Much mystery surrounded Pope Benedict XVI’s sudden recent resignation from the papacy. At the announcement of his retirement, the first in papal history in 600 years, questions immediately arose. Who was this quiet man really? Where would he go next? What would happen to the leftover souvenirs of Pope Benedict XVI at Rome’s gift shops?
But at The Daily Meal, we wondered something else: What exactly did the pope eat?
Part of a pope’s job is to travel to serve the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, and as it turns out, one of New York’s most famous chefs, TV personalities, and cookbook authors, Lidia Bastianich, has had the divine pleasure of cooking for His Holiness.
"When the then-nunzio Celestino Migliore, asked me if I would cook for Pope Benedict XVI, as excited as I was, I thought it would never happen," remembered Bastianich in an exclusive interview with The Daily Meal. "Then it did happen, and the honor of cooking for His Holiness was the apex of my career."
Bastianich, the mastermind chef behind hit Italian restaurants like Felidia, Becco, and Del Posto, and a partner in Eataly, one of the world’s largest artisanal Italian food and wine marketplace in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, remembers the thrill of creating a menu for the pope. Her dishes had to both showcase her sophisticated culinary roots and acknowledge the German-born Pope Emeritus Benedict’s heritage.
"His demands were very simple," Bastianich recalled. "No cinnamon... and the rest I could do what I wanted. He is German, and I, being from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the region bordering with Austria and Slovenia, prepared for him an Italian meal with German overtones. I made goulash, spaetzle, sauerkraut, and strudel. I was amazed at how approachable, gracious, and responsive he was. He made sure he thanked and blessed every worker, from the dishwasher to the chefs. As he thanked me, I asked him how he enjoyed the food. He was most grateful and said, 'Erano i gusti della cucina di mia madre.'"
According to Bastianich that means, "These are flavors reminiscent of my mother’s cooking," and she added, "By the way, his mother was a chef."
She laughed remembering her own mother Erminia’s reaction to the news that her daughter was cooking for the pope. "When I came home and told my mother — who was then 90 years old — that I would be cooking for His Holiness, she raised her hands, and looked up at the sky, and smiling said to me, 'and who will you be cooking for next?'"
There’s no word on where the Pope Emeritus Benedict will now be dining outside the Vatican, but Bastianich took a moment to imagine what he might enjoy eating today:
"Having had the esteem, honor, and privilege of hosting and cooking for His Holiness during his papal visit to New York City in 2008, I am able to imagine he would begin with stracciatella, or Roman egg drop soup. Stracciatella are 'little rags,' and that is what the strands of beaten eggs cooked in the broth resemble. He would then have baked rollatini of Dover sole with a small salad, and as the perfect finish to the meal, he would enjoy apple strudel with some chamomile tea."
Looks like Bastianich is one blessed chef.
Recipe photography courtesy lidiasitaly.com.