You already know Stanley Tucci as one of our truly talented actors. His incredibly diverse roles in great movies range from the Nigel in “The Devil Wore Prada” to his exact opposite as George Harvey in “The Lovely Bones” and so much more (“Lucky Number Slevin”, “Margin Call” “The Hunger Games” to name a few). In addition to his acting career, he’s always had a love of great food, and that’s incredibly evident in the critically acclaimed film “Big Night” which he wrote, directed and starred in (and if you haven’t seen it, put it at the top of your list) as well as his role as Paul Child in “Julie and Julia”. And now he’s written a cookbook, that conveys much of the wisdom and sensibilities of those films and more. He stopped by the SiriusXM studios to talk with Ron Bennington about the new cookbook. Excerpts of the interview appear below.
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Ron Bennington: First of all Stanley, it’s a beautiful book.
Stanley Tucci: Thanks
Ron Bennington: The photography of the food is amazing.
Stanley Tucci: Yeah, he’s a really talented photographer. He’s a friend of one of the authors of the book, Gianni Scappin, and he’s incredibly talented.
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Ingredients and Simplicity in Cooking
Ron Bennington: Now, I was going through your book and it’s really a kind of a lifestyle book as well. I think if you’re going to prepare food this way you have to kind of give yourself over to the pacing, the getting the right ingredients. It’s not something you to when you’ve got five, ten minutes to kill.
Stanley Tucci: No, although the good thing about the book is that it’s not incredibly complicated. You don’t have to be a chef; you don’t have to be a great cook to use this book. You have to be somebody who really loves food and somebody who, like you say, wants to go out and get the best ingredients and make a good meal. You need to spend some time, but there are meals in there that you can make in 20 minutes, but the most important thing are those ingredients.
Ron Bennington: Well, there’s a thing, if you get arugula and pears, you can end up making this fantastic salad and it’s unlike every other salad that you’re eating every other day and for me, it’s like a state-changer. That I think is the beauty I think of some of the really small recipes in the book.
Stanley Tucci: Yeah, I agree. If you have these little – even there’s a pasta in there that’s pasta con piselli, just pasta with tomatoes and peas, and the sauce is so simple. A little onion, a little garlic, olive oil, a good can of tomato. You boil that, cook it slowly, and then you add some peas at the end and pour it over pasta. It couldn’t be simpler, it couldn’t be better.
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Cooking to Bring Family Together
Ron Bennington: You bring this up in the book that your family would cook together. Everybody would go off and do their part of it, but everybody would be together and it’s part of the conversation. Then you’re eating and talking, and then after you have some time. Somehow I think we screwed that up in America where we almost put the kitchen in the back of the house when we were kids, you know, it was almost in a different spot.
* * *Stanley Tucci: It’s funny with all the interest in food nowadays with the success of the Food Network and all that stuff, you’d think that we would be addressing food in a different way, confronting food in a different way. Unfortunately I think we’re not, and I think it’s evident by what people are eating and how they’re eating. The kitchen to me should be the center place, the center of the house, not relegated to the back of the house as you say, and I think when kids come home from school, we know how much homework kids have, and you know, that, too, is an unfortunate thing because it’s taken over really, really crucial time that parents need to spend with their kids, and that’s not the relationship you’d want to have with your kids. Teaching your kid how to do math that you can’t even do. What you want to do is you want to cook; you want to sit at the end of your day, and eat together and talk together about what happened, what you did today, what you didn’t do today, what you’re maybe going to do tomorrow, all that stuff. It’s the most important time of the day for any family and we don’t spend enough time doing it.
Simplicity and Portion Sizes
Ron Bennington: You know, a lot of the recipes in here, they’re so light, they’re so nice. Somehow we screwed up bringing some of these things across the ocean, and you can see there’s such a difference in the way Brooklyn Italians look, and actual Italians. You don’t see actual Italians at
350 pounds with sweat suits everywhere.
Stanley Tucci: Right, yeah, no you don’t.
Ron Bennington: So how did these things get Americanized where we got out of some of these recipes?
