It seems like nearly every country has its version of American pancakes – France has its crepes, Mexico has its tortillas, Norway has its lefse and several countries in Central and Eastern Europe have palacinke.
I first learned about palacinke while watching a cooking show by Lidia Bastianich, the noted cookbook author and restaurateur. It’s a dish she ate many times while growing up in Istria, a peninsula that’s now part of Croatia, but once belonged to Italy.
Palacinke were ubiquitous on every breakfast menu on our recent trip to Croatia, but they were also commonly found in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s charming capital, where we also spent a few days.
They were served many different ways, including with maple syrup and a swath of jam smeared on the plate.
At a street fair in Ljubljana, you could order them stuffed with mango, Nutella or even Snickers candy bar.
Abundant and delicious food choices are just one of the reasons to visit this city.
The streets in the old part of Ljubljana are jammed with tourists enjoying a drink or dinner at one of the many bars and restaurants lining the river banks.
Ljubljana’s old town has become a not-so-secret hip place to visit. Walk along its medieval streets and gaze at its beautiful architecture with clay tile roofs and you’ll hear a multitude of languages being spoken, including English.
The city’s triple bridge, consisting of a main stone bridge with balustrades, and two side bridges, is a well known landmark and popular meeting place.
Dominating the city though, is Ljubljana castle, most of which was built in the 16th century, following a devastating earthquake.
Inside the castle, you can climb the 19th century watchtower, tour the 15th century church of St. George, or just enjoy lunch or an ice cream cone in its central courtyard.
The gift shop features beautifully decorated cookies:
And lovely hand-painted boxes with traditional Slovenian designs.
Music is everywhere in the city, performed at various venues, including the neoclassic opera house, home to the Slovenian National opera and ballet companies.
We were lucky enough to find ourselves in Ljubljana on the eve of the country’s 25th anniversary of its independence from Yugoslavia, and discovered we had front seats, from our hotel room, to a fireworks display above the castle.
The anniversary also meant we had to navigate the way to our room past armed guards outside our door, since four European presidents were staying at our hotel during the festivities.
You may not be able to get to Ljubljana any time soon, but you can pretend you’re there when you dig your fork into these palacinke.
I serve them here with poached plums, my new favorite topping for yogurt, cooked oatmeal or ice cream. Spoon some inside the palacinke, then ladle on a bit more on top. If you really want to gild the lily, serve with whipped cream.
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recipe from Lidia’s Italy, by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
2 lemons, zest of, finely grated.
To make the palacinke batter, whisk together the eggs, 2 cups water, the rum, vanilla, sugar, and salt in a large bowl, until well blended. Sift the flour on top, a bit at a time, whisking each addition in until smooth. Drizzle in 4 tablespoons of the melted butter, whisking until the batter has slightly thickened, with the consistency of melted ice cream. Finally, whisk in the lemon zest. Put the remaining 4 tablespoons of melted butter in a small cup and keep it warm.
Set the crêpe pan or skillet over medium-high heat until quite hot. Pour in a couple tablespoons of the reserved melted butter, quickly swirl it all over the pan bottom, then pour excess butter back into the cup, leaving the bottom lightly coated with sizzling butter. (If the butter doesn’t sizzle, heat the pan longer before adding the batter.) Immediately ladle in a scant 1/3 cup of batter, tilt and swirl so it coats the bottom, and set the pan on the burner. Stewed Plums
Cut 4-6 plums in quarters, discarding pits. (I use any kind, from Italian prune plums to Santa Rosa plums). Place the plums in a saucepan with three tablespoons of water, two tablespoons sugar and a dash of cinnamon. Let come to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer. Cook over love heat for about ten minutes, or until fruit has softened.
It’s here! The latest cookbook written by everyone’s favorite Italian chef is out in bookstores and it’s wonderful. Lidia Mattichio Bastianich, along with her daughter Tanya, has done it again. Lidia has criss-crossed the country to talk to and write about Italian-Americans who have left their mark on their communities and cuisine – recipes that include crab cakes from Baltimore to prickly pear granita from California. They may sound like American foods, but as Lidia explains, the recipes have their origins in Italy and pay homage to their homeland in a delicious new way.
