Like a heart-stopping cinematic moment, Italian food has a tendency to steal any scene. Whether a casual shot of a New York slice in the opening scene of Saturday Night Fever or the Timpano in Stanley Tucci’s Big Night, images of glorious Italian cuisine are undeniably captivating. We’re rolling out the red carpet for these scene-coopting moments of Italian food in film and television – because pasta, red sauce, and cheese always deserve more attention.
It’s been more than a decade, so if you haven’t seen the finale to the HBO crime drama “The Sopranos”, sorry not sorry for this spoiler: the series finale wraps with a scene in which the family (minus Meadow) chats over onion rings at their favorite go-to Jersey diner, Holsten’s. It’s no surprise the series ends there, as eating was always part of the action—from pizzas to piccata to pasta and Parmesans. When the family wasn’t chowing down on Carmela’s manicotti or baked ziti with sweet sausage, the Sopranos dined most often at Vesuvio, the restaurant owned by Tony’s childhood friend and chef, Artie Bucco.
Lady and the Tramp
In this Disney classic, Tramp, a stray dog from the wrong side of the tracks, falls in love with a sweet cocker spaniel named Lady. Capping off a day of escapades, Tramp takes Lady for the royal treatment at his fave Italian restaurant, Tony’s, where the chef cooks up a special dish of spaghetti and meatballs. Love blossoms as a long strand of pasta lead to an unexpected first kiss—sheer movie magic. If falling in love were only as simple as sharing spaghetti (sigh).
Stanley Tucci: Searching For Italy
One of the greatest things to come across our screens of late is riding along with Stanley Tucci as he eats his way through Italy while exploring his heritage. If there’s any culinary travel buddy to have in Italy, it’s Tucci. (Full disclosure: I ate and drank with Stanley Tucci in Ischia and Capri, but that’s a story for another time.) In this cinematic CNN show, he introduces viewers to the makers and masters, highlighting the regional specialties in his fertile motherland.
One of the most famous movie lines of all time comes from this epic mafia trilogy, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” In the adept hands of director (and gastronome) Francis Ford Coppola, food plays a central role in the lives of the Corleone’s. Throughout the film, food is elegantly woven into the scenes – both as elements of set design and in dialogue. From sister Connie’s extravagant wedding feast boasting tables stacked with red wine carafes to Clemenza’s detailed instructions to Michael on how to make a sauce from start to finish. If there’s one scene that stands out above the rest, it’s the heart-pounding meal at Louis’s Restaurant, which serves as the backdrop for the assassination of Captain McCluskey and “The Turk.”
Yes, Italian-American treasure Stanley Tucci has landed on this list twice (and we’re tempted to list him a third time for his IG feed where he confidently shares his Negroni-making tips). In this 1996 flick, Tucci plays front-of-house restaurant manager Secondo, the brother to the talented Italian chef Primo (Tony Shaloub). Unfortunately, Primo’s dishes are no longer drawing diners, so the duo devises a plan to take a chance on one multi-course meal for one big night. For the fawned-over menu, Primo attempts the challenging baked Timpano, a secret recipe brought over from Italy, featuring pastry enveloping layered meat, pasta, sauce, and eggs – a complicated dish that takes two days to prepare.
Saturday Night Fever
The New York slice was already famous, but the opening scene in Saturday Night Fever made it iconic. As Tony Manero (John Travolta) struts down the sidewalk and arrives at Lenny’s pizzeria, he’s greeted by a steaming pie fresh out of the oven. The first words uttered by his main character are in response to the question if he’d like two or three slices. He opts for two, which he cleverly eats one stacked right on top of the other, and continues to effortlessly polish them off as he glides down the street to the beat of the Bee Gee’s soundtrack.
The Trip to Italy
Part travelogue, part buddy road trip, part food porn experience, the “Trip to Italy” is the second in the series of films starring British actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. The film, and gastronomic tour, follow the two friends as they drive, dine and drink across Italy from Liguria to Capri. If impersonations are not your thing, you can easily focus on the food scenes where the pair share six epic meals, which include calamari at La Cantina in San Fruttuoso, rabbit at Rome’s Ristorante Oliver Glowig, and buttery rockfish at Massa Lubrense near Naples.
Are these scrumptious scenes making you hungry? Bring some of these dishes off the screen and order your own iconic feast.