by Derek Kaden
Lidia Matticchio Bastianich is her name. You might know her from one of her public television cooking shows, like Lidia’s Italy.
She is a chef, writer, restaurateur, entrepreneur, mother, grandmother, and as I would add, a geographer too. In almost every one of her episodes, she takes us to a different region in Italy and cooks meals with ingredients that are particular to those regions. In Sicily, dishes are cooked with a bit more spice than other areas because of an abundance of Peperoncino (dried red pepper flakes), and couscous is also a staple there; the volcanic soil around Naples creates excellent conditions for large vegetables to grow; Puglia – the “heel” of Italy – grows a lot of durum wheat, which supports pasta and bread production in surrounding regions; and places along the Adriatic coast, including the one where Lidia is from, use a variety of sea food – scampi, shrimp, bluefish, sardines, clams, and mussels – in their cooking.
Lidia was born in February 1947 in Pola, Italy, a city on the Adriatic in a region called Istria. This region changed many governmental hands in the last hundred years. After World War I, it was given to Italy by the defeated Austrian Empire. In the summer of 1947 it became part of Yugoslavia, and since that country’s dissolution in the 1990s Croatia administers the area today. Lidia’s hometown now goes by Pula (you can translate that word into Romanian if you dare), and she takes us there in a few of her episodes.
To me, one of the best moments in her show had nothing to do with cooking, but it made me think about geography and how places are important in all of our lives. In the episode Briny as the Sea, which can be streamed for free on Hulu, Lidia shares recipes she remembers from her childhood. Then, the camera cuts from her New York City kitchen to the Istrian Beach – the same one she played on as a kid – and she says, “this water, these rocks, regenerate me every single time. And when the stresses of today’s life get me, I just pack up and I come to my water, I come to my rocks”. It was a beautiful moment.
I have learned a lot from watching her show – about Italy’s regions, political history, when foods are in-season, and of course good recipes and cooking techniques. I completely recommend for you to watch it, either for free on Hulu or on the public television network Create.