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“Flavors Are Memory”: Around the Table with Actress Alicia Coppola

“Flavors Are Memory”: Around the Table with Actress Alicia Coppola
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July 29, 2022
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BUON APPETITO! #ENDALZ Celebrity Champion Alicia Coppola shares her family lasagna recipe, along with husband Anthony’s sauce recipe, plus her memories spent making — or eating — Italian food with beloved family and friends.

When Alicia Coppola was 11 years old, her Nana, her mother's mother, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. “I have a very distinct memory of holding my dad’s hand as he explained that I needed to be extra-patient with Nana, because she had something called Alzheimer’s,” Alicia says. “It was more than just repetition and things a child might initially notice — it’s a disease that impacted the entire family,” she says. Ultimately, Alicia says she has learned that spending quality time with those you love is so important, even when it’s difficult. “For all the times you feel like you are sliding into the darkness, it’s important to find the light in the dark.” 

Growing up in Huntington, Long Island, Alicia and her family gathered around the table over a variety of Italian staples, including lasagna. “My mother was already a brilliant cook, and then she married my father, an Italian with family from Brooklyn, Staten Island, and New Jersey, who all loved to eat,” Alicia says. 

Recipes from Alicia’s family include her great-aunt Anna’s made-from-scratch manicotti with pillowy crepes and filling. “All of these Italian recipes have been passed down on my father’s side. To this day, when my cousin’s mom Sugar comes over, she will make mozzarella fried grilled cheese sandwiches, called Carrozza. There is nothing like it.” Alicia has also attempted the feat of creating the elaborate Feast of the Seven Fishes, an Italian-American Christmas Eve tradition. “It’s so extraordinary, but also so much goes into it, and not everyone has that kind of time. I will always have lobster pasta or shrimp on deck to incorporate fish in some way.”

Family, Food & Tableside Memories

“Food IS the Italian culture. It's the antipasti, and the joining of family and friends,” says Alicia. “Food and flavor are memories at their core! I can still see my grandmother with a pot of sauce and meatballs on the stove, the door always open, people dipping their bread in the sauce. A big pot of sauce and a baguette: that was Sunday at Nana’s.” 

Alicia’s family lasagna has been edited through the generations, allowing people to swap ingredients in and out to their taste. “Lasagna is very forgiving,” Alicia says. “You can throw lots of things in there, especially when you have a good sauce.” And she wants people to know that her lasagna recipe doesn’t belong to one person. “It is my great-aunts’, Jenny and Anna, my cousin Sugar’s, my grandmother’s, my mom's. It belongs to all of them, to us.”

In a true marriage of flavors and traditions, Alicia pairs her family lasagna with a sauce that has been passed down from her husband Anthony’s Sicilian side of the family. “I remember going into the kitchen with my grandmother, stirring and tasting,” he says. “Over time, I adjusted to what I like most, removing the red and green peppers. It is delicious either way.” And this sauce’s biggest fan is Alicia, who Anthony says has a focus at the start of each day. “The first thing she says each morning is: ‘What are we going to eat tonight?’” which she wholeheartedly confirms. “I do love to eat, and to cook,” Alicia shares. “It’s very rare that someone is not cooking in my house.”

When Alicia looks back on the lighter moments with her Nana, she recalls humor. “Nana would be very funny, gesturing pointedly to request another refill of her glass of Chardonnay. Those moments when we were together sharing family dinners were precious. I keep these memories close to my heart. Food sustains us, connects us, and makes us who we are. I hope you enjoy our family recipes.”

Alicia Coppola Family Lasagna

  • Large 16-ounce bag shredded mozzarella
  • 15 ounces ricotta
  • One (1) tub grated and one (1) tub shredded parmesan
  • Grated pecorino
  • Boxes of oven-ready lasagna noodles 
  • Pinch and a half oregano; basil, if you'd like
  • Garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 beaten egg
Heat oven to 400 degrees. You can use either two 8x8 pans or a larger 9x13. I like using two smaller pans because lasagna is very filling. Unless you're hosting a larger dinner party, you can bake one and freeze the other. Since our youngest is vegetarian, I make one with meat (added to half of Anthony's sauce), and one without. I also like disposable pans, because let's face it, it's easier! 

To be honest, I eyeball everything, but I use all of the ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan in equal parts. If you're making two little lasagnas or one large one, that should give you an idea of how much filling you'll need. I add 1/2 to 3/4 of the parmesan in the mixture, and 3/4 of the mozzarella. Keep a bit for the last layer and parmesan and pecorino for sprinkling before you eat. 

Combine the cheeses in a large bowl and mix well. Add the egg. Then add salt, pepper, garlic powder and oregano/basil to taste. 

Spray the bottom of your pan(s) with olive oil. You can also coat the bottom of the pan with sauce once ready, then add your first layer of noodles, then a layer of mixture and sauce. Layer noodles the opposite way, mixture and sauce, until you get to the top of the pan. I like to end with noodles, mixture and sauce. Then I sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake for 40 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling, and the corner noodles gorgeously crispy. Take out of the oven and let sit for 10 minutes, then serve. I like to serve it with a nice green salad. If you freeze it, thaw before baking. BUON APPETITO!

Anthony's Sauce

  • Olive oil
  • Two (2) yellow onions
  • 12 garlic cloves
  • Pepper
  • Oregano
  • Parmesan
  • Basil leaves
  • Two (2) 28.-oz. cans diced tomatoes 
  • Two (2) 28.-oz. cans crushed tomatoes 
  • Tomato paste, small can
  • Brown or dark ale
  • Sugar
  • Lemon juice

In an 8-quart pot, add 4-6 tablespoons olive oil. Thinly slice two (2) medium-to-large yellow onions. Roughly mince 12 garlic cloves.  

Turn the burner on medium heat. Add onions and garlic. Add pepper, a teaspoon of oregano and a palmful of parmesan. Cook until onions are soft, then shake a little garlic powder and more parmesan, stir. 

Add 4-5 sliced basil leaves, two (2) 28-ounce cans of diced tomatoes, two (2) 28-ounce crushed tomatoes and one small can of tomato paste. Season to taste with salt, pepper, garlic powder and parmesan cheese. Add 1/4 cup of brown or dark ale beer. Sprinkle sugar to taste. Stir, then let simmer, covered, for about ten minutes. Uncover and repeat seasoning, adding a teaspoon of lemon juice to taste. Add more beer. Stir, re-cover and let simmer for ten more minutes, repeat the seasoning. Chef drinks remainder of beer. 

Turn the temperature down and let it cook, covered, for another 30 minutes. If it gets too bubbly, turn heat down until bubbles slow. Let sit on the stove in its flavors before serving.

If you want to make a meat sauce
In a frying pan, saute 1/2 a thinly sliced onion, 6 minced garlic cloves, 4-6 tablespoons olive oil. Cook until onions are soft, on medium heat. Add 5-7 basil leaves.

Add six (6) chopped Italian sausages: three sweet, three hot. Then add one pound of ground beef. Cook slowly, stirring occasionally. When stirring, season with salt, pepper and garlic powder, to taste. Once cooked, add to the above sauce recipe. Let sit until dinner. Mangia!

Related articles:
Around the Table
Food, Eating & Alzheimer's

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