Taste: My Life Through Food

My very first Food ‘n Flix post back in 2012 (the forerunner to Movies & Munchies) was Big Night.  While I enjoyed Stanley Tucci’s portrayal of Secondo, the story line, and the other characters (and actors), I had no idea that this was Tucci’s pet project.   That is…until I read Taste, the May Cook the Books‘ selection.  Deb from Kahakai Kitchen is hosting.

Reading Taste is like having your own personal conversations with Tucci.  His tales are honest, homey, and unpretentious (even when he’s talking about dining with Marcello Mostroianni or attending George Clooney’s wedding).   I’ve read some comments from other Cook the Books regulars that the audio book is fantastic (with Tucci narrating).  I can imagine.  I could hear his voice as I read my hard cover copy.

Really, this was like having long conversations with your best friend (or someone you really, really want to be your best friend).   .

He mentions a few roles in subpar movies that I tried to figure out.  We’re also adding him to our watcch list.  We recently viewed Margin Call.   I liked it so I don’t think it was one of the terrible roles he mentioned.

Tucci is all about family and I loved his description of his mother:  “Her cooking, like  that of any great cook or chef, is proof that culinary creativity may be the most perfect art form” (13).   That is the ultimate matriarchal compliment.   Tucci’s family is steeped in tradition (like making Timpano for the holidays, a dish I still want to recreate sometime from the Big Night scene).   When he reminisces about his Grandfather, he’s reminded about what matters.

Like many Italian immigrants of that era, the life he led was a very simple one.  A family, a steady job, and a garden where the bastions that tethered him firmly to this worked and protected him from the swift swirling chaos of the twentieth century.  58

But, the most enjoyable part of this book is his take on all things culinary.  Sprinkled throughout the book are recipes.  Here are the ones that I dogeared.

  • Ragu Tucci (72)
  • Spaghetti with Lentils (75)
  • Timpano (110)
  • Making carbonara  without a wheel of Parmesan (140) but you may not shout out expletives with joy.*
  • The frittata scene from Big Night and recipe (153)
  • Old Fashion (157)
  • Dinner with Marcello and the digestivo of half a shot of amaro and half a shot of Fernet-Branca (179)
  • Parmigiano Stock (196) and Pino Posteraro’s Fettuccine with Ragout alla Bolognese (197)
  • Martini (201)
  • Spaghetti con Zucchine all Nerano (244)
  • Pasta alla Norma (251)

I really do want to make every single one of these recipes that I marked.  Then, I want to make all the rest of the recipes in Taste.

To me, Tucci will always be a great actor associated with two of the best foodie roles ever, the previous mentioned Secondo from Big Night and of course, Paul Childs from Julie & Julia.   

I had no idea about his cancer battle.  That it was a battle of taste was just cruel.  Luckily, he’s recovered but it gave him a new outlook (as health battles often will).  Instead of being defined by his acting craft and roles, food (“eating, drinking the kitchen and the table”) now defines him.

Cook.

Smell.

Taste.

Eat.

Drink.

Share.

Repeat as necessary.  (278)

I’ve mentioned in the past that my perfect dinner party (living or dead) would include MFK Fisher, Anthony Bourdain, David Chang, and Ruth Reichl.

I’m adding Tucci to the list.

Because of my love for Big Night, I almost featured the frittata for this post.   And, actually I did make it but wanted something a little different to celebrate Taste.  Instead I made something new to us, “Spaghetti with Lentils” (75).  This recipe calls for 1 1/2 c. salsa marinara.  If this recipe is to found in the book, I missed it on my first read and my second very quick go-through.  (If there’s one fault with the book it’s that there is not a recipe index.)   I made Tucci’s  marinara recipe that I found here.  It’s quite worthy as well.

Spaghetti with Lentils

Stanley Tucci from Taste

This is a recipe where Tucci acknowledges that there is a time and place to break dry spaghetti.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 1/2 garlic clove, sliced
  • 3 T. extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 c. dried brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
  • 1/2 lb. spaghetti
  • 1 1/2 c. salsa marinara
  • salt
  • fresh ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-low. Add chopped onion, carrot, celery, and garlic; cook, stirring often, until softened, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat.  Make sure the pan is large enough b/c all the ingredients AND the pasta will end up in it.  
  2. Place lentils in a separate medium saucepan. Fill with cold water to a level 1 inch above the lentils. Slowly bring to a simmer over medium; cook, stirring occasionally, until lentils are just tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat; set aside.
  3. To break the spaghetti, lay out a clean dish towel, wrap spaghetti in it, and fold ends of towel over. Roll, squeeze, and/or bend bundle until you can feel that spaghetti has broken down into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces. Place bundle over a large bowl and unfurl, thus emptying it of all the bits of spaghetti.
  4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high. Add spaghetti; cook according to package direction for al dente. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.
  5. Meanwhile, drain lentils, and add to saucepan with vegetable mixture along with salsa marinara. Bring to a simmer over low. Cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until lentils have blended with salsa marinara, about 10 minutes. Add drained pasta, along with reserved cooking water; cook, stirring often, until flavors meld, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper; drizzle with olive oil. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4

I really like this recipe and it is a pretty easy one to prep.  I used a full carrot and a full stalk of celery (although they were small ones).  I also used the full recipe of marinara—just dumped it all in.  A little parmesan and  basil to garnish and dinner was served.   I’m sharing this with some vegetarian friends.   

I really can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this round of Cook the Books.  For the June/July edition, Claudia (Honey from Rock) is hosting A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines by Anthony Bourdain (November 2002).  A Cook’s Tour is one of the few Bourdain books I haven’t read so I am ready to go!

I’m linking this up with Foodies Read.

*We do have a local restaurant that does make their alfredo table-side in a wheel of parmesan.   We shout for joy whenever we dine there.

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