Do you know Lidia like I know Lidia?
Over the years, I’ve enjoyed tuning in to her various PBS cooking shows and browsing through her numerous cookbooks. Besides being a celebrity chef and bestselling author, Lidia Bastianich is a successful restaurateur (4 eateries in NYC, one in Pittsburgh, one in Kansas City), and part of the team who opened Eataly, the largest artisanal Italian food and wine market/mall in NYC. She has an exclusive line of high-end cookware and serveware (Lidia’s Kitchen) for QVC. With her daughter Tanya, she launched Nonna Foods, a platform for distributing LIDIA’S pastas and sauces, and with her son Joseph, she produces fine wines at two vineyards in Italy. In short, this woman has a LOT on her plate!
But who knew she also wrote children’s books? I only recently discovered her delightful Nonna Tell Me a Story series, a delightful blend of semi-autobiographical stories and kid-friendly family recipes.
Lidia’s Egg-Citing Farm Adventure (Running Press Kids, 2015), beautifully illustrated by Renée Graef and just released last month, is the third title in the series, and once again features Nonni Lidia and her five grandchildren, who this time are gathered for a sleepover, which includes telling spooky stories by flashlight and eating lots of good food. When young Julia shrieks during a scary fox story, her brother Lorenzo calls her a chicken.
Nonni explains that chickens are actually quite “eggs-traordinary;” she grew up helping to raise them on her grandparents’ farm back in Istria. As a young girl, Lidia helped Nonna Rosa collect eggs twice a day, and they considered an egg a perfect meal in itself, “delicious and full of healthy protein and vitamins.” Nonna Rosa cooked delicious chicken dishes, and Lidia loved seeing chicks hatch each spring: “I was fascinated by the magic happening inside those shells.” These reminiscences made Julia feel better, and that night she dreamed of “happy chicken families and not sneaky foxes.”
The next morning, after making a tasty ricotta frittata with Miles for breakfast, Nonni Lidia takes all the kids to a nearby egg farm, where they are allowed to see all the different chickens, the different kinds of eggs they lay, and to even help collect eggs and scoop food into the feeders. They quickly learn that chickens are so much more than those pink squishy things they see in the supermarket, and add “organic” and “free-range” to their vocabularies.
To top off a perfect day, the kids help Nonni Lidia prepare a fresh pasta with chicken sauce dinner to enjoy with their parents that evening. Mmmmm! Nothing like family gathered around the table under the stars, feasting on good food and funny stories!
There are 14 recipes in the book, all using chicken and eggs, dishes which will get readers salivating even before they start cooking. Besides the Ricotta Frittata mentioned in the story, there’s Roman “Egg Drop” Soup, Baked Stuffed Shells, Fried Potatoes and Eggs, Cappellini with Spaghetti Squash, Chicken and Grand Padano, and Chicken Parmigiana, to name a few. With each recipe, there are suggestions for what Kids Can Do (toss together breadcrumbs, juice the lemons, pluck the parsley leaves, peel the garlic, etc.).
Lidia’s Egg-Citing Farm Adventure, like the other books in the series, is liberally seasoned with Lidia’s undeniable passion for food and family. I love how Renée Graef has captured all the heartwarming goodness in her charming illustrations — hatching chicks, young Lidia feeding the chickens and gathering eggs, all those free-ranging chickens at Hobbs Farm, Lidia cooking with her grandkids, and my favorite — the family-gathered-around-the-table scenes, where the happy feelings of togetherness, stimulating conversation, and satisfied eaters are quite palpable.
Lidia has used the real names of her grandchildren (now grown) in the story: Olivia, Julia, Lorenzo, Miles, and Ethan. We get a wonderful feeling of continuity in the passing on of family traditions, as well as a nice introduction to farm-to-table cooking.
As a child in my grandparents’ courtyard in Istria, we raised our own chickens. I played with them, fed them, cleaned their coops, and collected their eggs. I was thankful when a chicken gave a fresh egg for my breakfast, or more importantly, its life to be turned into a good sauce for our Sunday pasta. Whether chicken, eggs, or other foods, I invite you to join the conversation — thinking more about what we eat, buy, and farm. Our choices today can hep build healthy bodies, strong communities, and a cleaner planet for generations to come.
A wonderful Spring read and the perfect Easter gift. Buon Appetito!
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🍋 LIDIA’S RICOTTA COOKIES 🍋
Biscotti di Ricotta
This is the last recipe in the book, a sweet finish to all the fun. I’d never used ricotta in cookies before, only in lasagna, so I was anxious to try these. They were simple enough to make, though some patience is required because the cookies have to cool thoroughly before you can glaze and eat them. Once they’re glazed, they have to dry for a couple of hours before you can store them — but this may not be an issue at all since hungry munchkins will likely make fast work of them. 🙂
These are quite soft, more like little biscuits than what the average person might think of as cookies. Whatever you call them, they’re yummy — buttery with a delicious, lemony icing — just right for a teatime or after-school snack, or a nice addition to the Easter brunch menu.
Yield: about 3-1/2 dozen
- 2-1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- pinch kosher salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 large eggs
- 8 ounces fresh ricotta, drained
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- zest of 1/2 lemon
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- zest of other 1/2 lemon, plus 1/4 cup lemon juice
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl, and set aside.
2. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
3. Cream the sugar and butter in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium, and crack in the eggs one at a time, beating well between additions. Add the ricotta, vanilla, and lemon zest, and beat to combine. Add the flour mixture, and beat on low until just combined, but do not overmix.
4. Drop the dough in heaping rounded tablespoons onto the baking sheets. Place in the oven, and bake, rotating pans halfway through the baking time (about 9 to 10 minutes), until the cookies are puffed, golden, and cooked all the way through, about 18 to 20 minutes total. Remove from the oven, and cool on wire racks.
5. When the cookies are completely cool, make the glaze. In a bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice and zest to make a smooth glaze. Adjust the consistency with a little water or more confectioners’ sugar to make the glaze thick enough to stick to the cookies when dipped. Hold each cookie with two fingers, then dip the top of the cookies in the glaze and let dry on racks until all are done. Let dry for 2 hours before storing.
KIDS CAN: Sift the dry ingredients; add the ingredients into the mixer; help drop cookies onto baking sheet with a teaspoon or soup spoon; and help dip cookies in the glaze.
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LIDIA’S EGG-CITING FARM ADVENTURE
by Lidia Bastianich
illustrated by Renée Graef
published by Running Press Kids, February 2015
Picture Book/Cookbook for ages 4+, 60 pp.
♥ Check out this wonderful podcast interview with Leonard Lopate. Did you know when Lidia was 14, she worked with Christopher Walken in his family bakery, the Astoria? There’s also another recipe from the book at the site for Lidia’s Mother’s Chicken and Potatoes.
♥ Young Victoria Bonavita talks to Lidia about the book in this video:
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LIDIA’S EGG-CITING FARM ADVENTURE BOOK GIVEAWAY
For a chance to win a brand new copy of this book, simply leave a comment at this post telling us what your favorite chicken or egg dish is no later than midnight (EDT) Wednesday, April 8, 2015. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good Luck!
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This post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your apron and bunny ears and come join the fun!
*Interior spreads posted by permission of the publisher, copyright © 2014 Lidia Bastianich, published by Running Press Kids. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.