Monday, March 22, 2010

Evviva Lidia!!!

This afternoon I was like some sort of star-struck teenager, meeting my favorite rock star. It still hasn't sunk in that I met Lidia today, at Williams-Sonoma right here in Boston. (As you can see, Antonino met her as well.)

The book signing began at 5. We got there at 4:25. Already a line had formed; there were 12, maybe 15, people ahead of us. Nino was impressed with how long the line was growing behind us. I asked him, "How many people do you think are in this line?" He said, "I think a million."

While we were waiting, the crew at Williams-Sonoma passed out samples of Lidia's Salsicce all'Uva. Lidia herself didn't make it; the staff prepared it following her recipe. Still, it was a tasty treat.

The staff of WS had everything down to a science. Only books that we had purchased at that actual store could be signed (which means I brought two books from home for nothing. Three books made for a heavy backpack on the return trip!). While still in line, we were given a yellow sticky, on which we wrote what we wanted Lidia to say. I mention this because when we finally reached Lidia, she looked at my name on the sticky and said, "Oh, you're the one who sent me that link" (i.e., the previous Faultbook post). Then she said, "So, you're a musician." I was floored that she remembered that much about me.

She treated my Nino, and all the children there, like members of the family, with great down-to-earth-ness and a warmth that was in no way false. That, I am convinced, is what sets apart her cooking. She has the culinary techniques of the greatest virtuosi, yet she has the taste and the love of the Southern Italian peasants (though she is a Northerner). My Sicilian grandmother used to always say, "No amuri, no sapuri" ("No love, no taste"). This, my friends, must certainly be the secret of Lidia.


Salsicce all’Uva

Serves 6

From “Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy,” published by Alfred A. Knopf (2009)

¼ cup extra- virgin olive oil
8 plump garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
2 ½ pounds sweet Italian sausages, preferably without fennel seeds (8 or more sausages, depending on size)
½ teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
1 ¼ pounds seedless green grapes, picked from the stem and washed (about 3 cups)

Pour the olive oil into the skillet, toss in the garlic cloves, and set it over low heat. When the garlic is sizzling, lay in all the sausages in one layer, and cover the pan. Cook the sausages slowly, turning and moving them around the skillet occasionally; after 10 minutes or so, sprinkle the peperoncino in between the sausages. Continue low and slow cooking for 25 to 30 minutes in all, until the sausages are cooked through and nicely browned all over. Remove the pan from the burner, tilt it, and carefully spoon out excess fat.

Set the skillet back over low heat, and scatter in the grapes. Stir and tumble them in the pan bottom, moistening them with meat juices. Cover, and cook for 10 minutes or so, until the grapes begin to soften, wrinkle, and release their own juices. Remove the cover, turn the heat to high, and boil the pan juices to concentrate them to a syrupy consistency, stirring and turning the sausages and grapes frequently to glaze them.

To serve family-style: arrange the sausages on a warm platter, topped with the grapes and pan juices. Or serve them right from the pan (cut in half, if large), spooning grapes and thickened juices over each portion.

The above was copied from Lidia's Facebook page:

"A Leonardo Ciampa
Tanti cari auguri
Buon appetito
Lidia Bastianich"