Italian food

Cooking with Stanley Tucci

 
STANLEY TUCCI WAS AT THE NEIGHBORHOOD BARNES & NOBLE on Friday to promote The Tucci Cookbookand it was more than a little fun. He brought along his mother Joan Tropiano Tucci and his father Stanley Tucci Sr. “the real authors of the book—I’m the fake author” and his wife, literary agent Felicity Blunt (sister of Emily) and his pet dog. Well, no dog actually, or kids, for that matter, but you get the picture. It was very homey, just like I imagine his family’s kitchen has always been. “Cooking is about doing it together, seeing the creative act, that’s what’s binding,” he told us, and you can imagine the fun he and his parents and children all have cooking together. “Then you sit down at the table and see what you’ve produced,” Joan says. “It’s exciting.”
 
 
In a foreword, Mario Batali writes that “Stanley has written a love letter to his mum and dad, to his distant roots in Calabria.” Tucci tells his Barnes & Noble audience, “My mother is an incredible cook,” calling her up to join him at the microphone, “and she learned to cook from her mother.” The book goes into some family history (both sides are Calabrese), with sections written by his mother and father. His father apparently would pause at some point during dinner and always ask, “How does the rest of the world eat?”
 
Tucci and his parents share family recipes that were the inspiration for Big Night, as well as those of Gianni Scappin, of Le Madri, with whom he collaborated on the movie. Tucci has cooked more than once on screen. Did he have any tips for Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia, in which he plays Paul Child? someone asks now. Well, just acting tips. Big laugh. “Seriously, though, Meryl is a great cook, but at one point, she was stirring manicotti and I just couldn’t take it any more. I had to demonstrate how it was done. She said, great, sure….but I have no idea whether she changed anything.”
 
Tucci first started cooking when he was around 12 years old, his mother says. “It was a lasagna bolognese with bechamel.” They all seem to like Stan Sr.’s peaches in red wine. Why not? Sounds like the perfect dessert to me. Tucci shops at Stop & Shop, Joan at Shoprite. She likes to search out Italian products, and has tried a lot of different canned San Marzano tomatoes before settling on, damn, I didn’t quite catch the name. Barilla pasta, or De Cecco are great, “not too starchy,” says Joan.  “And forget the light olive oil; it’s terrible.” When Stanley was growing up, Joan mostly used Filippo Berio extra-virgin olive oil. Tucci uses Frantoia from Sicily.  Now they’re really dishing!

I haven’t had a chance to try any of the recipes yet. I’ll report back when I have. I doubt if timpano (made famous in Big Night) will be the first one I try, although it truly sounds magnifico. Tucci and his family cook it every Christmas. “My most memorable food moment,” says Tucci. 

RECIPE: Asparagus Wrapped in Pancetta with Citronette

WHEN ASPARAGUS SEASON COMES AROUND, I particularly like this antipasto from Mario Batali’s Italian Grill. (It makes a delicious lunch, too.) No grill? No problem. Just place the wrapped asparagus spears on a baking sheet and broil in your oven about 3 inches from the heat for 5 to 10 minutes, turning a few times.
 
 
Serves 4
 
2 pounds asparagus (12 to 18 stalks per pound)

4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1½ tbs finely chopped fresh thyme
 
1. Snap the tough bottom stalks off the asparagus. Unroll the slices of pancetta and lay them out on a work surface. Lay an asparagus spear on a slight diagonal across the bottom of one slice and roll it up, covering as much of the stalk as possible but leaving the tip visible. Place on a tray or small baking sheet and repeat with the remaining asparagus. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour (this helps the pancetta adhere to the asparagus).
 
2. Preheat a gas grill (or your oven) or prepare a fire in a charcoal grill.
 
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the orange zest, juice and mustard. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking until emulsified and smooth. Season the citronette with salt and pepper and set aside.
 
4. Place the asparagus on the grill and cook, turning occasionally, until it is just tender and the pancetta is crisped, about 4 to 6 minutes. (If the pancetta browns too much before the asparagus is cooked, move the spears to a cooler part of the grill.)
 
5. Whisk the citronette again, and pour half of it onto a serving platter. Sprinkle with half of the chopped thyme and pile the asparagus on top. Drizzle with the remaining citronette and sprinkle with the rest of the thyme. Serve warm or at room temperature with a small bowl of coarse sea salt for dipping. 

RECIPE: Shaved Fennel and Apple Salad


 
FENNEL MAKES ITS FALL APPEARANCE at the farmers’ market along with apples—a great tart/sweet flavor combo, especially when set off by a citrus dressing.
 
Variations: For the fresh herb, you can always substitute 2 tsp of chopped tarragon or mint for the parsley—experiment with your own favorite flavors. Asian pear (I learned this from my mom) works well in place of the apple. Or you can skip the apple, and instead, add segments of 1 red grapefruit and ¼ cup of pitted Niçoise olives. (I tried the olives with the apple combo but decided I preferred it without.)
 
This salad also makes a wonderful salsa to serve over simple grilled or roasted fish.
 
Serves 4
 
1 crisp, tart apple (Granny Smith, Cox’s Orange Pippin), peeled, quartered, cored, then sliced into matchsticks
1 fennel bulb, shaved on a mandoline or sliced thinly lengthwise (so the pieces form semi-circles)
¼ cup lemon juice
2 tbs olive oil
¼ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp piment d’Espelette (a delicate crushed dried pepper from the Basque region of France)
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves or 2 tbs chopped fresh mint or 2 tbs chopped fresh tarragon
 
Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, salt and piment d'Espelette in a small bowl. Combine the fennel and apple with the parsley or other fresh herb in a large bowl.  Add dressing. Toss gently to combine. 
 
Tip: Once you’ve cut the apple, you’ll want to go ahead and make and dress the salad right away, since the apple will turn brown if left too long. 

Eataly Coming to New York: First Look

I WAS WALKING ALONG 24th Street last week and peeked in the window at Eataly, the 50,000-square-foot food hall Mario Batali is opening with partners Joe Bastianich, Lidia Bastianich and others.
 
 
Batali has described it as a “temple” to Italian food. It will have all sorts of food departments—butcher, fishmonger, greengrocer, bakery, cheese, dried goods, salumi—as well as restaurants and snack counters. A sign outside quotes Fellini: “Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” Sounds good to me.
 
 
The original Eataly, a Slow Food heaven in Turin, opened in 2007, followed by branches in other Italian cities and in Japan. We’ll all get to experience New York’s Eataly for ourselves on Tuesday, August 31 at 4 pm. To whet your appetite, here’s a preview from Eater.
 
See you there!
  
Eataly
Fifth Avenue and 24th Street 
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