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Cooking it up with the family

Lidia Bastianich, the celebrated chef and co-owner of five restaurants, still makes lunch for her family every Saturday and Sunday. Now the doyenne of Italian cooking shares her family secrets in her new book, "Lidia's Family Table.”
/ Source: TODAY

Lidia Bastianich, the celebrated chef and co-owner of five restaurants, still makes lunch for her family every Saturday and Sunday. Now the doyenne of Italian cooking shares her family secrets in her new book, "Lidia's Family Table.”

Ziti with sausage, onions & fennel

-1 pound sweet Italian Sausage (without fennel seeds)-1 large fennel bulb with stem & fronds (about a pound)-1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil-2 medium onions, cut in half-moon slices (2 cups)-1/2 teaspoon salt-1/2 teaspoon dried peperoncino (hot red pepper flakes)-1/2 cup tomato paste-1 tablespoon Kosher salt, for the pasta cooking water-1 pound ziti-1/3 cup finely chopped fennel fronds

1.  Heat 6 quarts of water with the tablespoon of kosher salt to boiling in the pasta-cooking pot

2. Remove the sausage from its casing and break the meat up in a bit with your fingers

3. Trim the fennel bulb. Slice the bulb in half lengthwise, then slice each half in 1/4-inch thick lengthwise slices. Separate the slivers of fennel if they are attached at the bottom; cut the long slivers in half so you have about 3 cups of 2-inch-long matchsticks of fennel. Chop and reserve 1/3 cup fronds for garnish.

Making the sauce & cooking the pasta simultaneously:
1.  Pour the olive oil into the skillet and set it over medium-high heat. Add the sausage meat and cook, stirring and breaking it up more with a wooden spoon, until it is sizzling and beginning to brown, about 1.5 minutes.

2.  Push the sausage a bit aside and drop the onion slices into a clear part of the pan; sauté, stirring, until they're sizzling and wilting, another two minutes or so, then stir them in with the meat.

3.  Clear a space and drop in the fennel; let it heat up and wilt for one minute more, then stir it around with the sausage and onions.  sprinkle the 1/4 teaspoon salt; drop the peperoncino in a hot spot and toast the flakes for 1/2-minute, then stir them in.

4.  Clear a good-sized hot spot in the center of the pan, plot in the tomato paste and cook - stirring it in the spot for a good minute more - until it is sizzling and caramelizing; then stir it in with everything else.

5.  Ladle three cups of boiling pasta water from the pot into the skillet, stir well and bring the liquid to a boil. Adjust the heat to maintain an active  simmer all over the pan. Drop the ziti in the boiling water in the pasta pot. Stir an bring back to the boil.  Cook about 8 minutes - until the ziti are not quite al dente.

6. Continue to simmer the sauce until the flavors have developed and the fennel is soft but not mush, about 6 minutes more. The sauce should not get too thick: stir in another cup or two of boiling pasta water if it reduces rapidly. When the sauce is done, taste it and add more salt if you want. IF the pasta is not ready, turn down the heat to keep the sauce at a very low simmer until the ziti are on their way - then turn the heat up.

7. As soon as the ziti are ready by your timing, lift them out of the pot with a spider. Let excess water drip off only for an instant and drop the wet pastas into the simmering sauce.  Start tossing the pasta and sauce together; ladle in more water if the sauce seems too thick.

8.  Sprinkle all over the chopped fenel fronds and continue to cook and toss the ziti in the skillet for 2 minutes more - or until they are perfectly al dente. If the pasta appears too dry, ladle in more hot pasta water; if it is too soupy - cook rapidly to thicken the sauce.

9. Remove from the skillet, sprinkle the grated cheese over the ziti and toss it in. Serve the hot pasta right into bowls.

Skillet brussel sprouts

-1 1/2 pounds fresh, firm Brussel sprouts-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil-4 plump garlic cloves, peeled and sliced (about 3 tablespoons)-1/4 teaspoon dried peperoncino (hot red pepper flakes)-1/4 teaspoon salt-1/2 cup Lemon Sauce

Undoing the brussel sprouts:
Rinse and drain the sprouts.

1. Working over a big bowl with a sharp paring knife, cut off (and discard) 1/4-inch or so of the base of each sprout, freeing the outer leaves.  Now stick the point of the knife into what's left of the base and slice out the tiny core, in one cone-shaped piece - just as you would cut the bigger core of a cabbage or cauliflower. This loosens the inner leaves. Discard the small core.

2.  Begin peeling off the outermost leaves, discarding only wilted or blemished leaves; drop all the fresh dark-green leaves, even thick ones, into the bowl. Keep peeling off the leaves until you reach the tiny ones that can't be pulled apart. Cut this bundle in slivers and drop them into the bowl. When all are done, you will have a large fluffy pile of leaves.

Skillet-cook the brussels sprouts:
1. Put the oil and the garlic in the skillet and set over medium heat. Let the garlic cook and caramelize lightly for 4 minutes or so, shaking the ban now and then. Dump in the sprout leaves, shake the pan to spread them out then sprinkle the peperoncino and salt all over.

2. Cover the skillet and let the leaves cook and wilt for 4-5 minutes, giving the pan an occasional shake, then uncover and turn them well with a big spoon or tongs. The leaves should be sizzling but not browning - lower the heat if necessary. cover again.  cook another 4-5 minutes, until the leaves are soft, greatly reduced in volume, but still green and glistening. 

3. Serve the brussel sprouts hot right from the skillet or turn them onto a warm platter.

Roasted winter squash:

-3 pounds winter squash - such as butternut, buttercup or acorn squash-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil-1/2 teaspoon salt-2-3 tablespoons butter-Preheat oven to 400-degrees

1.  Cut the squash in half through the stem and blossom ends. Scoop out all the seeds and fibers so the flesh is clean. Place each half cut side down and with a sharp chef's knife, cut straight across to trim the ends of the squash. Then cut the squash into even slices (cutting crosswise) or wedges (cutting lengthwise) - all about 2-inches thick at the widest part.

2.  Remove the peel from the squash slices with a sharp vegetable peeler or paring knife. Pile the squash in a mixing bowl, drizzle the oil and sprinkle the salt over the pile, and toss to coat the slices with the seasonings. Spread the butter on a large baking sheet. Lay the slices flat on the sheet with plenty of space between them for even caramelization.

3.  Bake about 20 minutes, then flip the pieces over; bake for another 20-25 minutes, until they are tender all the way through (poke with a fork to check) and nicely carmelized on the edges.

4.  Serve hot, piling up the squash pieces on top, drizzle with olive oil and a last pinch of salt.

Crostada with chocolate, hazelnuts and orange

Ingredients for tart shell:
-1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons)-1/2 teaspoon baking powder-1/8 teaspoon salt (2 pinches)-2 tablespoons sugar-9 tablespoons cold butter (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon)-2 egg yolks

1. Into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, drop the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Process for a few seconds to mix the dry ingredients.

2.  Cut the butter into 1/2-inch pieces, drop them onto the flour, and pulse the machine ten or twelve times, in short bursts - 20-30 seconds in all. The mixture should be crumbly, with only a few larger bits of butter visible.

3.  Drop the egg yolks into the processor and pulse in bursts, just until the dough starts to clump together in bigger crumbs - it won't form a single mass. Scrape out the wet crumbs, press them together and knead just for a few seconds, to form a smooth, tight dough. Flatten it into a disk, wrap well in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 hours or up to a day before using.

4.  Let the chilled dough sit at room temperature for 10 minutes or so before rolling. Thaw frozen dough completely, preferably in the refrigerator, before using.

Ingredients for the main filling:
-1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted in the oven, skins rubbed off-Medium-size orange, for zest-2/3 cup sugar-6 tablespoons soft butter-2 eggs-1 tablespoon all-purpose flour-3 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped in very small pieces (about 1/2 cup)-2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Cointreau or Grand Marnier

Arrange the rack in the middle of the oven with a baking stone on it - if you have one. Preheat oven 350-degrees.

1.  Roll and press the dough to form the tart shell. Put the five ounces of chocolate chunks in a bowl, and set over a pot of very hot water (barely simmering). Stir as the chocolate begins to melt, enabling it to become molten at the lowest temperature. When completely smooth, pour the chocolate into the tart shell and spread it to cover the dough bottom completely.

2.  Put the hazelnuts in the food processor and pulse to chop them into small bits - don't turn them into powder or paste. Empty the nuts into a bowl and wipe out the food processor.

3.  To prepare the orange zest for the filling, rinse and dry the orange, and remove only the outer, colored zest in strips - about 2 inches long, with a vegetable peeler. Stack up a few strips at a time and slice them lengthwise into very thin slivers with a sharp paring knife. Then cut the slivers crosswise into tiny bits, like glitter or small confetti; you should have about 2 tablespoons.

4.  Now you'll blend the main filling in the processor, adding the ingredients separately; frequently scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is processed evenly. 

5.  First blend the sugar and butter, processing about 30-seconds, until smooth.  with the machine running, drop in the eggs and process for a minute or more, until smooth and slightly thickened.  drop in the flour and blend until smooth; scrape the bowl.

6.  With the machine off, drop in the chopped orange peel, chocolate and hazelnuts, and pulse for only a second or two to incorporate.  finally whiz in the orange liqueur for just a second.  Take the processor bowl off its base and scrape the filling from the sides and blade.  Stir one last time, and pour it into the tart shell.  Smooth the surface with a spatula to form an even layer.

7.  Set the tart mold on the hot baking stone (if you have one) or on the middle oven rack. Bake for 25 minutes or so, and rotate the mold for even baking. As the filling sets, it will start to crack around the edges (when it starts to crack in the center, it is done).

8.  Bake 35-40 minutes total until the filling is puffed and firm in the center and cake tester comes out clean.  The tart crust should be nicely browned as well.

9.  Set the baked tart on a wire rack to cool. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature - with whipped cream, if desired.