Lidia Bastianich

Breakfast Risotto

Is there any dish with more rules attached to it than risotto? Watch any episode of Top Chef where someone tries to make it, and you’re bound to see someone packing their knives and going home. There are rules about the kind of rice you use (Arborio vs. Carnaroli), what kind of stock you use (dark stock, light stock) and the consistency it should have when it’s done (toothsome? pliant? mushy?). These rules matter if you’re cooking on television, but at home these rules go out the window: I’m here to tell you that risotto is a cinch to make–you can even make it with water! (something I learned watching Lidia Bastianich)–and, best of all, you can make a really good one, with bacon and egg and cheese, for breakfast.

Pasta with Chickpeas, Bacon and Spinach

We did a very smart thing this weekend: we invited friends over for dinner on Sunday night which forced us to finish unpacking and get our new place in order. Worked like a charm. By early Sunday evening, all of our boxes were unpacked, our furniture was properly placed and all of the lights were plugged in. We have our master list of things to get (extra towel hook for the bathroom, drain stopper for the sink) but all in all, we’re pretty remarkably set up for having only moved in a week ago. Only one question remained: what to make for dinner?

Socca (An Italian Beef, Cabbage & Potato Casserole)

What’s the heartiest dish you know how to make? Chances are, this is heartier.

Picture it: a pestata (or paste) is made with lots of garlic, sage, rosemary and olive oil. That paste is used to flavor sliced red potatoes and cubed beef shoulder which get layered in a giant casserole with cabbage. Then the remaining pestata is mixed with white wine, poured over the mix, which has been dotted with butter. Into a hot oven it goes for 2 1/2 hours, after which the whole thing is topped with grated Fontina cheese and returned to the oven for it to bubble and brown. I told you this was hearty.

Postcard from Eataly (10/9/12)

If my ears are made of ashes today, that’s because they’ve never burned harder than they did on Tuesday night when Lidia Bastianich–one of my food world heroes–introduced me at the first of two Eataly dinners we’re doing to launch my new cookbook. (The 2nd dinner, on November 9th, still has seats available here.) The whole night was surreal. Before the guests arrived, Ann Bramson, Artisan’s legendary publisher, came by to toast the book with me, Judy (my indefatigable editor) and Molly (my impressive publicist who arranged for this whole dinner, as well as all the dinners coming up). Then came the guests, friends and family, including my beaming parents.

Lunch with Lidia Bastianich (and my dad)

It’s my fault, really. My parents were in town and my mom asked me, early in the week, if I’d babysit my dad for lunch on Tuesday while she met some of her friends. I said, “Sure.” Then, the day before, I received a confirmation e-mail from Lidia Bastianich’s publicist reminding me of a lunch scheduled at Lidia’s restaurant Felidia the next day. I’d RSVPed for two (I was going to bring a more talented photographer friend (why? see picture above)) and so, after some clever thinking, I decided to take my dad.

“What is this again?” asked my dad when I told him about it. “Who is this person?”

Cavatappi with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Cannellini Beans

cavatappi with sun-dried tomatoes

Here’s how you know if the new recipe you’ve tried is successful: a few days go by, maybe a week, and suddenly you find yourself craving the thing you cooked the week before. This happens far less often than you think. For example, the other night I made Kung Pao Chicken from scratch and while it was very good (I’ll blog about it soon) I don’t think I’ll be craving somewhere down the road. Whereas this cavatappi with sun-dried tomatoes…

cavatappi with sun-dried tomatoes

…which I made last week and which took far less time and used far less ingredients is something I’m craving intensely right now. It’s extraordinarily easy and extraordinarily delicious. I saw Lidia Bastiniach make it on her show and I scratched my head and though, “Hmmm, I wonder if that’ll be any good?” So I had Craig and Diana buy the ingredients on their way home from Zodiac, which I wasn’t in the mood to see, and those ingredients amounted to: a box of Cavatappi (corkscrew shaped pasta), a head of garlic, a jar of dun-dried tomatoes, and 1 pound canned cannellini beans.

Here’s how easy this is. You boil the pasta. In a skillet, you add 2 Tbs olive oil and 2 Tbs of the oil from the sun-dried tomato jar. You scatter in 4 fat cloves of garlic, sliced, and then cook on medium high heat for a minute or so and then you add red pepper flakes (which you should have on hand)–about 1/2 tsp–and toast for another 1/2 minute. Then you add 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes which you’ve drained and sliced into 1/4 inch strips. You spread them out, let them sizzle, toast for a minute, and then ladle in 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, keep it simmering, until the liquid reduces by half. Finally, you stir in 1 lb of the cannellini beans which you’ve drained and rinsed, along with 1/4 tsp salt and about 1 1/2 cups more pasta cooking water. Bring it to a boil, stir together, and cook “at an active simmer” for 4 minutes. When the pasta’s al dente, you add it to the skillet to finish cooking in the sauce. You can add parsley, then, and off the heat about 1/2 cup of cheese (Parm or Grana Padano) and a final Tbs of olive oil before serving.

The beans somehow enrich everything so the meal feels far more substantial than you think it might be. It’s a wonderful and surprising mix of textures and flavors and everyone loves it. I love it, so much so that I’m going to the store RIGHT NOW to buy the ingredients so I can make it again.

T-minus 30 minutes until supreme mouth satisfaction.

cavatappi with sun-dried tomatoes

Cavatappi with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Cannellini Beans

My favorite go-to dish inspired by Lidia Bastianich and featuring everyday ingredients.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings 4 people


  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 jar sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil (about 6.7 ounces) I like Delallo brand
  • 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 can cannellini beans (15 ounces)
  • 1 pound dried cavatappi pasta It's corkscrew shaped; another similarly-shaped pasta will do too
  • Red chile flakes, to taste
  • Your best extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup grated aged Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 bunch flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped


  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season it with enough kosher salt to make it taste like good soup, but not so salty that it tastes like the sea. (At least 1/4 cup of salt.)
  • In a large skillet, add your 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of oil from the sun-dried tomato jar (make sure there's enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan). Add the garlic, slice the sun-dried tomatoes, and add them to the pan next to the garlic. Strain the cannellini beans and rinse under cold water. Set the beans aside for later.
  • Add the cavatappi to the boiling water and at the same time turn on the heat under the skillet with the garlic and tomatoes. Toast the garlic and tomatoes just until the garlic starts to turn golden. Add a big pinch of chili flakes, then a ladleful of pasta water. It'll sputter and spurt: that's okay! Let that cook down a bit, and then add your cannellini beans, plus another ladleful of pasta water. Keep it simmering as the pasta cooks, stirring occasionally.
  • When the pasta is just al dente (a minute or two less than package instructions), use a spider tool to lift it directly into the pan with the garlic, tomatoes, and beans. Stir all around on medium heat and if the pan is very dry, add another ladleful of pasta water. Keep cooking and stirring until all of the liquid is absorbed, the pasta is cooked, and the sauce is thick.
  • Off the heat, add a drizzle of your best extra-virgin olive oil, a big handful of Parmesan cheese, and half of the parsley. Stir that in and taste to adjust for salt and heat (add more chili flakes if you like it spicier). Ladle into warmed bowls and top with more Parmesan and more parsley. Serve right away.

Related Posts:

Cavatappi with Anchovies, Garlic, and Red Peppers

Cavatappi with Pistachio Arugula Pesto and Sun Gold Tomatoes

Egg Salad with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Anchovies

Lunch with Lidia Bastianich (and My Dad)

Joseph Joseph Pasta Scoop (My Favorite Pasta Tool)

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