Q & A

Let the Recipe Go, But Keep That Spoon

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

No matter how busy young Washington professionals seem to be on the weekends, we know some of them sneak in Saturday-afternoon TV time with Lidia.

Master chef, cookbook author and multi-restaurateur Lidia Matticchio Bastianich is currently cooking on PBS in her "Family Table" series. Her first name is instantly recognizable and comforting, like that of her dear departed pal, Julia Child . It might be hard to imagine her approaching the stove as a novice, but at 59, Lidia says she's still learning.

And she's always gracious enough to share. Assistant editor Bonnie S. Benwick spoke with her recently at the 25th anniversary event for Washington's chapter of Les Dames d'Escoffier (she's been a dame herself for 20 years):

You had the benefit of cooking with family in the kitchen. What advice do you have for people who are learning on their own?

Don't become a slave to the recipe. Follow it the first time, yes. But after that, don't worry so much about the measuring. Really.

Easy for you to say.

Young people. They're busy working, they're bombarded with ethnic cuisines and they try to do it all. They should focus on a single one -- like Italian. They should just get in there and do it.

Speaking of Italian, give us a fix for a pasta-cooking mistake.

Here are two: If you have oversalted the pasta-cooking water, immediately run some hot water from the faucet and add it to the pot with the pasta [still] in the cooking water. Add plenty of water, finish cooking and drain.

If you have oversalted the sauce, take raw, peeled potatoes and add them to the sauce (when they're cooked, remove them); they should absorb some of the extra salt.

Even the pros make mistakes. What's a common one?

Throwing in salt when you meant to add sugar, or the reverse. There's not much you can do.

Tell us about your favorite cooking tool.

I like a wooden spoon. It's a natural product, and seems more gentle . . . like an oar in the pot. It doesn't conduct heat. One that I have is 15 or 20 years old, a little burned on the side where I'd put it too close. Hold on to your spoons.

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