Stanley Tucci Reveals The Pasta Dish That's Always On His Family's Thanksgiving Table
The father of five also shares recipes for the “amuse bouche” of pasta-shapes...
My favorite moment from my discussion with Stanley Tucci, actor, cookbook author, and father of five (Camilla, Nicolo, Isabel, all adults, and Matteo and Emilia, who are 8 and 5, respectively) isn’t written out in this article, but it’s a moment I really kind of hoped would happen. It’s the moment that tends to happen within minutes of two Italian-Americans discovering the other is a paesano. “Where in Italy is your family from?” It’s a quirk of the culture — we have a deep and genuine need to know — and Stanley Tucci gets it.
He also gets the special place a particular food item has in our hearts: pastina. Earlier this year, those of us who love the tiny, star-shaped pasta were panicked to discover that Ronzini, an American pasta brand, had discontinued the shape. (“How will we feed our little Italian babies?!” we lamented.) Fortunately, it hasn’t disappeared completely. In fact, S.Pellegrino, in collaboration with pasta-maker Rummo, has recently launched a limited edition pastina-style pasta — S.Pellegrino Stelline.
Tucci partnered with the brand to create a premium recipe kit artfully curated by World Chef/YumCrunch — S.Pellegrino Presents: Stanley Tucci’s Stelline Two Ways. “I had so much fun sharing a taste of my family’s recipes with S.Pellegrino last year that we’re doing it again,” he said, noting that the star-shaped pasta has a spot in his pantry, and on his table, all winter long. The recipes include the “standard” recipe, Pastina Classica, and Brodo di Gallina con Polpettine di Pollo, a delicious chicken soup. (Fun fact: you’ll never eat rice in soup again after you try the same recipe with pastina.)
We talked to Tucci about family food traditions, why Italian-American cuisine falls short of the original, and the joys of a pasta-forward, expat Thanksgiving he hosts with his wife, Felicity Blunt.
You have two different recipes for the kit you made with S.Pellegrino; how did you have pastina as a kid?
It was often what you were given when you were unwell. You had the chicken soup recipe, very similar to the one that we have in the meal kit, and then you put the pastina in. And that was if you had a cold. But it was also served on a Sunday sometimes. And Thanksgiving, it would actually be served. And then when you had a stomach thing, you had pastina with butter and cheese.
It’s Italian penicillin. That’s what my grandmother called it.
Did you have that?
Oh, yeah. To this day, I always have a box of pastina in the house just in case someone gets sick.
Does it work? Who knows. But it tastes good.
You live in London now, but do you still do Thanksgiving?
Oh, we always do Thanksgiving. The schools don’t get off here, and my wife works, so we do it on a Saturday. We usually do it the Saturday after Thanksgiving because everyone has off. We get Americans who are here, friends who either live here or are traveling through, and they come over. And then we have lots of Brits over because they love Thanksgiving, because they don’t have it.
Now, you said you had pastina at your Thanksgiving table growing up. Is that the only pasta dish, or do you also have like...
*kindly but incredulously stares in Stanley Tucci Italian*
OK, I’m just checking! This is important!
Pastina is not even pasta. It’s like an amuse-bouche of pasta. A lot of times, we had Thanksgiving at my aunt’s house, my mother’s sister. And she would make this pastina with the soup. But then also there was lasagna. And then there was a turkey and then there were yams...
In my family, you could have shellacked the turkey from year to year because we always wound up eating the lasagna and filling up on too much antipasto.
Yeah, me too. The turkey usually became a thing that you ate later on in the day. Do you know what I mean? You’re like, “I don’t want turkey now,” so you have it later on or the next day, like an open-face turkey sandwich, which is what my father always loved. Oh, it was so good.
Obviously there’s a huge difference between Italian food and Italian-American of food. A lot of people don’t realize that chicken parmesan is an American invention. Do you have any affection for Italian-American style dishes or do you prefer to stick to the more traditional stuff?
Yeah, chicken parmesan isn’t a thing in Italy, right? But I make it. I mean, I make it, because because my kids loved it when they were younger, the older kids. And it’s good! It’s nothing to make. If I make chicken cutlets, I’ll just reserve some and I’ll just do it with marinara and a little bit of mozzarella, a little bit of parmesan, and that’s it. Really simple, and everybody loves it. Other than that, no, I don’t. I’m not a fan of a lot of Italian-American food because I find it too heavy. I find that the portions are too big and it’s lost the delicacy, I think, that exists in real Italian food, which is sort of the whole point of it.
Italian-American food is much more meat-centric, whereas regular Italian food really isn’t, because meat was not available and the meat was something that was eaten by the upper classes or by the clergy or by the landowners. It wasn’t eaten very often by most of the populace because they couldn’t afford it. But when they came to America, meat was more available, so the dishes became more meat-centric. Everything became bigger, everything became heavier. And then of course, the desire to please and to cater to American tastes change the flavor profile of classic Italian dishes. More cheese, creams, stuff like that. Chicken tetrazzini or whatever that is...
Are there particular dishes that you’ll be making for the upcoming holidays that you’re especially looking forward to? I have read that you actually do a timpano [a massive, show-stopping baked pasta dish that takes hours] every Christmas. Do you still?
Not so much anymore. It’s a huge amount of effort. My wife doesn’t really like it. I like it, my son likes it. A lot of people don’t like it, so I’m not going to do it. But maybe we’ll make the soup for Thanksgiving. I love doing... like Christmas Eve, where you do the fish [a reference to The Feast of Seven Fishes, an Italian Christmas Eve tradition]. I love that. I love doing that. A lot of times, I’ll just make a fish stew or something like that, because you can put seven different kinds of fish in it, and it’s all done in one pot. My mom always made, and I actually want to make it this year, the cod. Like the baccala with a little bit of tomato and green olives. And you soak it over the course of a couple of days, and then you take the salt out. I just think it’s one of the most delicious things ever.
Is cooking a family affair in your house, or is this something dad does to unwind and have quiet time?
Oh, no, no. It’s a family thing. My wife is an amazing cook. So we love to cook together and the kids love to help whenever they can... without endangering anyone, because they’re young. And my older son, is a chef. He’s just started working at an amazing restaurant here in London. Yeah, it’s a very, very big part of our household.
Honestly we would expect no less...