Gracious and generous as always, Lidia agreed to an interview to talk about her latest book.
Ciao Chow Linda: Why did you write this particular book? What is there to say about Italian-American cuisine that you haven’t already said or written about in prior cookbooks?
Lidia: “I have dedicated my career to transporting the real Italian culture, its history and its products to Americans. I came here as an Italian, but I also feel very American and I wanted to bring the two cultures together. I’m a good conduit. It was all about bringing the real Italy to the real America. I said I want to find out about the Italians in America. How is this Italian culture part of America? Yes, there is Italy in the memories, but this is about America. This book does just that. It traces the immigrants’ contributions, the happenings and the flavors that are important to them.
There are still all kinds of hubs of ‘Italianissimo’ in the U.S., if you will, three or four generations later – neighborhoods where the original immigrants settled, and the roots are still there. Not only did they settle, they brought their cousins, their brothers, and other relatives to places like Napa Valley, for instance. The Swiss Colony was one of the first wine businesses in Napa Valley and it was started by Italians from Northern Italy. One could say the Italians were the great initiators of wine in California.
Vegetables like artichokes and broccoli rape are easily available to Americans now, but it took four generations for this to happen. The California company ‘Andy Boy’ was founded by Italians who brought seeds of broccoli rape from Italy. The need to have the food they know from home – that quest to have those ingredients, to grow, to manufacture – was strong.”
Ciao Chow Linda: “Speaking of broccoli rape, (pronounced RAH-pay) is that the right way to say it, rather than rabe (RAHB)?”
Lidia: “Yes, that is the correct way to spell it and say it. But as cuisine changes, language changes too. It’s constantly in evolution.”
Ciao Chow Linda: “What is the biggest misconception people have about Italian food?”
Lidia: “I think the most common misconception I see is that when you serve pasta as the big center of a meal with lots of sauce. The pasta is smothered in the sauce – the heaviness of it – that’s not really Italian. Italian cuisine delivers a lot of flavor but it’s not heavy.
Ciao Chow Linda: How do you feel about the cooking that’s presented in Italian-American chain restaurants?
Lidia: They really don’t get it. That kind of cooking doesn’t represent the Italian cuisine. Nowadays, everybody can really cook true Italian cuisine. The products are there. Chains are doing an injustice to the Italian cuisine. There’s a lot of economics and costs involved and many times they use the cheaper products – putting a lot of fat into it and all of that. It doesn’t represent Italian cuisine – it’s a shame they’re missing the boat, because they could really do justice to the Italian food and their customers and still make a profit.
Ciao Chow Linda: What do you eat when you don’t feel like cooking? Do you ever get take-out food?
Lidia: It’s almost always antipasto foods that deliver a lot of flavor – a slice of prosciutto, a little anchovies, if I’m not very hungry. If I’m more hungry, I’ll cook some spaghetti with garlic, oil, and peperoncino.
I do take out, but usually it’s from a different culture. I like Asian food – sushi, Korean and Chinese.
Ciao Chow Linda: What’s in your refrigerator that people would be surprised to see?
Lidia: Very prominent in front is peanut butter and jelly – and I love it. I’m trying to stay a little off of starches, so I use it on those rice cakes. That’s not part of my heritage but it’s part of me coming to America and it was an introductory food. But I eat it on rice cakes, not on Wonder Bread.
Ciao Chow Linda: Everyone loves seeing your family and especially your grandchildren and your mother on your tv show. Was your mother your greatest influence in the kitchen and does she ever take over the cooking at home?
