Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy: A Feast of 175 Regional Recipes by Lidia Bastianich

Book Reviews 2009

Paging through Lidia Bastianich's new book, Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy: A Feast of 175 Regional Recipes (Knopf), it's obvious that the notion of a locavore is not a trend but rather a given in Italy and it has been for generations. In all of her books, Lidia gives readers a sense of this very local approach to cooking, but in this, her sixth cookbook, the message is clear.

With travel-magazine-worthy photos of the people and places behind these dishes, the book is organized regionally. Each of Italy's twelve regions is covered, from a beer-roasted chicken from the Trentino–Alto Adige region in the north, down to a roasted lobster dish from Sardinia.

Just look at the expression on her face: this is a woman who loves to feed people. She shares her Italian heritage so enthusiastically and generously, reading through the book gave me the feeling Lidia was a loving friend who wanted to take me on a personal tour of her home country, feeding me along the way.

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The recipes are simple, authentic, and written in a way that makes you feel like you can be the real deal, too. For that reason, it's a great book to have for dinner parties. Nothing is overly complicated, but everything is deeply delicious, hearty and nourishing.

Last night I made the Polenta with White Beans and Black Kale (from the Valle d’Aosta region), served with a simple grilled rib-eye steak. It was a very basic preparation, but with the bay leaves and the Fontina cheese, regular old polenta took on conversation-worthy flavors. It's not exactly a diet dish, but it's definitely a dish for mental health. I literally felt happy while I cooked it (piles of ribboned kale, hunks of bacon, fontina falling like snow!) and when I ate it (everything melted together in an earthy, salty, soft way), and I think my dinner guests did too.

• Buy the book: Amazon.com & Powells.com

More 2009 Book Reviews
The New Portuguese Table by David Leite
Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen
Clean Food by Terry Walters
On Food & Cooking by Harold McGee
Secrets from My Tuscan Kitchen by Judy Witts Francini
The Perfect Fruit by Chip Brantley
Heard it Through the Grapevine by Matt Skinner
Big Food by Elissa Altman
Edible Schoolyard by Alice Waters
The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Milk by Anne Mendelson
The New Steak by Cree LeFavour
A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
Fresh Food From Small Places by R. J. Ruppenthal
Eat Feed Autumn Winter by Anne Bramley
Heirloom Beans by Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo

(Image: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)

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Sara Kate is the founding editor of The Kitchn. She co-founded the site in 2005 and has since written three cookbooks. She is most recently the co-author of The Kitchn Cookbook, to be published in October 2014 by Clarkson Potter.