“I loved the cranberry, I’d never had cranberry” says Bastianich, who immigrated to the United States as a teenager. “Of course, at the time we had it from the can.”
Over the years, Bastianich has added her own Italian twists to the feast.
She adds quince — a fruit with a gentle perfume that her grandmother used to add fragrance to sheets and towels — to a simple cooked cranberry sauce.
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Her latest cookbook, “Lidia’s Celebrate Like an Italian,” includes recipes for traditional turkey with an apricot sauce or guinea hens with balsamic glaze.
And she says the table wouldn’t feel complete without a pasta dish.
“Baked pasta is your savior if you have a big party and you want to do it family style. The oven is your helper,” says Bastianich, who recently appeared on a Chow Town Live to discuss holiday entertaining tips. “Divide the pasta in two or three casseroles, depending how big the table is.”
When it comes to dessert, Bastianich enjoys a “sliver” of pumpkin and pecan pie. “Those two elements are not very Italian,” she admits. So her family adds to the dessert buffet with Italian-style roasted fruit — often pears and grapes or other berries with honey, cinnamon and a splash of Vin Santo, a traditional Tuscan dessert wine.
Turkey Breast With Apricots
(Petto di Tacchino alle Albicocche)
This is a fabulous dish for those special dinners when you do not feel like dealing with a whole turkey. It cooks much faster, and the recipe can be doubled, using two whole breasts, if you have a big crowd.
Makes 8 servings
8 ounces dried apricots
1/2 cup bourbon
7-pound whole bone-in turkey breast (if your butcher has a neck or giblets, take those, too)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium carrots, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
3 stalks celery, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 large onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 cups chicken stock
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the apricots and bourbon. Let soak 10 minutes. Remove the apricots, reserving the bourbon. Finely chop half of the apricots, and leave the other half whole.
Rub the softened butter over and under the skin of the turkey breast, and season all over with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.
In a roasting pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the carrots, celery, and onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown and soften, about 6 minutes. (If you have the neck or giblets, add them with the vegetables to brown, too.) Add the chopped apricots, and season with the remaining teaspoon of salt. Pour in the reserved bourbon, and add the rosemary. Add the stock, bring to a simmer, and cook until reduced slightly, about 5 minutes.
Fit a rack in the roasting pan, over the vegetables and set the turkey on it, breast side up. Throw the whole apricots into the sauce around the turkey. Cover with foil, and roast 45 minutes.
Uncover, and roast, basting the turkey breast occasionally, until the thickest part of the breast reads 165 degrees on a meat thermometer. Let turkey rest on a cutting board while you finish the sauce.
For the sauce, pluck out the whole apricots and set them aside. Pour the rest of the sauce into a medium saucepan, and mash with a potato masher (or put through a food mill into the saucepan). Let the sauce sit for a minute, and skim any fat from the top. Bring the sauce to a simmer, and stir in the whole apricots.
Slice the turkey, and arrange it on a platter. Spoon half of the sauce over the sliced turkey. Serve the extra sauce on the side.
Roasted Guinea Hen With Balsamic Glaze
(Faraona Arrosto al Balsamico)
The blend of balsamic vinegar and honey to baste the guinea hen gives the bird a beautiful mahogany glaze and a delicious sweet- tart taste. This glazing technique can be used for most birds; if you can’t find guinea hens, use 2 small organic chickens instead. This dish makes for a festive presentation, perfect for a special dinner. Set the two birds on a cutting board or plate, decorate with some rosemary sprigs, and present them to the table; then take them back to the kitchen, carve, and serve on two platters, family style.
Makes 6 servings
Two 2 1/2-pound guinea hens
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 sprigs fresh sage
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrot
2 fresh bay leaves
2 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove all visible fat and the neck and giblets from the hens. Rinse the hens under cold water, and pat them dry with paper towels. Season the birds generously with the salt and pepper, inside and out. Stick one rosemary sprig and one sage sprig in the cavity of each bird.
In a heavy roasting pan or very large ovenproof skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, carrot, the remaining rosemary and sage, and the bay leaves, and cook, stirring, until the onions are wilted, about 6 minutes. Smooth the vegetables into an even layer, and nestle the prepared hens, breast side up, over them. Roast, basting with enough of the chicken stock to keep the vegetables well moistened, until the vegetables and hens are golden brown, about 1 hour. The leg joint should wiggle somewhat freely.
Spoon off enough of the roasting juices to measure 1 cup, not including fat. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and honey until the honey is dissolved. Baste the hens. Return the hens to the oven, and roast, continue to baste occasionally with the honey mixture, until the hens are a rich mahogany color and the leg joint moves easily when you wiggle it, about 25 minutes. (If you are using a meat thermometer, it should register 165 degrees when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, away from the bone.)
Remove the hens from the oven, and cover them with a tent of aluminum foil to keep them warm. Strain the vegetables and pan juices through a sieve into a small saucepan, pressing as much of the vegetable solids through the sieve as possible.
Skim the fat from the surface of the sauce, and bring the sauce to a simmer while carving.
To carve the birds: Remove the wings by cutting through the joint that attaches them to the body. With a long, thin knife, carve out the breast meat from each side and cut thin slices of the breast meat, including some of the skin with each slice. Arrange the breast slices on a platter. Separate the legs from the body by cutting around the joint that connects the leg to the backbone. This will be easier if you first hold the leg by the tip of the drumstick and pull it away from the body, allowing you to see the joint that connects the leg to the backbone. Cut the legs in half at the knee joint. Arrange the leg pieces on the platter.
Spoon some of the sauce over the bird, and pass the remaining sauce separately.
Baked Stuffed Shells
(Conchiglie Ripiene al Forno)
This recipe multiplies well, so it’s good for when you’re entertaining large groups. The shells can be stuffed and assembled ahead of time. Return them to room temperature, and add the final topping of sauce and cheese just before baking.
Makes 8 servings
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the pasta water
1/4 cup extra- virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Two 28-ounce cans whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
1 pound large pasta shells
1 pound fresh ricotta, drained overnight
16 ounces low-moisture mozzarella cut into small cubes, plus 4 ounces shredded
2 cups grated Grana Padano
1 bunch scallions, chopped
8 ounces frozen peas, thawed
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta. In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until the edges are just golden, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle in the crushed red pepper. Add the tomatoes, slosh out the can with 1 cup of cooking water, and add that to the pot. Stir in the salt, and bring to a rapid simmer. Cook, uncovered, until thickened, about 20 minutes.
While the sauce cooks, add the shells to the boiling pasta water and cook until just al dente. Drain and separate shells on baking sheets to avoid sticking.
For the filling, stir together in a bowl the ricotta, cubed mozzarella, 1 cup grated Grana Padano, the scallions, peas, parsley and egg. Mix the shredded mozzarella and remaining grated Grana Padano in another bowl, and set aside. Stir the basil into the finished sauce.
To assemble, in a 10-by-15-inch or other large baking dish, spread 2 cups of the sauce. Divide the filling evenly among the shells, and arrange them in one layer in the baking dish. Top evenly with 2 cups more sauce. Sprinkle with the reserved cheese mixture. Dollop the remaining sauce evenly over the top. Tent with foil, and bake until bubbly all over, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove foil, and bake until cheese is golden and crusty, 5 to 10 minutes more. Let sit 5 minutes before serving.