Lidia: She was a good cook, but not a great cook. She worked as an elementary school teacher. It was her mother – my grandmom – who influenced me more in the kitchen. There are certain things my mother does cook for me. If I’m traveling you can bet she has some soup waiting for me when I get home. I get organic chickens for her, and split them for her, and separate them. She’ll take all the bones and all of that and makes soups – she adds all the veggies. She’s still digging carrots out of the garden and celery still in the garden. Most likely when I come back I’ll find a little soup. She also loves to make palacinka. She makes the crepes and fills them with jam and the children love that.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother because my mother was at work. She had chickens, ducks, rabbits, and goats, and pigs that we slaughtered It was a seasonal cycle of products. I was exposed to that and I appreciate that. They would send me out to get the bay leaves, to pick basil, to pluck the chickens, to clean the potatoes. All of that is recorded in my mind and that’s the reference library for my cooking.
We would dip the chicken in hot water first, then pluck the feathers. Then my grandmother would burn off the little hairs on an open fire. Then she took the chicken and opened it up. I remember the feet – she would chop off the nails because they were dirty, but the rest she kept – even the intestines. I would take the intestines and press everything out of them. Then I would take scissors and cut them open, washing them two or three times in vinegar and water. The liver was used in a frittata as a snack, a merenda. Nothing was wasted. That was ingrained in me when I was very little – a respect for food. From one chicken we had a merenda and then a full meal that was enough for eight to ten people.
I have so many more memories – the slaughter of the pig for example. Butchers went around from one home to another. It would take about two days to slaughter and cure everything and divide it so it would last a long time. Neighbors would all come and everybody would go to each other’s house and help. It was like a festivity and we all brought pot luck.
Ciao Chow Linda: Is there one more recipe that you would like to have included in the book that you couldn’t?
Lidia: A few of rabbit – I saw it in the stores when I was in Philadelphia, but it’s fallen from favor. It yields a lot for the investment, especially in today’s time when we want perfectly marbled steak and you have to put in 200 percent value above what we get. It doesn’t make sense. We use a lot of resources to feed the animals to produce a special steak. Rabbit doesn’t use a lot of resources to get there.
Ciao Chow Linda: Were your children picky eaters? What advice do you have for parents whose kids are picky eaters?
Lidia: With vegetables, we never had a problem because we used so many different vegetables. If they didn’t eat broccoli we used swiss chard. Soups are another great way of introducing veggies to children. Diversity of foods in the home is important. It’s a progression, like wine, like music – you need to develop this growth but you need to develop it in the home.
Children need to grow in a setting and need to be familiar with a food to eat it. If you cook broccoli at home when you have a newborn, the newborn will be accustomed to the smell, so when he’s a year old he will begin to investigate it. Children need to evolve into their smell, sight and ultimately they’ll eat it. You can’t never have cooked a certain vegetable and go someplace and say ‘Now you’re going to eat it’ to a four -year old. Even a mother when she’s carrying a baby or nursing is familiarizing the child with these flavors.
Ciao Chow Linda: Many people see your family on TV and how they are in and out of your home because they live so close. What’s it really like to have them in close proximity?
Lidia: Overwhelming. Having a family is work, but there’s also a lot of gratification. As a grandmother, I know that the children will be so much more stable, more connected, will know who they are, and have a sense of belonging. They know that there’s a part of the world that belongs to them and their family – it’s kind of like a tribal effect.
Ciao Chow Linda: It seems like you’ve done it all – from cookbooks, to restaurants, to cooking shows, to wineries, to a line of food products and cookware. What’s left that you haven’t tackled?
Lidia: There’s been a natural crescendo for me from the stoves into the dining room into the books and into TV. I would like to remain to be a mentor and guide and have the time to give back a lot more of all the information I’ve accumulated over the years. I’d like to share it with the next generations.
I think they’re will be more restaurants, but not with me on the front page – with my children. I’m sure there will be new restaurants on the horizon but they have to be led by son, by Mario (Batali), my daughter, or somebody else.
Ciao Chow Linda: You have a lot of book signings and personal appearances in the next few months. What’s it like being on the road so much?
