An Italian Christmas Eve. A Mexican-American Christmas Day. A Chinese New Year. A Passover Seder. Four holidays, four very different tables and traditions. Join celebrity chef and culinary author Lidia Bastianich as she travels across America in a celebration of culture through food in the new PBS prime-time special, Lidia Celebrates America: Holiday Tables and Traditions, airing Tuesday, December 20, at 8pm on PBS (check local listings).
This delicious holiday adventure begins in New York City, where Lidia prepares a traditional Italian Christmas Eve La Vigilia—feast of the seven fishes—with actor Stanley Tucci (Julie and Julia). But first, actor Mo Rocca (Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!) accompanies Lidia on an unforgettable shopping trip to a fish market on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. “Cooking and food is about more than sustenance,” says Rocca. “The sacredness of family and friends eating together is something that crosses all lines. It may be the only thing that crosses all lines.”
It’s a sentiment repeated throughout the television special. From New York City to San Antonio to San Francisco, Lidia listens as multiple generations of Americans explain the importance of food in preserving cultural traditions and the overall holiday experience.
“Traditions are extremely important to keep, to continue, and to instill in children,” Lidia says. “Traditions give you roots, give you stability so if a storm comes, you can weather it. If you don’t have any roots, you topple, no matter how big a tree you are.”
Back in her kitchen with Stanley Tucci, Lidia prepares a feast that includes octopus salad, linguine and clam sauce, whipped baccala, insalata di mare, mozzarella with peppers, broccoli rapini, stuffed lobster and monkfish.
“The idea of taking those recipes that have been around for centuries…it’s a way of passing on family history, emotions—it’s a way of connecting with somebody,” says Tucci. “It’s a way of expressing love…and that’s the thing for me that makes food so interesting.”