Editor’s Letter July 2024: Italian Eats

Cincinnati Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief on Italian food and Stanley Tucci.

Like many people with no Italian heritage, I owe some of my appreciation of Italian food to Stanley Tucci. He was a relative Hollywood newcomer in 1996 when he cowrote, codirected, and starred in Big Night. Now he’s a movie star traveling across Italy explaining various food traditions for CNN.

Big Night told the story of two brothers from Italy (Tucci and Tony Shalhoub) who open a restaurant in New Jersey in the 1950s and serve creative dishes to locals who just want spaghetti and meatballs. They go all out one evening for a famous singer who supposedly is coming to dine there, and the resulting cooking/serving/consuming scenes are mind-blowing. It was my (and most Americans’) introduction to timpano. If we’d known the term “food porn” in the ’90s, this film might have received an X rating.

Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy is in its second season of following the actor around as he tries regional delicacies, meets local personalities, gets quick history lessons, and speaks a bit of the language. He’s so engaging and genuine, especially when he’s stuffing his face.

I’m sure that when I first saw Big Night 28 years ago, I was one of those heathens who ordered just spaghetti and meatballs. That and pizza were the Americanized version of Italian cuisine, and my family didn’t do a lot of exploring beyond those items. I didn’t learn the term “pasta” until later; there were just different shapes and sizes of spaghetti.

Tucci’s current CNN season takes us to Puglia, Calabria, and Liguria, Italian regions I really don’t know much about. We’ve all heard of Tuscany, and many of you have traveled throughout Italy yourselves, but I wasn’t familiar with the food differences across the country, especially from north to south.

One of the best things about food—especially ethnic or regional cuisines you didn’t grow up with—is that meals come with a story about the ingredients, the traditions, and the people making and serving it. Even in Cincinnati, far from the Mediterranean Sea, stories are served with every Italian meal. Read a few of them in this month’s “Italian Eats” section.

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