Friday, August 26, 2011

Gourmets 50 Most Influential Women in Food...#12 Lidia Bastianich and Baked Stuffed Shells

Buon Appetito!

This weeks pick by Gourmet magazine is Lidia Bastianich. She is number 12 on the list of Gourmets 50 Most Influential Women in Food. Lidia, Oh Lidia, what can I say about Lidia! She is one of my favorite chefs on TV. From the moment I first saw her on PBS we clicked!  Her relaxed, comfortable manner is what kept me coming back week after week.  It was like being in the kitchen with a sister, mother or friend. She would take us on the journey of creating authentic Italian cuisine. She made it all look so easy, and at the end of each show she would say "Tutti a travola a mangiare!" her signature line which means "Everybody to the table to eat!" It is something that has been said in Italian homes through the ages.  A common phrase and yet one that shows just how Lidia feels about how food, is only as important as the people who gather to eat it.
It all started in 1981, when she and her husband Felise opened their first restaurant in Manhattan called Felidia. It was a huge success and was loved by all the food critics, including the New York Times. In 1993 they opened Becco with their son Joseph. Becco is in the heart of the Theater District, on restaurant row. (I had the pleasure to dine at Becco on my last trip to the city. We really enjoyed the food and the atmosphere.)  Also in 1993, Julia Child invited Lidia to appear in an episode of her PBS series "Julia Child: Cooking With Master Chefs", which featured chefs from around the country, preparing dishes in their own kitchens. Then in 1998, PBS offered Lidia her own TV series "Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen". She became very popular among the network's lineup of cooking shows. Since then she has hosted two other series "Lidia's Family Table and Lidia's Italy".
I decided to make Lidia's Baked Stuffed Shells. They were from her book "Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen". Stuffed shells happen to be a "go to" recipe in my home. I altered Lidia's recipe just a bit by adding grated zucchini to the cheese mixture. 

Baking dish with sauce

Cheese mixture with grated zucchini

Shells cooked al dente 

Ready for the oven

"Tutti a travola a mangiare!"

Baked Stuffed Shells

1 1/2 pounds fresh ricotta
1 35-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
1 pound fresh mozzarella
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
⅓ cup Italian parsley, freshly chopped
fresh ground white pepper
1 large egg
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, crushed
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
10 fresh basil leaves
1 pound jumbo pasta shells

Place the ricotta in a cheesecloth-lined sieve and set the sieve over a bowl. Cover the ricotta with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours up to one day. Discard the liquid in the bowl.

Pass the tomatoes through a food mill fitted with the fine disc. (If you don't have a food mill, seed the tomatoes and place them in a food processor. Process the tomatoes, using quick on/off pulses, until they are finely ground. Don't overprocess or you'll incorporate air into the tomatoes and change their texture and color.) Meanwhile, bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil in an 8-quart pot over high heat.

Slice half the mozzarella thin and cut the remaining half into 1/4-inch cubes. Turn the drained ricotta into a mixing bowl. Mix in the mozzarella cubes, grated cheese and parsley. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Beat the egg well and stir it into the ricotta mixture.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Scatter the garlic over the oil and cook, shaking the pan, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Lower the tomatoes close to the skillet and carefully pour them into the skillet. Add the crushed red pepper and season lightly with salt. Bring the sauce to a quick boil, then adjust the heat to simmering. Cook until the sauce is lightly thickened, about 30 minutes. Stir the basil into the sauce a few minutes before it is done.

Meanwhile, stir the shells into the boiling water. Return to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until softened, but still quite firm, about 7 minutes. Fish the shells out the water with a large skimmer and carefully lower them into a bowl of cold water. Drain them carefully.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line the bottom of a 15 x 10-inch baking dish with about 3/4 cup of the tomato sauce. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the ricotta mixture into each shell. The shell should be filled to capacity but not overstuffed. Nestle the shells next to each other in the baking dish as you fill them. Spoon the remaining sauce over the shells, coating each one. Arrange the slices of mozzarella in an even layer over the shells. Bake until the mozzarella is browned and bubbling, about 25 minutes. Remove and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

These are the other bloggers that are involved in cooking through  Gourmets list of the 50 Women Game-Changers in food. Thank you Mary of One Perfect Bite for organizing this group.  Check out these other talented ladies to see what they have come up with for this challenge!

Val - More Than Burnt Toast
Joanne - Eats Well With Others
Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan - The Spice Garden
Claudia - A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
Heather - girlichef
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney
Jeanette - Healthy Living
April - Abby Sweets 
Katie - Making Michael Pollan Proud
Mary - One Perfect Bite
Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen
Sue - The View from Great Island
Barbara - Movable Feasts
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Amy - Beloved Green 


  1. I have never tried such a dish. Need to find jumbo pasta shells now.

  2. What a great idea to add grated zucchini to this dish. Looks delicious!

  3. The grated zucchini seems like a great addition to this dish. I want to make a few batches of this while it is in season and have them frozen for the winter. Yum!

  4. Oh, I simply adore Lidia as well! One of my dreams is to go to Eataly in New York some day. I am going to put this on the menu for dinner here next week. Thank you, Kathy!

  5. Oh, this looks great. I have been reading these women chef posts and loving them. I have one of Lidia's books and have never made anything from it, so I need to change that immediately, don't I??? It was a gift and I have just never gotten to it as I have about 7 other Italian chefs on my shelves. Shame on me. This may be the recipe I need to start with...certain it would be a hit here. Loved your "O Lidia, O Lidia...." "O Have you seen Lidia...the tatooed lady...." I just heard a rendition in The Philadelphia Story when Tracey Lord's younger sister was playing it on the piano...always a favorite...I think the Marx Brothers had it in a movie as well...made me smile.

  6. I am sure that Lidia would approve of adding seasonal zucchini to the cheese mixture!

  7. I love stuffed shells...and I adore the addition of zucchini. Beautiful!

  8. Stuffed shells are so great to make anytime! You are right, it is a great "go-to" dish. I think I want some now!

  9. Yum - love the addition of zucchini!

  10. Pure comfort food from Lidia - love the idea of adding zucchini to the filling.

  11. You picked a great recipe from my favorite chef and I love the addition of zucchini. BTW, you peeled every grape? You can cook the grapes, and then strain them through cheesecloth and avoid doing the peeling.

  12. Kathy-I love Lidia too...she's been around for a long time, and is very successful.
    You picked a fabulous dish. The stuffed shells are a bit of work, and with the addition of the grated zucchini, it's even more delicious.
    Absolutely droolworthy!