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Lidia Bastianich on the Marriage of Food and Wine

Tips to find the best wines for roasting and toasting

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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Chef Lidia Bastianich-Wine and food pairings and recipes

Photo by KCTS 9/PBS

Chef Lidia Bastianich recommends tasting several wines first before cooking with it.

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.

See also: How well do you know wine?

"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:

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