The Iconic American Dish Lidia Bastianich Fell In Love With - Exclusive

Lidia Bastianich was 12 years old when she first stepped into a U.S. supermarket. It was 1958, and, as reported by Feast, Bastianich had just been granted asylum after spending two years in a refugee camp in San Sabba, Italy, after fleeing from the communist regime that had taken over her once-Italian home of Istria. The year 1958 was a big one for U.S. fast food. Pizza Hut was founded, IHOP began gracing us all with its pancakes (as per CNN), and McDonald's claims to have sold its 100 millionth hamburger by that year. As Los Angeles Times tells it, Sweet'n Low started popping up in restaurants to soothe the concerns of the sugar-weary, and — according to Delish — Cocoa Puffs hit the supermarket shelves for the sugar enthusiasts.

In an exclusive interview with Mashed, Lidia Bastianich remembered going shopping with her mom. "I couldn't believe the size. I couldn't believe the amount of ingredients!" she exclaimed. It wasn't Cocoa Puffs that she was after, though. The 12-year-old — who would grow up to become a prolific cookbook author, queen of Italian cuisine, the matriarch of a wildly successful restaurant empire, Emmy award-winning television host, and adopted grandmother to everyone watching PBS — fell in love with an unpretentious, three-ingredient dish. In fact, Bastianich admitted to Mashed that she still loves it, "to this day."

Lidia Bastianich fell for this American sandwich

Today, Lidia Bastianich will teach you, via her Instagram, how to make elaborate sausage, egg, and peppers breakfast subs. On her website, she'll take you through the intricacies of grilled meatball burgers and muffulettas filled with ricotta, anchovies, and olive oil. But a young Bastianich fell hard for the charms of another sandwich: peanut butter and jelly. 1958, as it turns out, was the same year Jif says it was founded and, as per Food Reference, jelly making became a lot easier as manufacturers figured out how to make it from fruit juice concentrates. All, in all, it was a spectacular year to fall in love with the iconic sandwich. 

"I just couldn't believe the combination," Bastianich remembered. "You know we had a lot of peanuts, and jelly jam. We had [those ingredients] all the time and we used [them] a lot [in Italy]. But peanut butter and jelly, and on a white bread!" Bastianich is talking about Wonder Bread — a world apart from the homemade country bread that her grandma used to make once or twice a week, and which had to last until the next baking. Bastianich recalled, "Here you had this soft piece of bread. You put the [peanut butter and] jelly in there, and it all became one. And the flavor's really delicious."

There aren't any peanut butter and jelly sandwich recipes in Lidia Bastianich's new cookbook, "Lidia's a Pot, a Pan, and a Bowl," but there are 100 other recipes worth cooking up! For more, daily inspiration from Bastianich, follow her on Instagram.