If you love traditional Tuscan dishes but want to spice things up—Debi Mazar has the perfect solution for you. The actress—who’s appeared on HBO’s Entourage and now co-hosts Cooking Channel’s Extra Virgin with her Italian husband Gabriele Corcos—teamed up with Kaytlin Brakefield, chef de cuisine of New York City restaurant L’Apicio, and Beppe D’Andrea, leader of Tuscany’s Slow Food movement, to create a menu made up of classic dishes and their modern counterparts. We caught up with Mazar to talk about the project, plus get a recipe for her favorite Italian dish, complete with a wine pairing.
Wine Enthusiast: How did you go from Hollywood actress to Cooking Channel star?
Debi Mazar: My mother had me when she was very young, so I hung out with my grandmother a lot. She was a fantastic cook. Years later my mother moved us to upstate New York, where she taught me how to grow my own vegetables, and she got into cooking. When I moved out on my own, I always liked to entertain—I was famous for my dinner parties. Then when I met Gabriele, I was introduced to a whole other Tuscan life that really changed my palate. Gabriele and I were cooking together, and I didn’t think that America had a grip on the difference between Italian-American and Tuscan food, so I began filming and directing him, and we started a blog called Under the Tuscan Gun. Once YouTube launched we were able to spread it to the world. We did that for eight years, we got tons of press, and then Bruce Seidel from the brand-new Cooking Channel called and asked if we wanted to do a show that was similar to our blog. Long story short—that’s how our show got started!
WE: What were your preconceptions of Italian food that changed when you met your husband?
DM: Growing up around a lot of American Italians in Brooklyn and Queens, I was used to a much heavier, more southern Italian fare. It was all about abbondanza, with more cheese, more ingredients, more everything. When I met Gabriele, I was stunned. He would make these beautiful meals, everything was grilled and very light. I would have a recipe for a stew, and he would take out half the ingredients, and just use red wine and pepper, and cook it with less drama. It was much cleaner. You could taste each vegetable and the meat as opposed to disguising it. It was much lighter. It’s really important because I feed my children Tuscan food, and when we eat American-Italian food, we find it heavy.
WE: What are some Italian ingredients you must have in your kitchen?
DM: Extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar, parmesan, garlic, carrots, celery, onions, broccoli rabe, good fresh bread, pancetta, guanciale, prosciutto, mortadella, truffle oil, honey, Lavazza coffee and a few bottles of Chianti.
WE: What was your favorite wine-and-food pairing from the “Tuscany, Two Ways” menu?
DM: My favorite pairing was the Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro’s 2008 Chianti Classico paired with the bistecca Fiorentina and Tuscan white beans. I love the heavy, starchy beans and the meat with a very round, full-bodied wine. It reminds me of being at the table at our home in Florence. It’s a sexy wine, and it embodies who I am.
Recipe courtesy Chef Kaytlin Brakefield, L’Apicio, New York City
2¼ pound prime porterhouse steak
Juice of half lemon
Olive oil, to taste
Maldon salt, to taste
Place the steak on hot grill and grill for about 10 minutes on each side. Remove from grill and let rest for 10 minutes.
Squeeze the lemon juice onto both sides of the steak and season with salt and olive oil, to taste. Slice the steak and serve. Serves 2.
Pour: Mazar recommends serving this classic Tuscan steak with Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro 2008 Chianti Classico. Its round tannins, good acidity and hints of black pepper complement the meat nicely.