Cooking Under The Tuscan Gun For many Americans, Italian cooking amounts to spaghetti and meatballs. But Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar shudder at the thought. Corcos, a music producer from Florence, Italy; and Mazar, an actress from Queens, New York, are determined prove authentic Italian cooking has nothing to do with meatballs. Corcos and Mazar have taken their mission online with a new cooking show, 'Under The Tuscan Gun.' The two cooks explain what it means to cook under the 'gun' and offer tips on what should be on your plate tonight.
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Cooking Under The Tuscan Gun

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Cooking Under The Tuscan Gun

Cooking Under The Tuscan Gun

Cooking Under The Tuscan Gun

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For many Americans, Italian cooking amounts to spaghetti and meatballs. But Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar shudder at the thought. Corcos, a music producer from Florence, Italy; and Mazar, an actress from Queens, New York, are determined prove authentic Italian cooking has nothing to do with meatballs. Corcos and Mazar have taken their mission online with a new cooking show, 'Under The Tuscan Gun.' The two cooks explain what it means to cook under the 'gun' and offer tips on what should be on your plate tonight.

MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, my commentary, a few more thoughts about the shooting at Fort Hood. But first, for many Americans, Italian cooking still consists of little more than spaghetti and meatballs drowning in a pool of red sauce, or maybe fettuccini Alfredo if you want to get fancy. But our next guests, Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar, shudder at the thought of these dishes. True Italian cooking, they say, the kind your grandma would make - if your grandma was from Italy - does not include any of these meals. In fact, they don't exist in Italy.

So Corcos, an Italian music producer from Florence, and Mazar, an actress from Queens, New York, have created an online cooking show called "Under the Tuscan Gun." Let's listen to them making minestrone.

(SOUNDBITE OF ONLINE PROGRAM, "UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN")

GABRIELE CORCOS: My grandma's secret: a couple of pieces of crust of Parmigiano-Reggiano. I don't even rinse them. I just toss them in to give the flavor.

DEBI MAZAR: So I'm chopping up some vegetables so that they cook down, and your olive oil. Use quite a lot on the bottom, because it's a lot of vegetables here.

CORCOS: It's about five tablespoons, I would say.

MAZAR: It's about five tablespoons. Do you want me to repeat after you?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: And the couple joins us now from our studios in Culver City, California. Thank you both for joining us.

MAZAR: Thanks for having us.

CORCOS: Hi, Michel. Thanks for having us.

MARTIN: So why is it called "Under the Tuscan Gun"? Is there conflict of that level in the kitchen, or Debi, does this refer to your earlier role in "Goodfellas," which I think many people will remember?

MAZAR: Well, actually, it's the - it was one of those moments where I was trying to think of a name for our show, and the gun represents my mother-in-law and my husband saying cook, cook the way that we cook for, you know, your children. And I've been forced and thrown into having to try to have somewhat of a Tuscan life, and I didn't really know what that was. So it became the Tuscan gun, and it's really about me.

MARTIN: Did you know - well, of course it is. But did you know how to cook - forgive me, I'm not trying to dog you, but did you know how to cook before you met Gabriele?

MAZAR: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I grew up in New York. I've been, you know, in and out of kitchens since a very, you know, young kid. My grandmother basically raised me because my mother had me at 15 and became a hippy. So she was trying to make sukiyaki at the age of 17, which I would give to the dog, who wouldn't even eat it. You know, and she was, you know, getting inventive, and I was - you know, I had a Puerto Rican neighbor, a Jamaican neighbor, Irish neighbors, and so I was subjected to, you know, multicultural food from an early age, and I started traveling early.

As a matter of fact, I've been to Italy many times before I met my husband, which he can't even imagine that I could possibly know anything about Italian food. But, you know, Italian food's really basic, and there's so many different variations on it that what my husband did is he broke it down for me.

MARTIN: But why was he - why were they dogging you about your food such that your show is called under the gun? Is it that you just - they didn't think you had it quite right?

MAZAR: I think that my interpretation of Italian was a lot more southern than what my husband cooks. You know, I grew up in Queens and in Brooklyn, and we - really, it's more southern. It's Naples and Sicily. It's heavier. It's over-spiced. And like most Americans, I thought spaghetti and meatballs was genius.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I know. I was devastated to learn it doesn't really exist in Italy. I think we should - Gabriele?

CORCOS: Well, you know, I still believe that you really should eat what makes you feel happy. Comfort food is not necessarily a derogatory term. I make the food that I grew up with because it's a way that I nourish my family. To me, it's just an act of love. If having spaghetti and meatballs makes you happy and makes you go to bed with a smile, go ahead and do that. Use great ingredients. Use fresh produce, and then spend time in the kitchen and make it a place that is very alive in the household.

MAZAR: I mean, he's more of a purist.

CORCOS: Yeah.

MAZAR: I'm like, you know, I'm like, who cares? It's, like, carbs and protein. Isn't that great? Like, you know, won't we be healthier because the meatballs are accompanying the pasta?

CORCOS: I feel like the eating of the meat sauce better than the meatballs.

MARTIN: Really? How did you - did you start cooking for Debi to woo her?

