Ciao — we’ll miss “Sopranos” actor Gandolfini

Woke up this morning — and heard the sad news about James Gandolfini’s death. He did a tremendous job as Tony Soprano, which is how most people knew him and will remember him, though the actor distinguished himself with many other parts in TV, plays and movies after that landmark HBO series.

I can’t do a recap of Gandolfini’s life and career — I’ll leave that to the entertainment writers — but his passing made me think back fondly on “The Sopranos” and the many surprises, shocks and suspense-filled moments it offered viewers during its run.

In 1999, a friend in the HBO publicity department sent me the first four episodes of “The Sopranos” before it aired. “You’re Italian,” she said. “Tell me if you’re offended.” After watching just two episodes, I told her I loved it and couldn’t wait to see the rest. Thus began a Sunday-night ritual that lasted until 2007.

When the show was about to end that year, I wrote a piece for the North County Times suggesting various foods for a Sopranos-related menu to accompany watching the final episode. The story recalled the important role food had played in the show, because it is central to Italian-Americans’ lives, period:

— Livia sets the kitchen on fire, thus precipitating her move to a nursing home and her ordering a hit on son Tony in revenge.

— Hotheaded Chris Moltisanti shoots a slow-moving bakery store clerk in the foot, a nod by the writers to actor Michael Imperioli’s role in “Goodfellas,” in which he is shot in the foot by Joe Pesci.

— The many meals enjoyed at gangster wannabe Artie Bucco’s new restaurant, after his previous one was torched to prevent a mob hit that would have hurt future business.

— And the many sub sandwiches “brought in” by the guys to their offices at the Bada Bing club.

— The immortal line, “So what, no f—in’ ziti now?” uttered by young A.J. Soprano when he learns his grandmother isn’t coming to a family barbecue.

— Carmela Soprano’s lasagna, passed off by Tony’s sister Janice as her own in order to impress lonesome widower Bobby Baccala.

— The ricotta pie, one of the most effective weapons used in the show. Carmela offered the pie to an acquaintance who was unwilling to write a recommendation letter for daughter Meadow’s college application. Carmela made it oh-so-clear that the request, like the pie, was not to be denied.

— And of course, the final scenes, which took place in a diner as the family munched on onion rings before the hotly argued blackout ending.

In that last episode, A.J. reminded Tony of some advice he once offered him: “Remember the good times.” I’m sad at the too-early passing of a fine actor, but glad for the memories he gave us.

RICOTTA-PINEAPPLE PIE

(From “The Sopranos Family Cookbook,” Allen Rucker and Michele Scicolone, Warner Books, 2002)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

1/4 cup fine graham cracker crumbs

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

One 15-ounce container ricotta cheese

2 large eggs

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For topping:

One 20-ounce can crushed pineapple in syrup

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread butter over bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan or springform pan. Add crumbs, turning pan to coat bottom and sides.

In large bowl, stir together the sugar and cornstarch. Add ricotta, eggs, cream, lemon zest and vanilla, and beat until smooth. Pour mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 50 minutes, or until pie is set around the edges but center is still slightly soft. Cool to room temperature on wire rack.

To make topping: Drain pineapple well, reserving 1/2 cup liquid. In a medium saucepan, stir together the sugar and cornstarch. Stir in the 1/2 cup pineapple juice and the lemon juice. Cook, stirring, until thickened, about 1 minute. Add the pineapple. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

Spread pineapple mixture over pie. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour before serving. Serves 8.

Notes: I used 1/2 cup skim milk instead of the 1/2 cup cream in this recipe to lighten it a bit, and it came out great. I think a blueberry topping would also be great on this.

(c) copyright Laura Groch 2013

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