For 60 years, we’ve heard Tony Bennett’s dazzling voice sing hits from the Great American Songbook. Despite a jam-packed schedule (he just recorded a new album and wrote a book!), we were thrilled when Tony offered to share his mother’s lasagna recipe with us, as well as a few of his fondest food memories.
Taste of Home: What has your family taught you about cooking?
Tony Bennett: My family would come to our house every Sunday for a meal. The reason they always came was to support my mother after my father passed away tragically when I was 10 years old. So the family would come and we would have a meal together. When we were done, they would gather into a circle and my brother, sister and I would perform for them. It was at that time, because my family gave me so much love and encouragement, that I decided that I wanted to be a performer and entertain people. So, it starts with a family meal but it’s always about love.
TOH: What kind of food did you grow up with?
TB: On Sundays, it was the full Italian meal—from antipasto to soup to pasta (al dente, of course) with tomato sauce. And if that wasn’t enough, it was always followed by a meat or fish course and then a line of desserts down the table. During good weather, we would take the entire meal with us and have a picnic outside in the park. Relatives would have mandolins with them and play for everyone.
TOH: How did the Great Depression affect your childhood?
TB: We knew that times were tough for my mom and everyone in the neighborhood, but we were happy as kids growing up. And since money was scarce, we learned a good lesson. If we bought something, it needed to be something the whole family could enjoy. So, I remember the first record I ever bought was of Enrico Caruso, which I knew would appeal to everyone. That has been my premise ever since, to perform songs that the whole family will enjoy.
When Bob Hope started me out at the Paramount Theater in NYC, we did seven shows a day, so by the end you had performed for every demographic possible—teens, young lovers, married couples and grandparents. So, you needed to present material that was enjoyable to all.
TOH: What is one of your favorite holiday memories?
TB: The best holiday food anecdote in my life happened during Thanksgiving one year. I was just a kid and my mom was very upset as we didn’t have enough money to buy a turkey. I had seen a sign on the local movie theatre that they were raffling off turkeys to give away, so I begged my mom for a dime to go to the movies so I could win the turkey. I just knew I was going to win.
When the movie ended, the theatre manager gathered everyone’s stubs and pulled out the winning ticket. “Number four!” That was my ticket! I ran home with that turkey in my arms and it was more precious than gold. Seeing my mother’s face light up when I walked in the door is something I will never forget. My family thought I was a magician after that.
TOH: As a busy entertainer, what is it like eating on tour?
TB: I have to be honest. I don’t really cook. I think it is because I have spent most of my life on the road, eating in hotels and restaurants. And in every city there is always a favorite restaurant that I like to swing by when I am in town. When I married my wife Susan, I hit the jackpot as she not only is a wonderful cook but she cooks very healthy. She makes sure that I stay in shape and eat a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits along with everything else. I have been very blessed to have her in my life.
TOH: What is your favorite food?
TB: I am Italian, so there are three things I love the most: Pasta, pasta and more pasta.
So here’s Tony’s favorite lasagna recipe, just like his mom used to make.
Tony Bennett’s Mother’s Lasagna Recipe
“My mother, Anna Benedetto, was a wonderful cook,” Tony told Taste of Home. “Her lasagna was a family favorite and she always made it when the family gathered at our home on holidays or big family occasions. My sister, Mary, would help her in the kitchen, and when my mother took ill and passed on, Mary would make the lasagna at all our family gatherings. At my 85th birthday gala at Lincoln Center, my wife, Susan, suggested we serve the lasagna. It was like having my mom with us that evening.”
Emily Racette Parulski/Taste of Home
- 1 1⁄4 pounds ground beef
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 1⁄2 pound hot Italian sausage
- 5 to 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 28-oz can Italian plum tomatoes
- 1 28-oz can Italian puree
- 2 6-ounce cans tomato paste
- 1⁄4 cup minced fresh basil
- 1⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound lasagna noodles, cooked al dente
- 2 16-ounce containers ricotta cheese
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1⁄2 pound Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brown ground beef and onions together; drain fat. Set aside.
Step 2: Remove sausage from casing; crumble and place in large pot with garlic, cook briefly. Add tomatoes, tomato puree, and tomato paste. Season with basil, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Add ground beef mixtures and stir well. Simmer sauce for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Combine ricotta and eggs in bowl.
Step 3: In a 15-inch lasagna pan, place small amount of sauce on bottom; layer with 1⁄4 noodles, 1/3 ricotta mixture, 1/3 grated cheese; cover with 1⁄4 sauce. Repeat layers twice. Top with remaining noodles, and cover with remaining sauce. Bake 45 minutes. Let sit 10 minutes before serving. Buon’ Appetito!
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