Restaurateur, cookbook author, grandmother
Credit: Christopher Hirsheimer

We asked food experts from various lands to tell their comfort food tales, then created lighter—but still deeply comforting—recipes inspired by their stories.

Family, love, food: for Lidia Bastianich, this was the texture of childhood in Istria—now part of Croatia. Bastianich's grandmother made homemade pasta or gnocchi at least once a week, pairing it with produce out of the garden. "It was all the best of fresh, seasonal ingredients," Bastianich says. "It was never masquerading. You could really tell what the ingredients were." When she ate her grandmother's gnocchi, she remembers, it was as if her mouth was "filled with velvetiness, like a hug from the inside out." If that doesn't define comfort food, what does?

As with so many big families of the time, thrift was built into their lives. Leftovers became new meals, down to the last crumb or noodle; gnocchi from dinnertime would be stuffed with prunes, rolled in cinnamon and sugar, and served as a sweet snack at room temperature.

Bastianich and her family moved to America when she was 12. Her mother worked in a bakery, and dinner preparation often fell to young Lidia—early training for the revered New York restaurant leader she became while earning her matriarchal stripes as mother and grandmother. Bastianich still follows the wisdom of her grandmother's kitchen: fresh ingredients, proper technique, foods made with love. And her table is always filled with family—four generations. Now she makes gnocchi for the grandchildren.

Here we present a healthy adaptation of gnocchi that's served in the generous spirit of Bastianich: The potato pillows are enrobed in a rich browned butter sauce and topped with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and toasted walnuts.