Stanley Tucci: I think number one it had to do with ingredients, I think it had to do with the ingredients available here. I think that it had to do with catering to American’s taste, sort of oversimplifying at the time; you’re talking about 100 years ago. Or trying to cater to a whole bunch of different peoples’ tastes. If you’re a restaurateur in a city, if you think about the number of different kinds of people you have living in that city, I would imagine that played a big part in it too. And I think simplicity. But I think primarily the kind of ingredients that you could get. Nowadays people are much more aware of what Italian food is than they used to be, what real Italian food is. Unfortunately we’re still having difficulty with our portion sizes and that’s an issue because when you go to Italy – I just got back literally 48 hours ago – you don’t get these enormous portions. There’s no such thing as all you can eat. All you can eat is just really what you should eat, you know? And you can see somebody go sit in a restaurant by themselves in Italy, they’ll Order a starter, a pasta, a main course and a salad, and they’ll have wine, and yet that person eats like that every day but they’re not incredibly overweight, nobody’s suffering from – not nobody, not that there isn’t that, but it’s nowhere near the extent that it is in this country.
Ron Bennington: Somehow we’ve gotten in our heads that there’s not enough. I think that the way the Italians eat is that this is an ongoing process, that you’re going to enjoy it, and it is more about just sitting and eating. It might have happened with us with the TVs that we just ate fast. The term fast food has got to be one of the worst things that’s ever happened.
Stanley Tucci: You see it in Italy now more than ever before, although in the McDonalds they serve wine which I think is a really good thing, which is really kind of funny to me, but I think you’re right. You’re meant to eat sitting down and eating and enjoying your meal. They do have the little mezze that they take and you have a little snack in the afternoon or something like that, but when you eat lunch, you eat lunch. You sit and you eat lunch, and the stores close for the most part, and people go sit and eat lunch and they enjoy it, and that’s what it’s about.
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The Importance of Buying Fresh Ingredients
Ron Bennington: But you really need it fresh, you really the good stuff.
Stanley Tucci: You need the good stuff, and you can get the good stuff nowadays. You really can. We know, there was just a documentary that I was watching that, you know, in some of the poorer neighborhoods in cities you don’t have the access to the foo that people deserve which is really unfortunate, there’s a big push to make that happen now, but for the most part, anywhere in the city, or in its environs you should be able to. A lot of the big grocery stores are now carrying a full organic line which is really, really important and you’re going to get really fresh stuff and you’re not going to have to pay a premium for it.
Ron Bennington: And the farmer’s market is always a great idea.
Stanley Tucci: Right, if you’re close to a farmer’s market that’s the way to go if you can get that.
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Stanley Never Really Went to Restaurants Growing Up
Ron Bennington: Now, you grew up on this food. This is the way you ate, so what happened when you first started going to Italian restaurants? Did you feel like you were insane?
Stanley Tucci: Well, no, here’s the thing. Honestly, I never went to restaurants. We never went to restaurants; we couldn’t afford to go to a restaurant. My dad was an art teacher in Chappaqua, New York, I grew up in Katonah, New York, but my mom worked in the office there at the school, there was no extra money to go to a restaurant, I never went to a restaurant. The only time I went to a restaurant was when we went to Italy. We moved to Italy for one year, my dad had a sabbatical, and we went to a restaurant if we traveled through Italy. You never to anything fancy, this is 1972-73. That was my introduction to Italian restaurants; I never went to an Italian restaurant up until I was 12, 13 years old. And then after that, I could never afford to go to a restaurant anyway, even when I got out of college I never went out to eat. It wasn’t until I really started making some money that I was able to start to go to restaurants and start to really appreciate what great Italian food was and what bad Italian food was.
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Stanley Tucci on the film “Big Night”
Ron Bennington: When you did Big Night it was before this kind of food craze.
Stanley Tucci: It was just on the cusp of it.
Ron Bennington: Yeah, you were just right there before it, so after that, since then, I think people have been looking for this kind of food. And you have something, there’s pictures in this book of what you have that’s just amazing, is that you have that wood burning stove in your backyard. I mean that thing is just beautiful.
Stanley Tucci: It’s a beautiful thing to have, it really is. And I was looking at it last night and the leaves are all falling down and the patio’s looking kind of crappy and I though, I gotta get out there and do it one more time before it gets too cold, because it’s incredibly satisfying and when you’re working with good ingredients, again you’re working with a pizza dough or your working with steak or your working with whatever, you can cook anything in that, you know, and it’s really fantastic.
Ron Bennington: And do you put everybody in the backyard with you?
