Thank goodness this is the new golden age of television. We have an assortment of goodies to watch as we sidle cautiously into the post-COVID world from our cozy little winter cocoons. While Mr. Sanders like to gobble up the epics with dragons and swordplay, I’m happier helping to win World War II with the plucky Brits. Together we compromise on a few food shows.
Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy, on CNN is perfect for these armchair travelers. We get to drive through Italy with him, trying the local fare, gazing at impossibly beautiful landscapes, and virtually tasting Italian foods. Last week it was finanziera, an ancient Piedmont stew. It was made with the veal brain, kidneys, testicles and the middle of the spine. The other moments of the show, spent savoring local cheeses and risotto, outweigh those incidents of unimaginable horror. Tucci is a charming fellow, who gamely and cheerfully eats anything and everything, never gaining an ounce. He waxes ecstatic about every local delight that is presented to him. “Wow. I was afraid of the testicles, but I’m not now,” Tucci said. “They’re absolutely delicious.” Of course. Luckily, there is wine.
A quasi-fictional Julia Child is equally as game, in Julia. Julia brought good food to 1960s Boston and, eventually, all of America. She storms rarefied WGBH television with her revolutionary cooking program, charming the reluctant, converting the uninitiated, bending the aesthete will of public broadcasting with fresh herbs, simple ingredients, and continental techniques. She also introduces wine and feminism. Sarah Lancashire who plays Julia Child with joie de vivre, and some pathos, is a woman of a certain age who has finally found her métier and passion. Her loving husband, Paul Child, played by David Hyde Pierce (played also by Stanley Tucci in Julie and Julia, the 2009 film directed by Nora Ephron) is another complicated creative, but he’s more of a dilettante than the dedicated, professional Julia. All will hail Julia, eventually. Here is a sneak peek: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KK-UEwy-VE
The other end of the streaming spectrum is Is It Cake? On Netflix. Heavens to Betsy. I had listened to an NPR review of this show, and although they found it fluffy and silly, they thought one episode was just about enough fondant for anyone. They did not reckon with a 7-year-old with an iron will, and the only person in the house who knew how to operate the TV remote control. For 3 nights last week we were glued to a sofa, watching episodes of a competition where professionals had to bake cakes that looked just like sneakers, sand buckets or handbags. The cakes had to be indistinguishable from the real things, and they had to be delicious. The veal testicles started to become a viable option to me. And after Julia’s savory Chocolate Soufflé and whipped cream, I didn’t want to know how sweet the double fudge peanut butter elderflower fondant Hermes Kelly handbag cake would taste. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Is_It_Cake%3F
That said, watch Julia, watch Stanley Tucci in Searching for Italy. Protect your aching fillings and your sense of propriety, and avoid Is it Cake? Unless your 7-year-old controls the remote. And try some delicious of this fettuccine.
I have been making fettuccine the same way for years. I boil a pot of water for the pasta. While the pasta is cooking I swirl garlic around in a non-stick pan, in a little oil, just until it is fragrant. Then I take the garlic out, and add a cup or so of half and half cream. Add a pinch of freshly ground nutmeg, a pinch of cayenne, and stir the cream for a few minutes as it reduces. Grate a cup or so of good Parmesan cheese. Drain the pasta – reserving a cup of the pasta water, just in case. Add the pasta to the pan of hot cream, with a handful of cheese, and stir again. Everything should get nice and thick and creamy. Add a little more cheese. If the mixture thickens too much, add a little of the reserved water. Scoop the pasta onto warm dinner plates, tossing on a little more cheese, a scattering of parsley for contrast and interest. Serve with bread and good butter, a green salad, and yes, Julia and Stanley, some wine.
I tried a game changer this week, though. This fettuccine Alfredo is from the Elaine’s in New York, and was supposed to be one of Jackie O’s faves.
Elaine’s Fettuccine Alfredo
2 tablespoons butter
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 large egg yolk
1 pound fresh fettuccine
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Bring 6 quarts generously salted water to a boil.
While the water heats, melt the butter in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic; saute until fragrant and sizzling, about 2 minutes. Whisk the cream with the egg yolk in a bowl until blended; pour into the garlic butter. Reduce heat to medium-low; stir until hot but not boiling. Keep warm over low heat.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta, partially covered, until al dente. (The pasta will float when it’s done.) Drain in a colander, shaking out excess water, but reserve a little cooking water. Pour hot pasta into the cream mixture and toss to coat (still over low heat). Add the cheese and keep tossing gently until cream is mostly absorbed. Season with salt and pepper. If sauce is absorbed too much, toss with a little pasta water. Serve in warm bowls. https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/9025-elaines-fettuccine-alfredo?
The egg yolk made a huge difference to the creaminess of the mixture. I am going to add egg to my old fave recipe, but continue to add the nutmeg and cayenne. We like that little kick.
Good luck with your own offal and beef bourguignon and Hermès handbags.
“A party without cake is really just a meeting.”
– Julia Child