Burlesque star Angie Pontani grew up in an Italian American neighborhood in Trenton, New Jersey, where Sundays were all about giant, noisy family dinners. “There was wine and excessive food and laughter and screaming and just this beautiful symphony of chaos,” she says.
Now that she lives in Brooklyn with her husband, jazz musician and trumpet player Brian Newman, and their three-year-old daughter, Sistilia, Angie does her best to re-create the messy, happy, too-full feeling (despite her hectic travel and performance schedule). “I want Sis to feel that pride for her culture and to know some of the traditions that were so important to my grandparents,” Angie says. And the meals are still a family affair—if on a smaller scale—because Angie’s sister, Tara Pontani-Schad, and her family live upstairs and often pop down for dinner.
Prep starts in the morning, when Angie and Sistilia head to the market. Angie likes to support local shops and takes Sistilia with her so Sistilia can learn how to pick out everything from broccolini to branzino. When they get home, Sistilia hops up on a chair and helps her mama cook. “She likes to stir the polenta,” Angie says. “I hold her and we just stand there and stir it together. It’s a good arm workout!” Tonight the polenta will be turned into fries served with a tomatoey dipping sauce, followed by Angie’s riff on her grandma Jo’s lemony roast chicken. “I adjusted it a little bit over the years,” she says. “Traditions change, and I embrace that change because that’s part of the story, the evolution of the Italian American.”
"In this digital age, if I don’t keep going to an actual store, sissy’s not going to know how to go shopping," says Angie.
"You keep the traditions alive because it gives you a sense of who you are in this big and crazy world," says Angie.
When dinner’s ready, Angie, in true old-school Brooklyn form, passes the chicken out the window to Brian, who is setting up at the table outside. While the rest of the family catches up, Sistilia snags a drumstick, her favorite part of the chicken. She’s already absorbing Italian-food lessons, which makes Angie a proud mama: “Sometimes when Sis wakes up in the morning, I walk into her room and she just says, ‘Ma, make me pasta. Tortellini, Ma.’”
Recipe: Try Angie's Nonna's Lemony Roast Chicken with Butternut Squash & Fried Polenta Fingers with Pizza Sauce
Recipe: Try Angie's Nutella-Stuffed Pancakes
For more mealtime fun, check out Yum-o!, Rach’s nonprofit organization. You’ll find recipes, ideas for improving food in schools, and stories about people who are changing the way America eats. How cool is that?!