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From Barnes & NobleItalian Family Recipes and Traditions
I can remember watching Stanley Tucci's marvelously funny and endearing move, "Big Night," with my family piled on our king-sized bed in the country, all of us laughing at the enterprising Italian brothers in their restaurant-opening antics. Since each of us has his or her own idiosyncratic view of food and family dining, this was a movie that was hitting pretty close to home. Obsessing about food runs deep in my family, so it is with little difficulty that I have embraced the cookbook Cucina & Famiglia, which has been born of the work that Stanley Tucci did to prepare for "Big Night."
As Stanley Tucci says, "Since the release of 'Big Night,' people have always asked whether there would be an accompanying cookbook. Since the film has no real recipes to speak of save timpano (which, for the first time ever, can be found in the pages of the cookbook), no such book could be written. There is, however, a strong connection between the film and the book. I've always felt that 'Big Night' was partly about respect for one's heritage and the pursuit of truth in one's art. To me this cookbook embodies those themes. It is a collection of recipes by people I love, who love to cook because they love their past and want to pass its truths on to the next generation." Could anyone better describe the book?
The writers of Cucina & Famiglia are Joan Tropiano Tucci, Stanley Tucci's mother, and Gianni Scappin, the chef who taught Stanley about restaurant cooking as he prepared for his first directorial effort in a film that he also co-wrote (with his cousin, Joe Tropiano) and starred in. We also hear the voice of Stanley's father, Stan, as well as the voices of various grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings from all of the authors' families. The effort has been pulled together by the writer Mimi Shanley Taft.
Joan Tropiano and Stan Tucci are second-generation Italian-Americans who had the opportunity to live in Italy for a year with their children, Stanley, Gina, and Christine. Gianni Scappin is a recent arrival to America whose wife is the American food writer and nutritionist Laura Pensiero. So it is from all of these perspectives we get to experience Italy in Cucina & Famiglia. Not only do the Tropiano-Tuccis cook from their home region of Calabria, but they also embrace the foods of Florence and northern Italy they sampled while residing there, so that we get a wonderful sense of their exploration of their heritage.
Gianni Scappin, in contrast, comes into the picture with a fine education in the foods of his native Italy, some classic French culinary experience, and an enthusiastic response to what he refers to as "America's ever-dynamic culinary community." During the course of writing the book, Gianni and Laura returned to the Veneto area of Italy to take over Gianni's family trattoria but were shortly lured back to New York City, where Gianni felt he could best further expand his look at contemporary Italian cooking.
The recipes in the book are, for the most part, traditional, but I found that many of them bear the stamp of modern America—sometimes in seasoning, sometimes in now-available ingredients, sometimes in the light-handed influence of the nutritionist. The headnotes for each recipe let you know who devised it, and almost every one of them has a variation or two that might further inspire the home cook. More than anything, I believe that Cucina & Famiglia will make the home cook want to find the very best ingredients, as many of the recipes are quite simple—just reading them, you know that you will need the best possible flavors to make each one complete.
I think that Stanley Tucci sums up the book in the best possible way: "In each recipe, my parents, Gianni, and Mimi have worked hard to document those often elusive touches and techniques that result in a great meal as opposed to an ordinary one. By worrying over each detail they have, for the first time in either the Tucci or Scappin family history, committed to paper the ingredients needed to create a collection of extraordinary meals. This cookbook will help you understand the root of our obsession with food and will, we hope, become a source for many of your own unforgettable meals." I would add that it should also inspire you to begin a collection of your own to pass down to the next generation of your family.