(Photo ©Tom Hyland)
On the Sunday evening of VinItaly, I accepted an invitation from Lidia Bastianich to have dinner with her as well as a dozen friends and family. I actually was a little bit run down from three non-stop days at the wine fair, but how could I say no? It’s not very often that you get this kind of opportunity.
This was a unique dinner and not the usual one that is organized during VinItaly. Instead of heading to a restaurant in Verona that would be crowded and more than a bit noisy, Lidia rented out several apartments in a B&B in a small buildng near Piazza Bra, one of which served as our dining room, located just a few feet from the small kitchen where three chefs worked on the dinner. Lidia had enough to do organizing everything as well as serving as host, so she brought in a chef from Piemonte (Cesere Giacone) as well as two chefs from restaurants in New York owned by her son Joseph and herself (Alex Pillas from Del Posto and Fortunato Nicotra from Felidia). Unfortunately, Joseph could not attend, as he was filming a new television series in California.
Chefs Alex Pillas, Cesere Giacone, Fortunato Nicotra and assistant
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)
As we sat down for dinner (I was sitting next to Lidia, thanks to her seating arrangement), Lidia mentioned that this was a simple dinner for some friends of the winery and indeed this was a lovely evening with honest food, beautiful wines and good conversation. We enjoyed a primi of risotto with Montasio cheese, pears and celery and then a pasta of pappardelle with salami and squab followed by spit-roasted young goat with Albena artichokes (among the best I’ve had). We finished with some lovely ricotta cheese with strawberries as well as a delicious zabaglione that incorporated a Moscato d’Asti.
Paired with the food were Bastianich wines from their Friuli estate as well as two reds from Brandini, Joseph’s new winery in La Morra in the heart of the Barolo zone in Piemonte. The Vespa Bianco, a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Picolit has become one of Friuli’s most consistent whites and as we learned from tasting the 2004 and 2005 vintages, it is a wine that ages beautifully. The new Brandini wines were excellent, both a charming 2009 Dolcetto d’Alba and the soon to be released 2006 Barolo. Given what Bastianich has done in Friuli, there is no reason to think he won’t be as successful at his new venture in the Langhe.
During dinner I took the opportunity to talk with Lidia a bit; I’ve known her for several years and she’s always been very kind to me, asking about my business. I wanted to know what were the greatest pleasures she derived from her PBS television show, which is certainly one of the very best of its kind. She told me she loved all the research she has to do for the recipes, as she thrives on learning all she can about local ingredients. But there was clearly one thing that pleased her the most. “It’s the emails I get from people,” she said. "Many people write to me, telling me, ‘Lidia, I never thought I could cook, but you showed me how.’ That is a wonderful thing to hear.”
A wonderful night with a wonderful lady. We’re all so lucky to be able to share her world through her television show and I consider myself extremely lucky to know her, especially now after this evening. One final thing: before dinner, as we were waiting for guests to arrive, she asked me when I was going to visit the winery in Friuli, as they had a guesthouse I could stay at for a few days. As if that wasn’t enough, she also invited me to stay at her home in Istria for as long a two weeks! How kind! – I'll have to start rearranging my calendar! How truly gracious Lidia Bastianich is and I hope Joseph and she enjoy even greater success in the future – they’ve earned it!
A special thank you also to Wayne Young from the Bastianich Winery in Friuli for making this dinner a reality and for passing along the invitation.