MAZAR: Oh, yeah.

CORCOS: That's the way that she thinks I cook.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CORCOS: But, you know, obviously, you know, I don't want to be of a disgrace to any Italian stereotypes. Yes, I wanted to impress her. She was hot. She was in my apartment, and I need to play my own cards so that, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CORCOS: You know, I had to do that.

MARTIN: And then Debi, just briefly, because many women never agree on this, so I'm kind of bias towards you because you're the girl and so am I. How did you two meet?

MAZAR: I was on a holiday in Italy, and I was at a girlfriend's house. Her name is Katia Labeque, this famous classical pianist, and my husband was working with her that summer. And he walked into the room like around midnight one night and I thought, who is that? And he...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CORCOS: I'm so good.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CORCOS: I love hearing...

MAZAR: No, but he spoke English, and we both enjoy - we have the same jazz and Brazilian and Afro-Cuban record collections. And we just had so many things that we loved talking about right off the bat that when he gave me a peck on the cheek goodnight, I wasn't sure which side to kiss him on first because they do the both sides, and we ended up smashing lips and I sort of closed the door and melted down the side of the door. And the next day, we had a proper date, and it sort of came out of that. And once we met in, like, May, we never left each other's side. And now it's 10 years later, and we have two daughters and we are still going strong.

CORCOS: Yup.

MARTIN: And an online cooking show. That's right.

CORCOS: Yup.

MAZAR: And an online cooking show. Yup.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We're talking about Tuscan cooking, specifically, with Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar. They are the host of an online cooking show "Under the Tuscan Gun." Let's listen to another clip of the program. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ONLINE PROGRAM, "UNDER THE TUSCAN GUN")

MAZAR: My husband is obsessed with making biscotti.

CORCOS: Yeah. I will tell you more about that. I had big problems in finding the right yeast. But we are doing...

MAZAR: He's finding the right yeast.

CORCOS: Yeast.

MAZAR: Yeast.

CORCOS: Did I say yeast?

MAZAR: It's yeast. Not east not what, yeast.

CORCOS: We're married eight years, and you don't understand?

MAZAR: So, yeah. So...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Are you being nice? I can't tell. Are you like...

MAZAR: Oh, yeah.

CORCOS: That's nothing.

MAZAR: No, we love to argue.

CORCOS: That's nothing.

MAZAR: You know, we don't agree on some things. I'm very curious, so I question things. And the truth is the whole thing was born out of - my husband - I was on location when I was pregnant with my first kid, and he wrote me a love letter that turned into sort of a mini book - mini cookbook, and it was called "The Tuscan Cookbook for the Pregnant Male."

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MAZAR: And in New York, my book agent at the time, David Vigliano, is like men do not buy cookbooks. Forget about it. Men are not going to read these cookbooks. I thought he was wrong because I know so many men that are pushing baby carriages and really into the kitchen, but like that's what he said publishing thought.

So one day I said, you know what? Let's just film an episode, because we sort of love watching Anthony Bourdain. And it was so much fun to watch, and we started sharing it with people and, like, people were writing in like, oh, my God. I'm a big girl, and I've lost 15 pounds. Or oh, my God, my husband's coming back from Afghanistan from the war and I've got all these new things to cook for him.

And the outpour was so incredible from all over the world, and especially with chefs that, you know, they found it refreshing and that we're two people that weren't chefs to be able to come into the kitchen and just try to enjoy the process of cooking and feeding ourselves.

MARTIN: You know, I have to ask you Debi, since you mentioned, you know, you said one of your fans says, oh, I'm a big girl and this makes me, you know, helps me eat more healthy...

MAZAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...and you are in the field where size does matter. So how do you do it? How do you manage to eat like a normal person and still maintain - which I think a lot of people would consider to be the very strict appearance standards in your field?

MAZAR: Well, you know, I have always had an issue with the whole weight thing with people in general because I happen to love how big women look. I mean, it's all a perspective. It's all an opinion, and I think sort of the Rubenesque, voluptuous body is a lot sexier than the boney bag of bones with fake everything.

For me, it's like go ahead and eat. Live your life. I mean, I've just seen so much death, you know, as of late, being in my 40s, of people getting sick or, you know, whatever, that I just feel like, you know what? You never know with life. Eat. Enjoy yourself. Just try to be healthy and, you know, and watch it.

MARTIN: You don't deprive yourself? You don't...

MAZAR: Never.

MARTIN: No?

CORCOS: No.

MARTIN: Can I get a second source on this? Gabriele like...

CORCOS: Well, it's funny...

MARTIN: ...is this - I mean, true? Is she telling us the real deal?

CORCOS: Oh, please. We have chocolate every night. I mean, I preach healthy organic food and then healthy preparations and no butter and more olive oil.

MAZAR: I like butter.

CORCOS: But I have Haagen-Dazs in my freezer. You know, our philosophy is that you really shouldn't deprive yourself for, you know, of things that make you happy. But because eating is, you know, a general rule to stay alive and you really have to do it every day, you have to be conscious about it. You can indulge yourself. You can be luxurious and then have your chocolate or your ice cream or the desert. You know...

