Famed Italian chef, grandmother, cookbook author, restaurateur, and PBS cooking show host Lidia Bastianich was enlisted to cook not one, but three meals for Pope Benedict when he was in New York last week. When Lidia and her parents emigrated to the US forty years ago, they received a special Vatican stamp on their visas to allow them to come to America. And now she got to repay the favor with three amazing meals. Prior to the papal visit, she was not allowed to reveal the menu (lest terrorists spike every example of the ingredient in NYC?), but now it can be told.
Lunch on Saturday was apparently a light meal whipped up by Lidia and her assistants from what the nuns who serve the household of the Vatican’s observer to the UN had already gathered:
- “Italian cherry tomatoes with celery and grana Padana alongside some fresh mache
- “Asparagus soup thickened with boiled potato and sautéed asparagus
- “Baked monkfish Sicilian-style with seasoned breadcrumbs
- “Peach fruit tart that, according to Lidia, almost went directly from the oven to the table”
Dinner, meanwhile, was a more formal affair for 52 guests.
- “String bean salad with sheep’s milk ricotta and pickled shallots and toasted almonds
- “Ravioli with fresh pecorino and pears
- “Risotto with nettles, fava beans, and ramps
- “Whole roasted striped bass with boiled fingerling potatoes and a frisée salad
- “Apple strudel with honey vanilla ice cream (with honeycomb intact)”
She notes that while it seems like a lot of food, each course was presented separately. In the article this comes from there’s a lot of nonsense about not making the Pope appear gluttonous or that he’s supposed to be too focused on spiritual matters to be concerned about whether the food tastes good. Bunk! Catholics are not Manicheans who reject the material world as if we’re all spirits. The Pope enjoys a good meal as much as the next guy and he’s quite able to voice that opinion. It is as much a virtue to enjoy the fruits of God’s good earth and the labor of man or woman as it is to fast from such bounty, each at its appropriate time.
Anyway, the third meal was Sunday dinner for the smaller papal entourage of 24:
- “White and green asparagus salad with fresh 30-day pecorino, fava beans, and green chickpeas with lemon and olive oil
- “Agnolini (little flying-saucer-shaped pasta filled with roast meat that Lidia served because they look like hosts) in free-range chicken soup with grana Padana on the bottom of the bowl
- “Beef goulash made from Wagyu-style flat iron beef with a side of patate in tecia (pan-fried potatoes with bacon and onions that Lidia says remind her of hash browns) served with sauerkraut and sour cream
- “Chocolate-hazelnut cake with “Tu Es” inscribed on it, topped by a two-foot-high marzipan mitre made by Bruno Bakery owner Bruno Settepani
- “Apricot and ricotta crostata”
My favorite is probably the cake with “Tu es” and the mitre to form the image of “Tu es Pietro,” i.e. Christ’s message to St. Peter, “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church.”
In the end, Lidia received the finest compliment possible from Pope Benedict after that last meal.
After the goulash, the pope said to Lidia, “These are my mother’s flavors.” Lidia said she almost cried when she heard this. All the wines, Lidia said, were selected by her son, Joe Bastianich, and came from the Bastianich vineyards in Italy.
One last tidbit: Joe Bastianich is Mario Batali’s partner in many of his New York restaurants and his wine shop.