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The Joy of Gardening

Lidia Bastianich and her mother lovingly tend their backyard plot

(Video) Cooking with Lidia Bastianich: The popular cookbook author prepares raw summer tomato sauce pasta.

En español | For many Americans, Lidia Bastianich has been the kind, friendly voice teaching us to cook the Italian food she loves, thanks to her award-winning cooking shows on public television and her more than a dozen cookbooks. The Los Angeles Times calls her clear, concise manner "like having a no-nonsense mother (or maybe grandmother) standing at your side while you're cooking."

Bastianich was 10 when she came to New York with her family from Italy. While her mother worked, it was Lidia who was responsible for getting dinner on the table. At age 24, she and her husband opened their first restaurant, in Queens. That turned out to be just the beginning for this ambitious businesswoman.

Bastianich and her son, Joseph, now own restaurants in Manhattan, Kansas City and Pittsburgh, and are partners in the international food emporium Eataly. She owns an Italian travel agency with her daughter, Tanya, who also helps with her mother's cookbooks and line of pastas and sauces. And the grandmother of five doesn't seem to be slowing down.

The Joy of Gardening/ Lidia Bastianich

Dana Gallagher

Lidia Bastianich (pictured on the right) and her mother, Erminia tout the benefits of gardening.

In celebration of her 14th and newest cookbook, Lidia's Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine, Bastianich, 69, and her mother, 95-year-old Erminia Motika, talk about the pleasures of cooking family meals with food from their expansive garden.

Lidia: From the time I was a little girl, I gardened. We were Italian, living behind the Iron Curtain in Istria, which is now Croatia, right after World War II. We grew everything we needed to survive. Then, in 1956, we escaped to Italy.

Mamma: I left beautiful house, beautiful apartment, mother and father. And everything was big desperation. But what we can do?

Lidia: There was no garden in Italy. We lived in a refugee camp for two years. But then we came to the United States in 1958, to Astoria, New York.

Mamma: Right away, she go to look for a garden.

Lidia: Yes! We used to go to Astoria Park and collect the dandelions from the park for soup. Food became my continuous connection to where I came from. These days, we grow everything we need here in our garden in Queens. We start with seedlings in the house, and then we plant. Look, we got everything: parsley, garlic, onion, radicchio, arugula, carrots, beets, kale, eggplant, all different peppers. Fennel for soups. We even have a fig tree.

Mamma: I am director of the garden.

Lidia: Nothing goes in without her OK. The other thing about gardening is that it's not only about food. It's nice movement when you're at a mature age. You have to bend down. It's continuous moving, back and forth. Mamma never went to a doctor till she was 80, and finally I told her she had to go.

Mamma: They do this test, that test, they shake me up and down. At the end they say, "You know what? Go home. Do what you did until now. "

Lidia: Here's what I tell people who've never gardened before. First, connect with someone who has done it successfully. And then, get things that could be successful in your area, with your soil. You do the easy plants. Rosemary, bay leaves — they're temperamental. But basil, sage and thyme — give them enough water and sun, they grow. The easy vegetables: tomato, pepper. There's a great beginning. You may not even realize it, but we all need to have some connection to the earth. Gardening reminds us of our connection.

Mamma: Every morning, we get up and we go with a cup of coffee in the garden to see what grow from the night before.

Lidia: The earth is giving you a gift — and it is free!

The Joy of Gardening/ Lidia Bastianich

Dana Gallagher

Tomatoes are in season during the spring and summer months. Here's how to add them in your next pasta dish.

Raw Summer Tomato Sauce for Pastas

Makes 3 to 4 cups for 1 pound of pasta, or 6 Servings

  • 2 pounds ripe homegrown, heirloom or cherry tomatoes, at room temperature
  • 2 to 3 garlic cloves
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 6 large basil leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup or more freshly grated Grana Padano or cubed fresh mozzarella (optional)

1. Rinse the tomatoes, drain, and wipe dry. Cut out the cores and any other tough parts. Working over a big mixing bowl to catch all the juices, cut the tomatoes—regular tomatoes in 1-inch chunks, cherry tomatoes in half—and drop them into the bowl.

2. Smash the garlic cloves with a chef's knife, peel, and chop into a fine paste. (This is easier if you add some of the salt as you chop; mash the garlic bits and salt with the flat side of the knife, too.) Scatter the garlic paste and the remaining salt over the tomatoes; stir gently. Pile up the basil leaves and cut them into thin strips. Scatter these over the tomatoes, then sprinkle in the crushed red pepper flakes. Pour in the oil; stir and fold to coat the tomato mixture and distribute the seasonings.

3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the sauce marinate at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours. Toss the marinated sauce with freshly cooked and drained pasta. Serve as is, or toss in the cheese for extra richness.

Nutrients per serving (⅙ recipe): 158 calories, 1g protein, 6g carbohydrates, 19g fat (3g saturated fat), 204mg sodium

Lidia Bastianich/Joy of Gardening

Dana Gallagher

Lidia Bastianich's Spaghetti and Pesto Trapanese recipe is filled with fresh herbs.

Spaghetti and Pesto Trapanese

Serve 4 to 6

  • 12 ounces ripe cherry tomatoes, about 2 1/2 cups
  • 12 large fresh basil leaves
  • ⅓ cup whole almonds, lightly toasted
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed and peeled
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • ½ cup freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In the work bowl of a food processor, combine the tomatoes, basil, almonds, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and salt. Process to make a coarse puree; scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the machine running, pour in the olive oil in a steady stream, emulsifying the puree into a thick pesto. Taste and adjust seasoning. (If you are going to use the pesto within a couple of hours, leave it at room temperature. You can also refrigerate it for up to 2 days, but let it return to room temperature before using it.)

2. Scrape the pesto into a large serving bowl. Cook the spaghetti in the boiling water until al dente, then remove with tongs to the bowl with the pesto. Toss quickly to coat the spaghetti, sprinkle the cheese all over, and toss again, adding a little pasta water if the mixture seems dry. Serve immediately.

Nutrients per serving (based on 6 servings): 385 calories, 10g protein, 27g carbohydrates, 27g fat (5g saturated fat), 871mg sodium

Lidia Bastianich is a popular cookbook author, an award-winning TV cooking show host and a restaurateur.

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