Lidia: You can be as idealistic as you want but unless you have a platform – and here in America – the platform is being economically sound and savvy. Part of my success is doing those things together. If these people who come to see me will follow the recipes, buy the books, come to my restaurants, it is an exchange. I appreciate all of them out there. I want to go out there and touch people. I get energy from that as well.
To see the schedule of Lidia’s upcoming appearances and book signings, click here.
To view other Ciao Chow Linda interviews with Lidia as well as a few more of her recipes, click here and here.
Boston cream cakes do not sound Italian, but this recipe was given to me by Italians. At Scialo Brothers Bakery in Rhode Island, we found trays upon trays of little chocolate- covered spheres. I thought they were some version of a cassata (a Sicilian domelike cake stuffed with ricotta cream—see page 318), but instead they were individual Boston cream pies. The French chef Sanzian, who worked at the Parker House Hotel (now the Omni Parker House) in Boston is credited with having invented the Boston cream pie. Italian or not, these were delicious.
Make the pastry cream: Whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium pot. While whisking, pour in the milk. Set the pot over medium- low heat, and heat the mixture to just below boiling. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Remove the pot from heat, and pour the milk slowly into the eggs, whisking constantly, to temper the eggs. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan, and stir constantly over medium- low heat until the mixture thickens and just begins to simmer. Immediately scrape the mixture into a clean bowl. Let it cool slightly, then cover the surface of the pastry cream with plastic wrap. Refrigerate several hours or overnight, until chilled and thickened.
Make the cakes: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a twelve-unit cupcake pan with paper liners. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt onto a piece of parchment.
Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Crack in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions. Stir in the olive oil, vanilla, and zest. Beat on high speed for 2 minutes, to lighten and smooth the batter. Mix in the flour in three additions on low speed, alternating with the orange juice, beginning and ending with the flour. Once everything has been added, beat the batter on high speed for about 20 seconds.
Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake liners. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from pan, and cool completely on a wire rack.
For The Pastry Cream
1⁄2 cup sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch
Pinch kosher salt
2 cups milk
2 large eggs
For The Cakes
1 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄8 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3⁄4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon orange zest
3⁄4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
For The Glaze
2⁄3 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons dark rum
Pinch kosher salt
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
Make the glaze: Combine the corn syrup, rum, salt, and 2 tablespoons water in a small pot. Bring to a boil, and simmer until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Put the chopped chocolate in a heat- proof bowl, and pour the syrup over the chocolate. Stir until the glaze is smooth and shiny and all of the chocolate is melted. Let cool until thickened and just warm to the touch.
To assemble the cakes: Remove the cupcake liners from the cakes.
Split the cakes at the base of the cap with a serrated knife.
To finish: Invert one cake, and place the cake cap on a plate, cut side up. Spoon the pastry cream onto the cake top, then top with inverted cake bottom, like an upside-down mushroom. Spoon the hot chocolate glaze onto the base facing you, letting the glaze run down the sides of the cake, spooning on more if necessary. Repeat with the remaining filled cakes.
This is a delayed blog post due to Hurricane Irene, which has left me and most of Princeton without power. I’m likely to be without power for a while yet (basement waters are receding thankfully), but I’ve latched onto wifi here at Princeton University, which had power even during the hurricane. (I guess a $14 billion endowment helps buy extra generators – or maybe a private power plant.) I wanted to post this recipe and get on board with other bloggers who posted last week in tribute to Lidia Bastianich, one of the “50 Women Game Changers In Food.” Read below for details.
I love my family, don’t get me wrong — but in my next life, I want to come back as the daughter of Lidia Bastianich – or maybe daughter-in-law. Or even the dog. I’ll bet the family canine eats as well as the humans in that household. Aside from her recipes, which are all winners, there’s something about Lidia that just makes you feel at home. I love watching her show, not only for the great food she creates,and the gorgeous Italian locales, but also for the warm family atmosphere that exudes in her home kitchen. She genuinely loves what she’s doing, she loves her family (Oh those adorable grandchildren, and that charming mother of hers!) and she loves her viewers. Having met her, her son, daughter and her mom on several occasions, I can tell you she is just as wonderful in person as she is on television.
