Lidia Bastianich is one of the most-loved chefs on television, a best-selling cookbook author, and restaurateur. She has held true to her Italian roots and culture, which she proudly and warmly invites her fans to experience. In this installment of The Key 3, she shares with Lynne Rossetto Kasper the techniques behind three of her classic recipes: Ziti with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage, Linguine with White Clam Sauce and Anna's Spaghetti and Pesto Trapanese.
Here are Lidia's keys, as told to Lynne:
I'm a basic kind of gal, so for my Key 3, I picked three basic recipes. These recipes exemplify how much intensity and flavor you can get with a few good ingredients. You get yourself some good oil, some good garlic, a little bit peperoncino and some pasta water. That's a splendid sauce that will dress pasta and gratify you.
I start with good olive oil, some Sicilian olive oil in this case, because Sicilian olive oil is good with vegetables. It's robust and peppery.
For the sausages, I take them out of the casing and crumble them up, like crumbled meat, so they'll cook faster. Plus, when you're eating the pasta, you're going to get little bits of meat with every bite.
For each garlic clove, I put the whole thing on a firm cutting board. I put the blade of the knife right onto the garlic clove and, with the palm of my hand, I just whack it. It flattens out and the flavors come out. It's still in a big enough piece that you can pull it out of the sauce if you don't want to eat it.
People think that you need a sauce or stock or cream, or you need some wine or you need tomatoes. You don't. This sauce is made with the broccoli rabe and the sausage, and you don't want to mask that. It's a good and clean pronounced flavor. What brings it out is some pasta water. I dip into the pasta pot for a ladle of water and I throw it in the pan with the sausages and the garlic and the oil. The trick in great Italian pastas is not the tomatoes or the cream; it's the water.
I like to use a wooden spoon in the pot, just as my grandmother did. It's very organic and gentle. It's not that metal-on-metal feeling. It has a softness to it when you go into the corners and scrape. I know what's going on in the bottom of that pot. Wood communicates it. The wooden handle speaks to me.
When you're making this for dinner, you're often doing everything at the last minute. One trick is to make the sauce in advance, because this is a sauce that keeps. But never cook the pasta ahead of time. No. No, no, no, no, no. The pasta suffers when you try to make it in advance, because once it cooks, it continues to kind of cook in itself.
Also: Absolutely no oil in the pasta water. You want the little bit of stickiness. You know the old saying: You throw the pasta to the wall and when it sticks, it's done? That's because there's a starch on the pasta, and that's what the sauce adheres to. So you don't want a coat of oil on it, and you don't want to rinse your pasta.
Italians always add their olive oil to pastas and soups at the very end, when the fire is off. Same with cheese, which is already a finished product. If you cook it, it will separate the strings of fat.
1 pound ziti
1/4 cup olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 1/2 pounds broccoli rabe, florets and tender stems only
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chicken stock or canned broth
1/2 pound cooked sweet Italian sausage, crumbled or chopped
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Grana Padano, or Parmigiano Reggiano
1. Cook the ziti in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain well.
2. Meanwhile, in a large deep skillet, heat the oil. Add the garlic and cook over moderately high heat until golden. Add the broccoli rabe, crushed red pepper and salt; cover and steam for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the chicken stock, sausage and butter and cook over high heat until the sauce reduces slightly, about 3 minutes.
3. Add the ziti to the skillet and toss gently. Sprinkle half of the cheese on top and toss again. Serve immediately, sprinkled with the remaining cheese.
When you start with a basic sauce, you can then keep adding things, and one of my super favorites is just adding clam to that. This is the quintessential Italian pasta dish, especially in Naples and Rome.
Here in the U.S., linguini with clam sauce is made with chopped clams, and I guess this makes sense, because clams here can be quite large. I like medium-sized clams -- littlenecks; they have a little bit of meat.
Shucking clams is not easy, so I'll give you a tip: Wash the clams well and put them in the freezer for about 20 minutes before you shuck them. At that point, they become dormant. Then, insert a clam knife and they'll open right up. Sometimes there is a little sand in the juice, so when I pour the juice, I always leave about one tablespoon at the bottom of the container, because that's where the sand and little pieces lodge.
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, sliced
4 anchovies, sliced
36 littleneck clams, scrubbed
1/4 teaspoon peperoncino
1/4 teaspoon dry oregano
1 pound linguine
3/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1. Bring a large pot of water to boil for pasta. In a large straight-sided skillet, heat 4 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add sliced garlic and cook until sizzling, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add anchovies and stir until the anchovies break up and dissolve into the oil, about 2 minutes.
2. Add the clams to the skillet, along with the peperoncino and oregano. Ladle in about 2 cups pasta water. Bring to a simmer and cover until clams open, about 5 to 7 minutes. As the clams open, remove to a bowl. Meanwhile, add linguine to pasta water.
3. When all the clams are out, increase heat to high and add 1/2 cup of the parsley. Cook until reduced by half. Meanwhile, shuck the clams.
4. When the linguine is al dente and the sauce is reduced, add the pasta directly to the sauce and drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Cook and toss until the pasta is coated with the sauce. Add shucked clams and remaining 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, Cook a minute more to blend the flavors and serve.
5. Linguini with red clam sauce is almost never found in Italy, but a big seller in Italian American restaurants here in the United States. So when you go to Italy, eat it as they do with white clam sauce and never ever ask for cheese to put on your linguini clam sauce.
The traditional pesto is basil leaves, pinoli nuts, garlic, olive oil and a little salt. It's basic and simple, because all you do is put those ingredients in a blender and you get this aromatic, loose paste with which you can dress any pasta.
But in Sicily, they use almonds or pistachios instead of pinoli nuts, and there's a bit of parsley and a few ripe tomatoes.
As with my other sauces, I will use the starchy pasta water here, but I don't want the hot water to cook the pesto. I drain the pasta and put maybe a few tablespoons of the water back into a bowl with the pasta. Then, to that bowl, I add the pesto and toss it. So the pesto never gets cooked; it just gets warmed up by the pasta.
Some people add the cheese while making the pesto. I like to add it on after, because I think I get maximum flavor out of it that way.
3/4 pound (about 2 1/2 cups) cherry tomatoes, very ripe and sweet
12 large fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup of whole almonds, lightly toasted
1 plump garlic clove, crushed and peeled
1/4 teaspoon peperoncino or to taste
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt, or to taste, plus more for the pasta
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound spaghetti
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano
1. Rinse the cherry tomatoes and pat them dry. Rinse the basil leaves and pat dry.
2. Drop the tomatoes into the blender jar or food processor bowl followed by the garlic clove, the almonds, basil leaves, peperoncino and 1/2 tsp salt. Blend for a minute or more to a fine purée; scrape down the bowl and blend again if any large bits or pieces have survived.
3. With the machine still running, pour in the olive oil in a steady stream, emulsifying the purée into a thick pesto. Taste and adjust seasoning. (If you're going dress the pasta within a couple of hours, leave the pesto at room temperature. Refrigerate if for longer storage, up to 2 days, but let it return to room temperature before cooking the pasta.)
4. To cook the spaghetti, heat 6 quarts of water, with 1 tablespoon salt, to the boil in the large pot. Scrape all the pesto into a big warm bowl.
5. Cook the spaghetti al dente, lift it from the cooking pot, drain briefly, and drop onto the pesto. Toss quickly to coat the spaghetti, sprinkle the cheese all over, and toss again. Serve immediately in warm bowls.
The Key 3 is a series of discussions with great cooks (not just professional chefs) about the three recipes or techniques they think everyone should know.