Italian chef Lidia Bastianich is a famed TV personality, cookbook author and restaurateur -- and now she's written a second children's book, "Nonna's Birthday Surprise" (R.P. Kids, $16.95), aimed at getting kids to embrace seasonally available foods.
Bastianich's early childhood was spent with her Italian family in Istria. She credits those years of helping her family care for animals and grow food with teaching her the cycle of life. The illustrated book, featuring Bastianich's five grandchildren, ages 10 to 14, as characters, is more than a story for grandparents and parents to read with their kids, Bastianich says. "It's leading them to be together in the kitchen," she says. "To cook. I even give them recipes."
Here's what else Bastianich has to say about her new book, which is geared to ages 4 and older:
What message are you hoping to convey?
I've been telling my grandchildren stories about my life as a young girl in a quite different setting, a setting that is quite connected to food, to the Earth. I grew up in a courtyard. In this courtyard, we had ducks, we had chickens, we had rabbits, we had goats, we had pigs. I would tell them we had a baby goat, usually one at a time, even two sometimes. We used to put a red ribbon around their neck, and we used to play with them. The baby kid would jump all over. I would explain that to the children. How I would collect the different grasses with my grandmother for the rabbits, and feed the baby rabbits. And how ultimately, this was the food that we ate. It made them understand in a real way the connection to food. I felt, "I'm going to put this down. I'm going to record this."
How do you get kids to try more sophisticated meals and not say, "Ewww, there's a green thing in my pasta"?
If you have that broccoli cooking in the home all along, even when you were expecting, the flavors permeate, the odors permeate. Ultimately there comes a time, they see it on the table, they'll taste it. You can't shove it down their throat. You have to make them become friends, understand it, become part of their life.
How do you get the kids to sit at the family table without needing an iPad to entertain them?
You get them involved in the preparation. You, as a parent, have to find the time to sit down and set the example. I think that cooking is such an easy way to build confidence in children. If they make something, a lemonade or something, and the whole family enjoys it -- "Wow, this is delicious" -- they say, "Gee, I made that. My family is drinking and eating that."
Getting to know Bastianich
Favorite food I change seasonally. When I see a perfectly ripe fig, that's my favorite food. With a slice of prosciutto, that's my favorite food then. But in the fall, there are truffles, and I love those. I love pasta, though.
Favorite children's book "Heidi." Up in the hills with the goats. With her grandfather, he would make the cheese from the goats, and he would grill the cheese on the open fire on a stick for her.
On peanut butter and jelly My mother, when we were going to school, we didn't have peanut butter and jelly. She would have whatever was left over from the day before -- fried zucchini, fried eggplant, or whatever, in a sandwich it went, and that was lunch at school. You feel odd, being a foreigner anyway, and then you pull out this foreign sandwich. I still enjoy peanut butter and jelly. Although I like it on whole-wheat crackers rather than white bread.
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Thursday at Book Revue, 313 New York Ave., Huntington
INFO Event is free but books to be autographed must be purchased at the store for $16.95; 631-271-1442; bookrevue.com