was really delicious.’ Here I am, people I don’t know and I’m in their house, I’m invited, and it’s really special.”

Orecchiette with Clams and Zucchini

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the pot

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

3 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons (about 1 pound)

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 cup dry white wine

24 littleneck clams, scrubbed

1 bunch scallions, trimmed and chopped (about 1 cup)

1 pound orecchiette

1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the garlic. Cook until the garlic is light golden, about 2 minutes. Add the zucchini, and season with the salt and crushed red pepper. Cook until the zucchini just begins to wilt, about 4 minutes.

Add the white wine and bring to a simmer. Add the clams and scallions, stir, and cover the pot. Begin cooking the pasta in the boiling water. Cook the clams until they all open, about 5 to 6 minutes, discarding any that do not open. Uncover, and increase the heat to high to reduce and concentrate the sauce while the pasta finishes cooking.

When the sauce is ready and the pasta is al dente, remove the pasta with a spider and trans­fer directly to the sauce. Add the parsley and a drizzle of olive oil. Toss to coat the pasta in the sauce, adding a splash of pasta water if it seems dry. Serve immediately.

Note: If you happen to get your hands on some zucchini blossoms, you can chop them coarsely and add along with scallions. Serves 6.

Per serving: 452 calories; 12 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 24 percent calories from fat); 64 g carbohydrates; 5 g sugar; 17 mg cholesterol; 695 mg sodium; 20 g protein; 4 g fiber.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Cake

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, plus more for the baking pan

All-purpose flour, for the baking pan

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

3/4 cup skinned hazelnuts, lightly toasted

6 large eggs, separated

2 tablespoons sugar

1 13-ounce jar chocolate-hazelnut spread, such as Nutella, at room temperature

Pinch of kosher salt

1 tablespoon brandy

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan. Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Let it cool slightly. Grind the hazelnuts in a food processor until they are fine, but not pasty.

In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until they are foamy. Add the sugar, and beat until the whites form stiff peaks, about 2 minutes. In a clean bowl, with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and chocolate-hazelnut spread until light, about 2 minutes. Add the yolks, salt, and brandy, and mix until smooth. Add the melted chocolate and ground hazelnuts, and mix until smooth. Remove the bowl from the mixer.

Stir about a quarter of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, and then gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Don’t overmix. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake until a tester comes out clean, about 45 to 50 minutes. Let the cake cool for about 10 minutes, then open the spring and remove the side ring. Let the cake cool thoroughly before serving. Slide a broad metal spatula, or two, under the cake to separate it from the metal pan bottom, then lift and set the cake on a serving plate. Serves 8.

Per serving: 556 calories; 41 g fat (16 g saturated fat; 66 percent calories from fat); 40 g carbohydrates; 35 g sugar; 170 mg cholesterol; 88 mg sodium; 11 g protein; 3 g fiber.

Grilled Pizza

1 recipe pizza dough, made with only 1 cup water (see note)

For the sauce

1 1/2 cups drained canned San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand or through a food mill

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Sicilian on the branch

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

3 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled

For the topping

Kosher salt

1 pound fresh mozzarella

Fresh basil leaves

Freshly grated Grana Padano

Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing and drizzling

About an hour before you are ready to make the pizza, stir together the sauce ingredients in a medium bowl, and let the flavors blend at room temperature. Preheat one side of your grill to high (if your grill has a thermometer, have it between 500 and 600 degrees) and the other side to the lowest heat possible. Punch the dough down, divide it into four pieces, and let it rest on the counter and come to room temperature. Stretch the dough into four rounds (or ovals) of about 8 inches in diameter. Brush two sheet pans with olive oil, and lay the rounds on the pans, flipping once so they are lightly oiled on both sides.

Remove the garlic from the sauce, and discard. Depending on the size of your grill, you can make two or four pizzas at a time. Season the rounds lightly with salt. Slide the dough rounds from the sheet pans onto the hot side of the grill; it will stretch a little more as you transfer it, and that’s okay. Cook until the top blisters and bubbles and the bottom is cooked and charred in places, about 1 to 2 minutes, moving the dough occasionally if it seems to be cooking unevenly. Flip over to the cooler side of the grill with the bubbly side down. (A combination of tongs and a wide metal spatula are the best tools for this job.)

Cover the pizza with sauce, then a thin layer of mozzarella. Add a few torn basil leaves, a dusting of grated Grana Padano, and a drizzle of olive oil. Cover the grill until the cheese begins to melt, about 1 minute. Always keep a watchful eye on the temperature and lower it if the dough is getting too charred. Open the grill, slide the pizza to the hot side, and cook until the underside is nicely charred, about 30 seconds to a minute more, moving the pizza around the grill as necessary to avoid burning. Using tongs, slide the pizza onto a cutting board, and serve. Makes 4 individual pizzas.

Note: The dough for grilled pizza needs to be a little sturdier to transfer to the grill, so use less water.

Per serving: 660 calories; 34 g fat (17 g saturated fat; 46 percent calories from fat); 56 g carbohydrates; 6 g sugar; 68 mg cholesterol; 1,549 mg sodium; 33 g protein; 4 g fiber.

Lidia Bastianich

7 p.m. Jan. 14

Macomb Center for the Performing Arts

44575 Garfield, Clinton Township

(586) 286-2222

Tickets: $35, $85 for VIP, which includes a pre-signed copy of “Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine”