This Saturday, the award-winning Italian chef Lidia Bastianich will visit the Paramount Theatre right here in Rutland. As part of her live tour, the restaurateur, author and television star will talk about her life’s experiences as well as answer questions from the audience. After the show, I’ll see if she can stop by my house and cook us a quick dinner.
Bastianich has had quite the life. When her hometown in Italy became part of communist Yugoslavia in the 1940s, her family had to leave their home and relocate to an Italian refugee camp. She was able to move to the United States at the age of 12, and soon found herself in Queens, New York, where she worked in a bakery and pizzeria. Eventually, she married, opened one restaurant with her husband in the 1970s and later her flagship restaurant, Felidia, in the 1980s.
Plenty of hard work, good reviews and family involvement have led to multiple restaurants for Bastianich, across New York, as well as in Pittsburgh and Kansas City. After appearing on television with Julia Child in the early 1990s, she later started the first of several of her own cooking programs. These shows have earned her James Beard awards and even an Emmy.
Along the way, Bastianich wrote numerous cookbooks to accompany her restaurants and shows, beginning with “La Cucina di Lidia” in 1900 to most recently, “Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine.”
I can’t wait to learn more from Bastianich herself this weekend. As I write, tickets to see Lidia Bastianich on Saturday remain on sale and range from $40 to $85. You can find them at paramountvt.org.
I have a copy of Bastianich’s latest book, and have enjoyed cooking through it over the past year. At first, I expected the recipes of such a renowned chef to be complicated and tedious. But many of the pasta dishes I’ve made are quite approachable, and taste as if they’ve come right out of one of her restaurant kitchens. While I have yet to visit her restaurants, I have done some feasting at Eataly in New York, which Bastianich helped create.
I made Lidia’s stuffed crêpe recipe last weekend when asked to bring a dessert to my sister’s house for dinner. Crêpes are thought to be more French than Italian, but when you stuff them with ricotta they become kind of like cannoli. I changed a few things and added in some apple to add a little more substance to the dish. I think any flavor jelly or jam would work well, and you can swap the apple out for whatever fresh fruit you like.
Baked Crêpes with Ricotta and Raisins
Adapted from “Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine”
For the crêpes:
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon dark rum
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups flour
- Zest of 2 lemons
- 8 tablespoons butter, melted
For the filling:
- ½ cup golden raisins
- 1 tablespoon butter, softened
- 1 ½ cups ricotta, drained
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Zest and juice of 1 orange
- 1 apple, peeled and chopped small
- ½ cup apple jelly
Whisk together the eggs, rum, vanilla, sugar and salt in a large bowl until blended. Sift in the flour, ½ cup at a time, whisking until smooth. Add in half of the melted butter along with the lemon zest and stir until the batter has thickened. Let rest for about 20 minutes.
While you wait, make the filling. Soak the raisins in a small bowl of hot water for 10 minutes. Grease a 9×13 inch baking dish with the butter. Combine the ricotta, sugar, orange zest and juice in a bowl. Drain the raisins and stir them into the ricotta. Set aside and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brush some of the leftover melted butter onto the skillet then use a 1/3 cup measuring cup to ladle the crêpe batter onto the pan. Rotate the pan in a circular motion to spread the batter in a large, thin circle. Cook for about a minute or until you see the batter setting in all but the center of the crêpe. Flip the crêpe over with a spatula and cook another 30 seconds on the other side.
Set the cooked crêpe on a plate and repeat the process with the remaining batter. You should end up with about a dozen crêpes. Make sure to keep your pan nice and hot so the crêpes cook quickly. It’s OK if you see some slight smoking. Use the butter as necessary.
When the crêpes are cooked, one at a time, spread some of the apple jelly, ricotta mixture and chopped apple onto the crêpe. Roll it up like a cigar and transfer to the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining crêpes then spread more apple jelly over top.
Cover the dish with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake for 10 more minutes. Serve the crêpes warm, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.