Lidia Bastianich's most 5 budget-friendly Italian recipes

Mangia! Lidia's recipes are reliable, delicious and nutritious. They often happen to be quite affordable, too

By Michael La Corte

Deputy Food Editor

Published October 14, 2023 1:30PM (EDT)

Celebrity Chef Lidia Bastianich (Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images)
Celebrity Chef Lidia Bastianich (Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images)

It goes without saying that Lidia Bastianich is a bonafide living legend. With numerous cookbooks, years of restaurant experience, endless television appearances and awards, plus a stunning personal story, Bastianich is a matriarch within the Italian-American culinary landscape — and at large. 

When I spoke with Bastianich earlier this year, she spoke about the deep importance of immigrant communities, the ways in which her upbringing impacted her outlook and her cooking and the vast importance of varying cultures coming together, both at the table and in general. 

Bastianich's recipes also happen to often be quite budget-friendly. Many Italian and Italian-American foods actually automatically fall into that genre, if you will.

"Cucina povera" , which translates to "kitchen of the poor," is a style of cooking that was developed by Italians who didn't have the means or the money to feed themselves extravagant meals, so they worked with the humblest of ingredients and tools in order to craft dishes that were filling, nutritious and economical.

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As food insecurity levels continue to rise, cooking with budget in mind is a smart move for everyone. Lidia's tried-and-true recipes offer some of the best that cucina povera has to offer. 

Lidia's iteration of the classic, rustic dish is lush with the traditional ingredients, like beans, garlic, rosemary and tomatoes — but comes together in only 30 minutes instead of the usual, longer time. She also recommends optionally mashing some of the beans to help diversify the texture, which could help it veer closer to stew than soup. You can also opt to add meats or other proteins, if you'd like, or omit the ditalini if you want to go carb-free. Conversely, swap in some pastina in its place. 
Lidia's version of the other classic Italian soup is a winterized version with green split peas, cabbage, squash and kale, but you can instead use whatever veggies you have on hand or tweak the inclusions seasonally.
This version also starts with pancetta, but you can certainly omit if you want to go vegetarian or conversely, use bacon or guanciale instead. Just don't forget lots and lots of grated cheese on top! Lidia recommends grana padano or pecorino, but locatelli or parm. would obviously work, too.
It's impossible to go wrong with any baked pasta dish, but baked ziti might in a category of itself own.
Lidia also adds eggplant, ricotta and fresh basil to the list and swaps mozzarella for provolone, but you can certainly go classic with shredded mozzarella if you prefer, use dried basil in stead of fresh, or omit the eggplant, if you'd rather. Lidia's version includes a super-quick, uber-simple marinara, too, but you can feel free to use your favorite homemade sauce recipe or whatever you have on hand. 

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The fascinating, unique application of "lasagna" is an amazing way to use both bread and zucchini. You can also use other squash or even eggplant instead. This is also a great gluten-free option with no pasta in sight. Use whatever tomato sauce and grated cheese you like or add in some shredded mozzarella for a cheesier experience. The dish comes together in no time and calls for less than eight ingredients!
It doesn't get much better than a classic spaghetti and tomato, but here, Lidia turns cherry (or grape) tomatoes into a sauce on their own accord. The tomato meld with pecorino, parsley and bread crumbs before being tossed with al dente, hot spaghetti and lots of basil.
You'll be amazed by the simplicity of this one — and then reach for seconds.

By Michael La Corte

Michael is a food writer, recipe editor and educator based in his beloved New Jersey. After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, he worked in restaurants, catering and supper clubs before pivoting to food journalism and recipe development. He also holds a BA in psychology and literature from Pace University.

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Budget-friendly Food Italian Italian American Lidia Bastianich Listicle Recipes