I never weary of viewing and reviewing the Nora Ephron film Julie & Julia and David Frankel’s The Devil Wears Prada, partly because I’ve adored Meryl Streep, or anything she’s in, since her Holocaust TV series, and partly because of Stanley Tucci, the thinking woman’s poster boy. In the 1980s, maybe up to the ’90s, it was William Hurt who held that title.
I’ve even watched his old movies, including the 1992 family comedy Beethoven, where he played one of two dog-nappers (the other was Oliver Platt). I sat through another screening of Terminal where he played Tom Hanks’ nemesis, an airport bureaucrat who follows rules to the letter to prevent Hanks’ character from entering New York City and going to a jazz club.
I loved him most as Paul Child to Streep’s Julia. He was supportive and encouraging of his wife’s quest for what would fulfill her. I was touched by their creatively tender moments together in a bathtub as they shot by self-timer a picture of themselves together for a Valentine Day card—my favorite scene.
But I have declared Tucci my dreamboat, especially with the release of his memoir Taste: My Life Through Food (available at Fully Booked online) and the success of his CNN documentary series Searching for Italy (still can be viewed in YouTube). An actor who writes with sparkling prose—what a rarity!
He has a forthcoming film with Colin Firth where they play a gay couple, Supernova. With the pandemic as it is and my being paranoid about entering an enclosed cinema, I’ll have to wait for either HBO or Netflix to grab this movie later. In two years maybe?
Meanwhile, I enjoyed the idea of holding Tucci in my hands while reading his book of memories of growing up an Italian-American in the outskirts of Manhattan with a mother who reigned as a glorious cook. His school baon was the envy of classmates, who made do with either the cafeteria grub or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
The schoolboy Tucci had nothing less than: ‘A scrambled egg, fried potato, sautéed sweet green pepper sandwich on two slices of Italian broad…’
The schoolboy Tucci had nothing less than: “A scrambled egg, fried potato and sautéed sweet green pepper sandwich on two slices of Italian broad or in a ‘wedge’ or a ‘hero,’ which is a long loaf of Italian bread sliced horizontally and filled with whatever you choose to fill it with…One piece of fruit. (Apple, pear or orange.) One highly processed, prepackaged, store-bought dessert. (Twinkle, Devil Dog, Ring Ding or Ho Ho. The names of which in retrospect seem as inappropriate as their ingredients.)”
He continued, “A typical week of said lunches might have looked something like this:
“Monday: Meatball wedge. As we have meatballs in a slow-cooked homemade ragu with pasta for Sunday dinner, this lunch was a natural choice.
“Tuesday: Chicken cutlets on Italian bread or a wedge with the smallest amount of butter or mayo and lettuce.
“Wednesday: Eggplant parmigiana wedge. The eggplant parmigiana was not breaded. It was made in a light tomato sauce, had very little cheese, and incorporated thinly sliced potatoes.
Thursday: Veal cutlet sandwich or wedge with a small amount of butter and lettuce. This was in the days of affordable veal.
Friday: Scrambled egg, pepper and potato wedge. As the food budget was wearing thin by the end of the week, this was an inexpensive lunch my mother might whip up on Thursday night after a simple dinner of pasta and salad.”
Laban ka? When I recall my lunches in grade school, I see a procession of sandwiches, too, but only with peanut butter, pickled mayonnaise or Cheez Whiz as palaman. It was a good day when our growing family could afford hot dogs.
‘I remember the starched white tablecloths and how the waiters’ jackets were equally starched and white’
Like Tucci, our family ate mostly at home. A trip to a restaurant was rare—it was comida china in Chinatown for the Lolargas. To the Tucci family it was a restaurant in Rome when the patriarch went to study more advanced art history. The author didn’t remember what they ate, but what struck him was “the tidiness and cleanliness of the place and that, like most Italian restaurants to this day, it was very brightly lit…I remember the starched white tablecloths and how the waiters’ jackets were equally starched and white, and I remember how kind they were to us…”
My own memories of Chinatown forays were stirred—how the menu was scrawled on a blackboard. I was starting to read then, and I read “Short Orders.” The waiter, too, wore a white shirt and black pants, and had a yellow pencil balanced behind his ear. My Dad did the ordering; there was fried chicken and sweet-sour pork. No tablecloths then.
Taste the book is replete with recipes from Tucci’s childhood, adulthood, even his two marriages (his first wife died of breast cancer, and later he married the literary agent Felicity Blunt, sister of actress Emily).
One that reminded me of my gourmand friend Marissa Ileto’s shakshuka recipe is his simple Eggs with Tomato. Marissa, a former restaurateur, brought me this dish after I recuperated at home following a knee replacement surgery. It was a comforting dish.
Eggs with Tomato
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 medium to large onion, thinly sliced
- 1 cup canner whole plum tomatoes
- 4 large eggs
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Warm the olive oil in a medium non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, crushing them with your hand or the back of a slotted spoon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have sweetened about 20 minutes.
- Gently break the eggs into the pan and cover. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cook until the whites are opaque and the yolks are moderately firm, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately, seasoned with salt and pepper to taste.
In Instagram, where I follow his account, Tucci has a number of videos showing him preparing assorted dishes. But it’s his mixing of cocktails and similar drinks during the lockdown (what else can one do, except drink in the comfort of one’s home?) that has gained notice.
It’s his mixing of cocktails during the lockdown that has gained notice
Watch him prepare a Margarita (and he added that this is not found in his book) in this videogram:
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- Double shot of tequila
- 3/4 shot of fresh lime juice
- 1 shot of Cointreau
- Sea salt
- Wedge of lime
Wouldn’t you want him for your bartender? But he seems to be a forgetful one—he forgets to rim the glass with salt!
Although not one whom people would call a Method actor, Tucci did research on his role of Paul Child by cooking a number of recipes from Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The wonderful thing is that he can and does cook. He and Streep went to the extent of cooking blanquette de veau together. He called the experience of working with Streep and Ephron as “an honor and a pleasure.”
There is a laughable anecdote—imagine Streep or Tucci spitting out or almost vomiting something that they ate—about this piece of food called andouilette. It is defined by Wikipedia as “a coarse-grained sausage made with pork (or occasionally veal). Chitterlings (intestine), pepper, wine, onions and seasonings. Tripe, which is the stomach lining of a cow, is sometimes an ingredient in the filler…”
Trying to be polite, Streep exclaimed, “Well…it does have a bit of the barnyard about it.”
Tucci quoted the late actor Edward G. Robinson as saying that he did only three films a year: one for love, one for money, and one for location. The younger actor hoped that he would be that choosy someday. For the meantime, I am happy to find him constantly on Netflix when I need him, in his book when I need to review the recipe for aglio y olio spag, and on Instagram, where I love the sound of his voice and the tinkle of firewater on ice.