I’ve interviewed her in the past, and you can find those posts here and here. They’ll give you a little more insight into the woman from Istria who turned her creative cooking talents into an empire – restaurants in New York, Kansas City and Pittsburgh, award-winning television shows and numerous cookbooks, with a new one – Lidia’s Italy in America – coming out this fall.
Oh, and let’s not forget her line of cooking products and kitchenware, and that she opened the Italian food emporium Eataly, along with Mario Batali and her son Joe.
I’ve eaten at all her New York City restaurants, starting from when she and her son Joe ran Frico Bar, at Ninth Ave. and 43rd Street. When it closed in 1999, I mourned the loss of Frico Bar, where you could always find the eponymous Friulian dish made with montasio cheese. But when Esca opened in the same spot, (owned by Lidia, her son and Mario Batali), I fell in love again with the seafood menu there too. From the casual Becco with its trio of pastas, to the more formal Felidia, to the uber elegant and delectable Del Posto, Lidia’s restaurants are among my favorite anywhere in the world.
A fellow blogger, Mary of “One Perfect Bite” started a series called “50 Women Game Changers in Food,” highlighting women who have been influential in the food industry. I haven’t been participating, but when I saw that my favorite chef was featured this week, there was no holding me back. The only problem was deciding which of her recipes to make.
I went to the garden for inspiration yesterday and picked a slew of plum tomatoes ahead of Hurricane Irene, which is expected to hit us in Central Jersey tonight. While Lidia’s recipe calls for baking the tomatoes in the oven, I roasted mine on the grill, using a disposable aluminum pan. The longer and slower they cook, the more concentrated the flavor, and the bread crumb topping does indeed get crispy even on the grill. Keep it at a low temperature, or you’re likely to burn the bottoms of the tomatoes. The tomatoes alone make a delicious side dish, but added to the pasta, you’ve got a great meal. Just add a green salad.
Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes Recipe from Lidia’s Italyserves 6printable recipe here
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs — coarsely crushed
2 tablespoons capers — drained and chopped
2 tablespoons fresh basil — chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon peperoncino flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/3 cups grated Pecorino Romano (or parmigiano)
10 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or more as needed
1 1/2 pounds ripe plum tomatoes
2 plump garlic cloves — sliced
1 pound long fusilli — fusilli lunghi (or other pasta)
Set a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 375º
Put the bread crumbs in a medium-sized bowl and mix the chopped capers, 1 tablespoon of chopped basil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, the red pepper flakes, oregano and 1/3 cup grated cheese. Drizzle 4 tablespoons of olive oil over the crumbs tossing to moisten and mix thoroughly
Rinse and dry the tomatoes and slice them in half lengthwise. Oil the baking sheet lightly with a bit of the olive oil, working over the bowl of bread crumbs, cover the cut side of each tomato half with a layer of crumb mixture. Compress the crumbs lightly so they stay on and set the tomato crumbs up on the baking sheet. Separate tomatoes as much as possible on the sheet, so all sides are exposed to the heat, drizzle with more olive oil and place in oven.
Pour 4 tablespoons olive oil in small bowl, drop in garlic slice and let steep–you’ll use the infused oil for dressing the pasta.
Roast the tomatoes for 30 minutes until the crumbs are nicely browned and the halves are slightly shriveled. Remove sheet from the oven and let tomatoes cool for 15 minutes or so, then slice each one lengthwise, making two narrow wedges, or 3 or 4 if tomatoes are very large.
Meanwhile cook the pasta in 6 quarts of salted water until al dente. Heat a pasta serving bowl with a cup or so of boiling pasta water and drain. Lift pasta out with tongs, when cooked to your liking, and place in warm bowl.
Immediately scatter with garlic-infused oil and garlic slices and toss well, top with tomato wedges and serve with additional chopped basil and grated cheese.
The following bloggers are also paying tribute to Lidia Bastianich, so stop by and pay them a visit too.