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As Lidia Matticchio Bastianich crosses the dining room of Felidia, one of her New York City restaurants, she radiates happiness -- and remarkable calm for someone who runs a burgeoning empire of restaurants, books, television shows, and a travel service, all built on memories of the family meals she enjoyed as a child in Italy. This month she begins another 26 episodes of Lidia's Italy, a public television show that debuted last year along with a book of the same name. The programs have Bastianich searching out the great cooking of Italy, then preparing the dishes in her home kitchen in a New York City suburb. "The show is a way for me to share, to touch people, to connect my American and Italian worlds," Bastianich says.
At her first New York-area eatery, opened in 1971, she and her husband (they later divorced) started out by offering so-called Italian-American food: veal parmigiana and other familiar dishes. "It's the food of immigrants, a cuisine of adaptation that's meat- and garlic-heavy because both are abundant here," she says. Soon she began to tempt patrons with authentic Italian recipes, including gnocchi and risotto (an example from Lidia's Italy is below). More restaurants, books, and acclaim followed.
Bastianich delights in her busy life -- at home, where she enjoys cooking for a family that includes two grown children and five grandchildren, who all live nearby, and in public. "I'm fed by the response from my fans and by mentoring young chefs," she says. "It all gives me great pleasure."
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, April 2008.