The diary would start something like this: “Summer, day 2 / 102 days to go.” My summer travelogue diary would record my grand tour of the world’s “must-see” places, and all the amazing sights seen, sounds heard, and foods eaten along the way.
But the big reveal here is that I have neither the wanderlust nor the time that such a grand tour would require. Oh, there’s also a small detail — money — that I forgot to mention. Ho hum.
Well, that’s okay: I need neither time nor money to paint the globe red. In fact, I can pack a whirlwind summer tour into one hot, sticky, (and air conditioned) summer night. All I need is the right food, and a DVD or two. Full disclosure: none of these movies was made after 1960; Europe may have changed a touch since then.
We’ll start in the hot desert, Marrakech to be specific. Marrakech? “Mmmm, sounds like a drink,” to steal a quote from our first film. James Stewart and Doris Day are travelling with their young son in “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” The desert heat wafting up from the North African sand in this Alfred Hitchcock-directed thriller will make you parched and thirsty, so be sure to have a tall, cool drink nearby – this may be a good chance to crack open an icy bottle of Rosé for those so inclined. If, like me, you find your thirst is quenched by something a bit tamer, then join me for a pitcher of iced Red Zinger tea. Red Zinger is slightly sweet, so use a light hand with the sugar, and a heavy hand with the ice. By the way, Doris Day sings “Que Sera” in this flick, and watch for the scene where Day and Stewart try to eat Tagine with their hands.
Next we’re off to historic Rome for a “Roman Holiday” with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. What I have always loved about this film is that it is a lot like a travelogue featuring two movie stars, and – oh yeah—there’s a sweet love story too. If you’ve ever wondered what the big deal was about Audrey Hepburn, this movie will show you. Watch for the scene where she dances with her barber, and he pauses to adjust her bangs: a moment that does nothing to advance the plot, but does everything to advance the charm of the characters. All of this running around sunny Rome will make you hungry for a bit of pasta. I’m craving Orecchiette with Roasted Red Pepper Pesto.
Be careful of too many carbs though, because we’re hitting the beach next; You’ll want to look good in your bathing suit, right? We’re hanging on the French Riviera with Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in “To Catch A Thief.” Possibly the most glamorous movie ever made (c’mon, Cary Grant + Grace Kelly + the French Riviera=glamour) this may also be the most humorous of Hitchcock’s films. I don’t know why, but the aforementioned carb warning aside, this movie always makes me crave ice cream. A dab of gelato anyone? While you are eating the gelato, be sure to watch for the scene where Kelly plants a big kiss on Grant – and listen for the wobbly muted trumpet that underscores the kiss. It’s a hint of the frothy romance to follow, and is Hitchcock’s way of saying, “Don’t take this too seriously, folks.”
All of this makes me think of a conversation I had recently with an associate who just returned from the Southern Italian region of Cinque Terre. A busy executive, she spent an afternoon at her favorite area restaurant making pasta with an elderly Italian woman. The elderly Italian woman has been making the pasta there for countless years, and was laughing, having fun, and full of life. All of this reminded my associate that there’s a whole lot more out there than just the world of business. Cooking a good meal will do that for you.
I have never been to Cinque Terre, but I know the rich, green Ligurian Olive Oil that is pressed there. What I have never had is a local favorite snack called Farinata. Farinata is a flatbread made from chickpea flour, and baked in a well seasoned cast iron skillet in a roaring hot oven. It’s easy to make, casual to serve, and –I think—one of the great undiscovered bar foods. Mixed nuts with your cocktail? No thanks. A wedge or two of this savory, deceptively rich flatbread will make that extra dry martini go down cold and clean on a hot summer night. This is one of those great amalgamations of textures, a toasty crust, a crunchy edge, and a soft interior that will draw comparisons to potato pancakes. Very satisfying.
I don’t have a cast iron skillet, and my apartment-sized oven doesn’t get as hot as a real wood-fired brick oven, but my Farinata came out just fine. Keep this easy treat in mind this summer if you want to serve “a little somethin’” with pre-Barbecue drinks.
Cary Grant would approve.
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