As a child growing up in northeastern Italy, Lidia Matticchio Bastianich recalls being "swept up" in the excitement of the harvesting of grapes from her grandparents' vines. Today, she writes best-selling cookbooks, stars in an Emmy-nominated cooking show on public television and is chef/owner of half a dozen acclaimed restaurants across the U.S. Bastianich also produces award-winning wines in Friuli and Maremma, Italy, with her son, Joseph.
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Although she was raised appreciating wine and food together, Bastianich understands that most Americans were not. In her latest cookbook, Lidia's Italy in America — a companion to her public television series — Bastianich offers tips on developing an appreciation for wine, using wine in cooking and pairing wines with foods, including five of her own recipes.
Start small: "There is so much out there, so many countries that produce wine, I can understand how people can be intimidated," she says. "I think the best thing is to stick to one country at a time, and just begin tasting wines."
Ask the experts: Bastianich recommends seeking advice from those who know wines well — whether it is the sales clerk in the wine store, the sommelier in the restaurant, the expert on a television show or the author of a wine book. Then just relax and taste.
Use all of your senses: "You want to smell the aroma, see its color, roll it around in your mouth, use all of your senses," she says. "Tasting and developing a palate for anything is like developing a great library. You need to take it volume by volume, familiarize yourself with each and store it away."
Skip the cooking wine: Bastianich cautions against using products marketed as "cooking wine," recommending instead a quality wine that you would want to drink on its own. "Remember that what you want is the flavor of the wine," she says. "Whether it's a nice, aromatic white wine or a really jammy red wine, you want those flavors to add to whatever you're cooking."
The right wine for the right time: Wine is often used in braising meat dishes that are cooked for an extended period of time because the tannins serve as a tenderizer, breaking down certain proteins. Bastianich says it's important to pay attention to the ratio of wine to other ingredients, relative to the cooking time of what you're preparing.
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"If you make something that's quick-cooking, like shrimp or scallops, that's a little bit of wine — maybe a half cup of a nice, dry, aromatic white wine," she says. The same is true of chicken. "Let's say you have four chicken breasts you're going to cook with some lemon and wine. Add about a half cup of that nice, aromatic white wine. But for a pot roast you would cook two hours, add two cups of a good red wine — and of course, if you add that, you diminish other cooking liquids accordingly."
Perfect pairings: When serving a red-sauced pasta dish such as bucatini all'amatriciana, Bastianich suggests "a great Chianti." With a long-simmered meat dish like osso buco, she would serve "an amarone, or a zinfandel." With a lighter dish such as shrimp, she would choose "a nice sauvignon blanc."
After Lidia picked out these five recipes for AARP from her new cookbook, she also recommended a wine pairing for each dish:
- For the fried marinated artichokes, a Friulano, a white wine grape varietal from her home region.
- For the spaghetti with garlic and oil, a Chianti or sangiovese.
- For the baked rollatini of sole, a sauvignon blanc.
- For the chicken sorrentino, a chardonnay or chardonnay-sauvignon blend.
- For the almond pine nut cookies, a bubbly prosecco.
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