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In anticipation of Lidia’s return to Public Television and the release of her newest book, we’re writing weekly features on some of the great cities Lidia visits in Lidia’s Italy in America. In addition to sharing a few fun facts, we’ll give you a sneak peek at new recipes and behind-the-scenes photos from each episode.
This week we’re featuring beautiful Southern California, but stay tuned for upcoming posts featuring New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and many more!
Lidia’s Italy in America begins to air September 10th, and the accompanying cookbook, filled with more than 175 recipes, will be released October 25th.
Be sure to check out the discounted presale
The love Italians have for the artichoke is evident at the table. It is also evident as you visit markets in Italy, when you search through the pickled and canned vegetables in the Italian section of specialty stores in America, and when you consider the endless number of recipes dedicated to this thistle.
Get a sneak peek at this Lidia’ Italy in America recipe on Lidia’s website.
Southern California and its Italian Vegetable Trail
Due to their similar climates, one could call Southern California a second Italy. Missing the products from their home country, Italian immigrants transported seeds and knowledge to their new home in Southern California. They developed what would become one of the largest agricultural communities to grow Italian produce like artichokes, purple asparagus, and red radicchio, just to name a few.
Whether you watch Lidia’s Italy in America or read the cookbook, you’ll travel with Lidia and Tanya from San Clemente to Modesto, where they learn all about the Italian-American families who cultivated the farms that give this part of Southern California its reputation. Check out photos from Lidia’s trip below!
Fun Fact: Did you know that artichokes are one of the oldest foods known to humans? The Greek philosopher and naturalist Theophrastus wrote of them being grown in Sicily in 300 B.C. In the 1920s, it was Italians who turned most of the cornfields in California’s Central Coast into a garden of artichokes. As a result, today we have Castroville, CA, known as the Artichoke Capital of the World. Every May, the Artichoke Festival takes over the town, and visitors are offered field tours and are able to taste artichokes cooked in every method imaginable. There is an antique car show, a show of agro art (three-dimensional artworks made of produce), and also a run and walk through the artichoke fields. It comes as no surprise that California accounts for 99.9 percent of the artichokes grown in the United States!
Behind the Scenes in Southern California
Lidia with the beautiful artichokes at Pezzini Farms
At the garlic fields at LJB Farms
Wading in the fields of broccoli rabe at Andy Boy Farms with Margaret D’Arrigo
Vibrant Royal Rose Radicchio
Brent and Russ Bonino at LJB Farms
Allow me to reminisce with you, sharing my childhood years spent with my grandmother Rosa in a courtyard in Busoler full of chickens, ducks and geese. I fed them, chased and gathered their warm eggs to make the best pasta. I recall feeding and playing with goats and pigs; watching them grow from squealing pink piglets to massive animals, until the dark November ritual of making prosciutto, pancetta, sausage, testina and blood sausage. Come sit with me in my courtyard under the fig tree on a hot August afternoon. We’ll be shaded by the trees big leaves and eat its fruit until we’re full and then gather the ripe figs in a basket. The perfect ones will go to market and courtyard animals will eat those that had already plopped on the floor. The very ripe ones will be left to dry in the sun and then made into a crown of laurel and figs for the winter.
August was particularly special because of the figs. We were like birds; we knew which fruit was ripe. You know a fruit is ripe if a bird has bitten it. The beauty was living with this simple knowledge. Fruits are at their best when they are beginning to disintegrate. When the cells of the fruit begin to burst or break, that is when the fruit is officially ripe, and release all the aromas and all the juices. It is the optimum moment of a fruit. Today, for commercial purposes, fruit and vegetables are bred to develop strong cellulose skin or thick cell walls so they can travel and do not bruise or break, but they never reach their full maturity or full fruit flavor. When you see a fig that has cracks on its outer skin, where it begins to wilt a little bit at the point it is connected to the tree and there is a drop of rosolio we used to call it, or sap, that is perfection, that is the fig at its best. Even there, in the place of origin, a fig doesn’t last long, about two days once harvested.
Fig trees are easy to climb because the branches start and spread out low. However, they crack easily so you cannot go towards the edge of the branches. We often used a hook to pull them down. As kids we were able to make our way up the tree and eat until we couldn’t eat anymore. We would itch after being on the fig tree because the leaves would leave a residue, but no one cared. We went on and on, swinging, ultimately ending up in a fig fight. The figs whizzed through the air and upon reaching destination, your opponent, you would hear a zoff zoff sound. I had very long hair, always worn in braids. Many times I would return home with a head full of fig, my hair plastered to my head. With my fingers I would try to pull the fig out, but the situation would just get stickier. Of course I was scolded when I arrived home because my hair needed to be washed. This was also part of the fun, because in the hot August month, we would wash right under the hose in the courtyard.
Figs were abundant, so our figs wars were not considered a waste. We would also collect figs and bring them to market. My grandmother would send me up the trees with a little plastic bucket. She would then line the bottom of a wooden crate with fig leaves and place the figs in neat, little rows to sell at market. We would also dry figs for the winter. They would be placed in the sun to dry. When you were sure they wouldn’t get moldy, we would take some venca, a pliable yet strong bush branch, and thread the figs onto it, placing a bay leaf between each fig. The herb would give flavor and keep the flies away. The necklaces of fruit, not only figs but also all different dried fruits, would be left in the cantina to be used as winter fruit, often also to decorate our Christmas tree.
Check out the National Italian American Foundation’s YouTube channel and Lidia’s video here.
To celebrate all things Italian, including the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy and the 22nd anniversary of the designation of National Italian American Heritage Month in October, the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) has produced eight, 15 and 30 second NIAF television public service announcements featuring noted chef Lidia Bastianich, Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor Danny DeVito, actors Linda Fiorentino and Joe Pantoliano, 12-time MLB All-Star Mike Piazza, E! News Anchor and NIAF board member Giuliana DePandi Rancic, ESPN’s Tony Reali and Univision’s former president and CEO Joe Uva.
The Eataly Dine Around celebrating Eataly’s first birthday is open to the public. Click here for more information or to put your name on the waitlist, as this popular event has already sold out. Happy birthday, Eataly NY!
Lidia will be at All the Best Fine Foods in Toronto for a book signing, wine tasting, and product launch. For more information and to RSVP visit Robgroh.com.
Hope to see you there!
Tune into NBC at 8:30 am on the 23rd to watch Lidia make Skillet Gratinate of Zucchini and Chicken; be sure to stay tuned for the recipes afterward.
In the meanwhile, you can click here to watch some of Lidia’s previous appearances on the Today Show!