MARTIN: Well, you know, Gabriele, though, I was just, at the beginning I was kidding saying that, you know, we think that Italian food is spaghetti and meatballs. We've actually come a long way since then. And I'm sure you remember that wonderful movie - Debi, I know you remember it, "Big Night."

MAZAR: Mm-hmm.

CORCOS: Oh, sure.

MAZAR: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: Where it was about the - it's an Italian restaurant in the '50s, where these guys were actually trying to present real Italian food and nobody wanted it. They thought, what is this? And so - and we've come a long way since then. But do you feel that there's an appreciation now for all the varieties of food that are part of Italian...

CORCOS: I know that it's incredible what happened in the past few years. Like, you know, the whole boom of the food phenomenon on the TV and on the Web is something that is very recent. It wasn't here when I arrived in 2001. I have users writing me and telling me, thank you so much. You reminded me - you allowed me to cook something that finally tasted like my grandmother, if my grandmother was still alive, flavors that are in danger of being lost in my family, now I'm able to recreate it.

You know, to me, I take it for granted because the way that I tasted the food in my mouth is the same way that it's always tasted because I started cooking with my grandmother and with my mother. So the fact that I moved here it makes it harder to find certain ingredients, so my menu sometimes is affected by the fact that - you know, I grew up in Florence. Florence is 350,000 people.

MARTIN: But, you know, but that leads me to a question, and Debi, I'm going to ask you this because you are a working mom. Gabriele, you work, too, but I'm just saying a lot of women listen to this and they think, oh, great. Something else I can feel inadequate about.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I can't come home and make an Italian meal from scratch. Great. Thanks.

MAZAR: Yeah. I have to say I credit my husband with thinking ahead, which I don't. He makes things where we freeze stuff - fresh stuff, fresh Ragu, fresh stuff. We put it in the freezer so that like, you know, on any given day when we're exhausted and we can't get to the store, we pull something out of the freezer and boom. It's fresh and it's fabulous. Or chicken dogs, you know, fresh steamed broccoli and some kind of carbs. You know, there's always...

CORCOS: There's always that American meal...

MAZAR: Yeah.

CORCOS: ...or, you know, you need to keep the kids. Your kids are hungry. It's too early for your dinner. You still have to work and you know, you whip something up.

MAZAR: Yeah. We're not, like, you know, perfect, by any means.

CORCOS: So something that to me is very important is that sometimes I get overwhelmed when I open a book of recipes and when I want to try new stuff. What I'm trying, you know, to make our users understand is that very often, very much often it's the way that your kitchen works, the way that your fridge is alive that helps you achieve in the kitchen what you want to do.

It's not just about the recipe. It's about being able to do the, you know, the right groceries, having a fridge that is alive and not stocked with stuff that just sits there.

MARTIN: But I'm not - and finally, and we're going to end on this note, there are a lot of people on a tight budget right now.

CORCOS: Yes.

MARTIN: I'm sure you know, you're aware of this. Whatever your circumstances, there are a lot of people who really have to watch every penny.

MAZAR: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.

MARTIN: And do you have some guidance for people who want to eat healthy but, you know, they can't spring for these expensive ingredients and it just isn't in the cards right now? What do you say?

MAZAR: Well, that's the thing what we like about our cooking show, is that our cooking show from the very beginning was not about spending money on the best olive oil or on the Creuset(ph) cooking gear or whatever. It was always about buying a couple of fresh things using whatever you have. And we've had the most incredible meals cooked for us on a electric four-burner grill in Italy this woman turned out a feast.

And so you don't need to spend money to eat fresh. In fact, in all 40 episodes that are currently available to everybody, there's almost nothing there that very expensive.

CORCOS: Yeah. There's probably one fish recipe that exceeded the $40. But for the rest, we are a family that lives on a regular budget. There's no...

MAZAR: We're on a budget.

CORCOS: Yeah.

MAZAR: Nobody has money right now. And eating is very important, but it doesn't need to be expensive. And to make - it doesn't need to be fancy, as long as it's fresh and simple. The simpler it is, the more fancy it actually comes out tasting.

CORCOS: Yes.

MARTIN: Okay. Gabriele, I'm going to give you the last question, since you are the planner, as Debi has told us. What's for dinner tonight?

CORCOS: Oh.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CORCOS: We haven't discussed it. We went through the leftovers last night. There was a - we are great advocates of leftovers. What we going to do tonight? Maybe a pork roast. The kids are missing that. They asked for it.

MAZAR: Yeah.

CORCOS: Maybe some rice or some (unintelligible). We'll think about it. I wanted to bake some cookies. We'll figure it out.

MAZAR: I'm big on making salads.

CORCOS: Yeah.

MAZAR: I think it's...

MARTIN: All right. Well, I'll wait for - I'll look for my invitation in the mail.

MAZAR: Please.

CORCOS: Oh, please.

MARTIN: Debi Mazar and Gabriele Corcos are the hosts of "Under the Tuscan Gun." It's an online cooking show, and they joined us from our studios in Culver City, California.

Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

MAZAR: Thank you.

CORCOS: Thank you much, Michel.

MAZAR: Thank you.

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