Stanley Tucci: Yeah, we call go back there and we have parties where everybody makes their own pizza, you know, we just have the dough and people roll it out and they just hand them to me and I throw them in and they’re cooked in three minutes. It’s fantastic. And then you take a big pause, like a couple hours, and then you do your main meal.
Ron Bennington: So it becomes an all-day process, that’s great.
Stanley Tucci: Yeah, and all day thing, it’s great.
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Cooking with Family and Tucci Family Vacations
Ron Bennington: You said that your family would actually make pasta at picnics?
Stanley Tucci: Oh yeah, we would, yeah.
Ron Bennington: That’s hysterical.
Stanley Tucci: Completely crazy. You know when Italians go camping it’s very different than when everybody else used to go camping. We would go in those trailers that you’d hook up to your car and they were the pop-up trailers, you know, it was just like a square thing with wheels
Ron Bennington: And there would be a tent at the top –
Stanley Tucci: Right, a tent at the top, and what was the metal piece that you dragged along was like a double bed, so that’s where my parents slept, and the pop-up tent came up and we slept there, and we would go to a campground upstate New York, it was like we were going to Canada or something – hardly – and we would camp, but pasta was cooked. Pasta was cooked, and things were baked, it was pretty funny.
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Stanley Tucci Talks About “The Timpano”
Ron Bennington: That’s amazing though. I mean, I guess that’s where this cooking came from, was over open fires to begin with you know.
Stanley Tucci: Absolutely, my father said that they used to go, when he was a kid, so this is in the 1930s, early 40s, they would go camping in Vermont because that’s where some of his family came when they first came to America because they were stone cutters, so they went on a picnic and they brought this timpano which is the centerpiece of the book which is this huge baked thing, and they would bring this timpano on their picnics, so they’re trudging through the woods with this thing, and they ended up meeting another family in the woods because a lot of Italians were up in that area, they met another family in the woods that had a timpano. As it turns out they were from the same town that my father’s family was from in Southern Italy.
Ron Bennington: Now, the timpano, that was the center piece of this book, but also a big night and it’s one of those things that you can’t look at without becoming incredibly hungry. You’re like, I have to have it. But it looks like out of all of your recipes this is the most difficult.
Stanley Tucci: It is the most challenging, yeah, without question. But for the most part, it’s pretty straightforward stuff, but there’s some more sophisticated stuff in there, but there’s really everyday cooking in this book, but the timpano, yes, without question, that’s a celebratory dish. That’s something you’re going to need to take a day, at least, to make this meal.
Ron Bennington: And be prepared that –
Stanley Tucci: And be prepared that it could completely fail.
Ron Bennington: And yet, all the ingredients are still delicious.
Stanley Tucci: Yeah, then you just put it in a blender and eat it.
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Using Food to Help Be More Connected to Food, Family and Friends
Ron Bennington: I think the thing about it that’s so amazing, and you pick this up through the book, that you just see a different lifestyle and the weird thing is I think it’s one that we all kind of want. We’re looking for a way to be more connected to our food, also looking for a way to be more connected to our family and friends.
Stanley Tucci: Right, it’s the best way to do it. It’s the easiest way to do it because everybody loves to eat, for the most part, and everybody loves to drink. So to put together those two things in a room with all the people you love it’s the best way to make a connection.
Ron Bennington: Yeah, you’ve got the music going, you’re actually taking care of everything. Phenomenal stuff, the Tucci Cookbook, this is your family’s recipes, it’s the food that you grew up with and still the food that you’re making today.
Stanley Tucci: You know, one thing I want to say, if it’s OK, that I don’t take any money from the book, my parents and Gianni and the people who really wrote this book get the money, but 25% of the profits go to the food bank for New York. Mario Batali did the introduction, he’s a board member, as am I, so I wanted to make sure that people knew that.
Ron Bennington: The Tucci Cookbook, thank you so much Stanley for coming by, it’s great stuff and I hope people jump on this. Available in stores now and at Amazon.com. Thank you so much my friend.
Stanley Tucci: Thank you very much.
You can hear this interview in its entirety exclusively on SiriusXM satellite radio. Not yet a subscriber? Click here for a free trial subscription.
You can learn more about Ron Bennington’s two interview shows, Unmasked and Ron Bennington Interviews at RonBenningtonInterviews.com.
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