By Andrew Parks
LeBlanc follows a red sauce supper with an a.m. workout (cue some motivational Journey). Photo: Danny Kim
Actor Matt LeBlanc learned the art of Italian cooking from—you guessed it—Grandma. She’d host huge Sunday suppers and holiday meals (think dozens of relatives and four trays of pasta). “My grandmother’s lasagna was pretty great,” the Episodes star (and Friends favorite) recalls. “None of her kids could make it as well as she did. She put sausage, ground beef, and flank steak in the sauce, and by the time it was done, the steak was almost like pulled pork, falling apart in bits and pieces.”
These days, he’s doing some teaching of his own, regularly trading cooking tips with his mother. His latest bit of advice? Spike marinara sauce with a knob of ginger (see the napkin above). “That little hint of ginger may not sound Italian, but boy is it nice,” LeBlanc says. “My mother thought I was crazy—until she tried it.”
11 Questions for Matt LeBlanc
Are you more of a barbecue guy when it comes to cooking?
I like to barbecue, yeah. But I make Italian food too—pasta, sauce, eggplant, lasagna, whatever.
Any particular dish you’re known for, or you make a lot?
I make the sauce a lot. With Italian food, if you get the sauce down, the battle is halfway done.
Do you come from a family that did the whole Sunday dinner thing then?
Yeah, we’d go to my mother’s mother’s house—my grandparents’ house. She was a great cook, and my mother’s one of nine kids so all of the cousins, aunts and uncles were there. It was a big thing.
One of those things where they keep feeding you and it’s hard to say no?
There was lots of food. Like every Thanksgiving, there’d be a turkey, a ham, and four trays of lasagna or spaghetti. There was always a pasta dish. Christmas was the same thing—turkey, a ham, and pasta.
Any dish you really miss from back then, or you try and replicate now with your family?
My grandmother’s lasagna was pretty great. None of her kids could make it as good as she did.
Was it pretty traditional—just meat and ricotta?
She put ground sausage, ground beef, and flank steak in the sauce. She’d cook the steak until it disintegrated almost.
That sounds great. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone putting steak in lasagna.
Well it’s not really steak by the time it’s done. It’s almost like a pulled pork or something, where it’s falling apart in bits and pieces.
If someone were to look in your fridge today, what are some interesting things they’d find?
Jalapeño-stuffed olives would be in there. Baked chicken breasts. Broccolini sautéed with garlic and olive oil. That’s always in the fridge; I love broccolini. It’s really good for you, like a superfood. Eggs. Milk. There’d be chocolate in the freezer for the occasional splurge.
Do you have a certain way of cooking your broccolini? Is it very traditional?
Yeah, you split ‘em and then you put ‘em in a frying pan with olive oil and garlic—just cover them and keep moving them around until they get nice and soft.
Going back to pasta for a minute, are you more of a red sauce guy that understands how good a simple tomato sauce can be when it’s made right—slowly, and with the right tomatoes?
Yeah. A new trick I turned my mom onto—and she thought I was crazy until she tried it—was something I learned from a friend who lives in London and is from Ghana. His wife is a great cook. I was over at there house for dinner a couple years ago and she makes red sauce, but what she does first is she chops up a yellow onion and then she takes minced ginger and olive oil and puts that in a frying pan. She sautés the onion with the ginger and the olive oil until the onions get real soft and then puts all of that—the olive oil, the onions and the ginger—into the sauce as it’s cooking. That little hint of ginger may not sound Italian but boy is it nice. I try to do it every time now, like a tablespoon for a big pot of sauce.
Do you have any food memories connected to Friends?
Well Monica was the chef but Joey ate everything. I ate food off the floor on that set. I ate that trifle thing Rachel made that was half a beef thing and half a dessert. I ate a lot of that that night. We ate a lot of pizza on that show.
Did you ever get sick of eating the same thing over and over for a scene?
Not with a sitcom. It’s more like a play; you do it a couple of times. And if you run up against something that’s problematic, you maybe have to do it four or five times. It’s not like a movie where you’re doing 10 takes. If you have to do 10 takes on a sitcom, you’re probably not going to last very long [laughs]. If it’s a live audience, the crowd doesn’t want to see it too many times.
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