F&W explores the growing fascination with Italian-American food and the people behind it—from comedians who grew up on marinara to ambitious chefs who worship Mamma Leone and Thomas Keller in equal measure.

In This Article:

Famous Italian Americans

Jimmy Kimmel

Courtesy of Jimmy Kimmel

"Whenever we visited my grandmother in Brooklyn, she'd make us fly home to Las Vegas lugging olive oil. Each container was the size of a gas can, and we'd bring back, like, nine of them. Now you'd have to fit them in a three-ounce plastic bag."
—TV host Jimmy Kimmel

Joy Behar

Courtesy of HLN

"My Aunt Rose's specialty was a killer ricotta cheesecake. There was always a big crack on top, like an earthquake had hit it, which would make her crazy."
—TV host Joy Behar

Frank Bruni

© Michael Turek

"If I could take the Bruni family of yesteryear to one NYC restaurant, it would be Convivio. It's a good meeting point of almost stereotypically robust Italian food and modern ingredient fetishism."
—Frank Bruni, author of the memoir Born Round

Comedian Mario Cantone.

© Peter Lau

Comedian Mario Cantone talks about marinara sauce and lobster beheadings.

My mother hated being a mother and having to cook. But she was a very good cook, and she made meatballs and marinara sauce—gravy—on Sundays. Aunt Jo, her sister, was an amazing cook, and she taught me. My mother didn't want me to cook. She thought it would make me gay. Little does she know it was the Judy Garland albums she played when I was two.

My Aunt Jo and my mother made very different gravies. My mother's was much thinner, which was very Sicilian, the way my father liked it. My Aunt Jo's was thicker, and she and my mother used to argue about how my grandmother, who died when I was little, would do it.

My mother sometimes put lobsters in the gravy. She'd make a marinara sauce, but with no onion—just garlic, tomatoes, salt, pepper and a little sugar. She would take lobsters and chop off their heads like Marie Antoinette, then put them in the pot of gravy. She'd cook them for 20 minutes, shut off the heat for an hour and just leave them there. The lobster would infuse that gravy; it was incredible.

Italian-American Wine Producers

Sinatra Family Estates

Courtesy of Sinatra Family Estates

Notable new bottles from Italian-American producers.

C. Donatiello Winery After a successful career as a wine and spirits salesman in New York, Chris Donatiello is now producing superb Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Sonoma's Russian River Valley.

Sinatra Family Estates (Pictured) The Chairman's children—Tina, Nancy and Frank, Jr.—teamed up with star Napa Valley winemaker Heidi Barrett to create a silky, blueberry-inflected Cabernet.

Style & Gear

Wooster Street Meats

Courtesy of Wooster Street Meats

Here, a modern way to cook meatballs (on the grill) and more updates on Italian-American favorites.

1. T-Shirts

Wooster Street Meats' cute shirts announce one's passion for desserts like cannoli. $25; woosterstreetmeats.com.

2. Tablecloth

Fog Linen Work makes its version of the checked tablecloth from natural linen, which gets softer with age. $85; shophorne.com.

3. Meatball Griller

Nonna might not buy one, but Outset's grilling basket holds 12 meatballs at once. $20; cooking.com.

4. Gelato Maker

DeLonghi's new machine makes gelato in just 25 minutes, since it doesn't require any pre-chilling. $300; shopdelonghi.com.

Italian-American Desserts

NYC's Led Zeppole

© Hector Sanchez

Classic Italian-American desserts are becoming ubiquitous across the US, from New Mexico to Tennessee.

1. Italian Ice

Itsa Italian Ices in Albuquerque serves classics and unexpected flavors, like cantaloupe, in a 1950s-inspired diner setting.

2. Cannoli

Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen in Memphis uses limoncello in the filling, then adds chocolate chips and raspberry sauce.

3. Zeppole

NYC's Led Zeppole (pictured)offers maple syrup as a topping for its fried dough; Napa's Oenotri provides blackberry jam.

More Great Italian-American Content:

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Spinach-and-Sausage-Stuffed Peppers
Credit: © Quentin Bacon
Classic Chicken Parmigiana