Party Planning Made Easy with Lidia Bastianich
This time of year is packed with fun get-togethers, most of which revolve around a delicious menu. But as Lidia Bastianich shares in her new book, “Lidia's Celebrate Like an Italian: 220 Foolproof Recipes That Make Every Meal a Party," there’s more to planning a great party than just finding the right recipes.
What kind of party will this be? How will the food be served? And what about drinks? Don’t worry! All of these questions are answered in the book, along with great advice for balancing your menu, your table setting, and your duties as a host. We chatted with the charismatic chef at Lidia’s Pittsburgh in the Strip District for more even more insight.
How did “Lidia's Celebrate like an Italian: 220 Foolproof Recipes that Make Every Meal a Party” come to be?
All of my books, for me, need to serve a purpose out there. Through the emails and the customers, I always get, ‘Lidia, what are the best recipes to do when you do parties? How do you put it together? What’s the service style?’ So there were a lot of questions out there I thought the readers could use answers to. And this is the book that I put together. It's 220 real good recipes, but it’s not only recipes. The recipes are for cooking for multiple people, not just two or four or six. But I include the best way to increase the recipe, the best way to cook for a group, and all of the opportunities to create a party. It’ doesn’t have to be back-breaking, complex, ‘oh my gosh.’ It’s a question in planning, and I go through all of that. For example, you can have a party for 40 people without even cooking. Have an Italian antipasto party. We Italians do it all the time!
What's the best way to plan the drink menu?
Let’s say you have a dinner party. Don’t worry about all the different kinds of liquors that you have to have for everybody. Pick out one cocktail – and I have ideas of drinks [in this book], too – then serve red and white wine, and that’s it. (Breathes a sigh of relief) That’s it, and yet, it’s very elegant. You shouldn’t feel you have to supply everything for everyone. Take control of the party. Do what you really like, do it well, and enjoy the party as well.
What’s your favorite part about hosting parties?
I just love it. It has a lot to do with family. It’s not always strangers for dinner. In fact, most of the time, it is family and friends. I love it specifically because I can incorporate the grandkids. I know that all five of them love tortellini en brodo. So for Thanksgiving, we’ll have the turkey, of course, but we’ll also have tortellini en brodo. It’s about pleasing the people that you love. They recognize that you’re sensitive to what they love and what they enjoy.
Your family played a role in this book as well, as your daughter, Tanya Bastianich Manuali, helped you put it together. Can you tell us about that experience?
This is our eighth book together. My daughter is actually the one that’s running Lidia’s here in Pittsburgh. She has a PhD in renaissance art history, but she came back to the business. She does my books, the production part of my shows, the research. It’s great because she’s a researcher, that’s the academic side of her. For a book or show, I always feel responsible that I deliver information and that I deliver correct information. She helps me come up with all of that.
Are some of your family recipes in this book?
Absolutely. There are a lot of things that we do, like crostata. It’s like a tart, but it’s big and square. The dough is so simple: flour, water, and oil. The stuffing base is always ricotta, eggs, and grated grana padano. But you can add squash and kale, or summer vegetables, whatever is in season. I make crostata all the time, and everybody loves them. You can make them in advanced, you can freeze them. In party planning, you always need to have things in the freezer, like chicken stock or a good tomato sauce. Then, even if you have unexpected guests for dinner, you can make, say, risotto with that stock. Ta-da!
What is your best advice for planning a party?
Planners should balance the meals – hot food, cold food, salads. Everybody loves pasta. When you’re entertaining, baked pasta is usually the way to go. You can make it before, then put it in the oven last minute. I think serving is very important. You don’t want to plate every plate. You can do family-style, what we do at home, where you put everything in the middle of the table and they help themselves. Make sure that you have two of each dish, one on each side of the table, so it's balanced. If you want a formal dinner, you can do French service, where you have servers put it on the plate for the guest. Russian service is when you come with a platter to the guest and the guest helps themselves. It’s interactive and kind of alleviates everything.
What’s the biggest lesson you hope readers take away from this book?
That there are all different opportunities for parties. A brunch, a pizza party with the kids. In Italy, they also have an afternoon cappuccino and dessert party, especially on Sundays when you visit family. I hope they apply some of these things to have a great party. I get a lot from the shows, ‘Oh, Lidia, you empower me. You make me feel I can do that.’ I hope that this book does that. There’s no better place to be than at the table with the people you love with some food in front of you. You communicate, you connect. I also want them to make these recipes and feel free to change the elements. If they don’t like kale, they can do spinach instead. Feel that comfort in changing my recipes and collaborating with me. I just want them to enjoy life, their family, their friends, and celebrate life.
To purchase a copy of "Lidia's Celebrate Like an Italian: 220 Foolproof Recipes That Make Every Meal a Party," visit lidiasitaly.com.