Lidia Bastianich is an Italian naturalized American chef, television personality and writer. She is not least a mother and grandmother, caring, sometimes severe, but always respectful of her Italian roots. Yes, because Lidia Bastianich’s origins are Istrian, when Istria still belonged to Italy, at least until 1975, when our country – with the controversial Treaty of Osimo – definitively and without compensation, renounced its right to those territories . We asked her for some anecdotes about her when she lived in Istria, with her parents and all her relatives, many of whom are no longer here today. But also what she brought with her, to bring those memories back to life with thought and deeds.
This important theme of mixing memories and cuisine is the fulcrum of the project The Tales of the Roots, created in collaboration with the MAECIwhich was recently presented at the Farnesina in the presence of the Ministers Tajani and Lollobrigida during the launch of the eighth edition of SCIM – Week of Italian Cuisine in the World 2023. Naturally, Lidia Bastianich could not fail to be part of this magnificent story of Italian immigration in the world, and here we are already telling you about a first taste.
Grandma Rosa and the farmyard animals
«I grew up with my grandmother Rosa in the countryside, in Pula, in Istria, among animals, among the products of the earth. I still remember the courtyard of the house and this scene: the grandparents, their brothers, the various aunts, all with aprons and handkerchiefs tied on their heads. It was them, the aunts, who at the table reminded us to never waste food, “there are children who don’t eat too much”, they said. Today Italian cuisine for me is a memory, a nostalgia, a passion, a way to receive and give love. It was, to all intents and purposes, not only a stimulus for what I have done and am doing in the United States but also a confirmation of who I am. As a child I grew up in a comfort zone, in the countryside, among the chickens, goats and rabbits that I fed. I was the “runner”, the “helper”, Grandma Rosa’s helper in the kitchen, especially on Sundays. I still remember those intoxicating smells of the sauce that boiled for hours, where the stove was, in the “black” house, next to the chicken coop. But also the scent of laurel, rosemary, tomato preserves, which I liked to “touch”, a little furtively, with a piece of bread.”
Farewell to Italy, without warning
«When I emigrated to the United States, in 1958, I was 12 years old, it was food that reminded me of my childhood: cooking made me feel good because it took me back to that bygone period. Once I arrived in New York I asked myself: “Why do I love cooking so much?”. I think it was instinct that made me go back to my origins: I was a child and at the time I never imagined that I would never see home againthen over time I understood it and, with regret, I thought that I hadn’t been able to say goodbye to my grandmother Rosa, my goats, my aunts… Well, with cooking I brought my land, my family, to America .
That small kitchen, but small… like that
«A tradition kept alive with passion, enthusiasm and love for four generations, even when, as soon as we arrived overseas, Caritas assigned us a small apartment with a kitchen as small as a closet. There, however, we had meals with family and friends, not without difficulty: we passed the food from hand to hand, since there wasn’t enough space. Then, as soon as I could, in reaction, I treated myself to a large Kitchen! Among the dishes we prepared most often were rice and potatoes, polenta with cheese, pan-fried cabbage and, above all, gnocchi, which even today, when I eat them, are an internal caress, they give me a “sensation” unique. A tradition that continues in New York and that I have also passed on to my grandchildren.
Around the table kneading the gnocchi
As children, my grandchildren all sat around the table kneading dough, just like my grandmother did with me; Now they are adults, they go to university, but they call me to ask for advice: “How to make the sauce, how long the broth should boil, etc.” I am very happy that they too, in addition to my children, can carry their origins with them, despite being born in America. The culture of food transcends birth, but belongs to the origins of the family. Also because there is a substantial difference between Italians and Americans, we always bring food with us. For this reason, Italian cuisine in the United States is the most appreciated, also thanks to the first Italian Americans who came here in 1800 to seek their fortune, bringing with them regional traditions. Very different from my Istrian ones, because theirs were from southern Italy. So, as an adult, I began to travel far and wide across the Bel Paese, so I discovered regional dishes and brought them to the States. This was my luck, this was my choice, this was my life.”