Already feeling starry-eyed and excited about the Art Gallery of Hamilton’s 2013 World Film Festival, coming up this September (http://www.aghfilmfest.com) — yes, I’m always swept away by the hype! But there are a couple of films that deal specifically with food and eating this time around that you fellow foodies should know about: “Hungry for Change” sounds especially intriguing; it’s billed as a documentary that “exposes shocking secrets the diet, weight loss and food industry don’t want you to know” (whew!). In another documentary, “El Bulli: Cooking in Progress,” viewers watch a renowned Spanish chef, close his restaurant, El Bulli (reputedly the best in the world), in order to prepare the menu for the next season. In addition to the films, the Festival is partnering with Hamilton’s Localicious, the downtown series of restaurant tours (http://www.downtownlocalicious.org), and their launch party, on September 17th, at the Art Gallery, sounds like it will be a great evening of sipping and sampling.
All of which got me thinking about food and films, two of my favorite subjects. (And no, I don’t mean the horrid stuff that some people devour in theatres while watching films, since I’m not in the mood for a scathing rant.) What I’m talking about is films that have delicious, or even just unusual food as an integral part of the plot. So many come to mind, from that timeless masterpiece “Babette’s Feast” to “Mostly Martha,” a great German film, remade in America as the tepid “Without Reservations”, from “Fried Green Tomatoes” to “Julie and Julia.” The list is long and I can’t possibly pick a favorite. But here are a few that will pique your appetite and nourish your soul:
“Eat Drink Man Woman” was Taiwanese-born director Ang Lee’s breakthrough film (at least in the west), before “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Brokeback Mountain”. The film centres on an aging master chef who delights in a family tradition of eating dinner with his three daughters every Sunday. The dinner table becomes a sort of family forum where the interrelationships of the family are viewed with a raking light, studied and probed. Lee is a master at portraying the dysfunctional family (Remember “The Ice Storm”?) and the generational conflicts are presented against a backdrop of truly scrumptious food. I defy you not to want Chinese food afterwards. (The Hamilton Public Library has the DVD, if you’re interested)
If you’re more in the mood for dessert, however, “Chocolat” will take you to another country — the tranquil yet austere setting of a small, quiet village in provincial France. The Swedish director Lasse Halström has put together a truly stellar cast, Juliet Binoche, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Lena Olin, along with legendary veteran French screen star Leslie Caron. Binoche plays Vianne, an outsider from the north, who moves into the staid, conventional village, opens a bakery and chocolate shop and creates heart-meltingly beautiful confections. Essentially, what she teaches the repressed inhabitants, is that pleasure is alright. Loved the scenery, loved the chocolate shop itself and loved Binoche’s scrupulous and generous performance.
And if Italian is always first on your menu, Stanley Tucci’s “Big Night” is the classic choice. Produced in 1996, written by Tucci and also starring Tucci, the film is fictional, but also based on Tucci’s early family experiences. Set on the New Jersey Shore in the 1950’s, the plot tells of two immigrant brothers from the Abruzzo who own and operate a restaurant called Paradise. The conflict occurs because one of the brothers is primarily a businessman and the other is an inspired and perfectionistic chef. The climax takes place at a huge party distinguished by a parade of groaning platters heaped with everything from caponata to risotto to roast suckling pig. The triumphal recipe is for something called “timpano” a sort of Sicilian timbale. If you want to try the daunting recipe for that dish there are many suggestions on the Internet — here is the link to the New York Times version (http://www.nytimes.com/recipe/5668/Big-Night-Timpano.html). I’ve never attempted timpano and I doubt very much if I will be doing it in the near future. So here is my favorite recipe for caponata — which I have made lots of times — and I can assure you of its deliciousness.
See you at the movies.
1 1/3 cups kalamata olives
1/4 cup capers
2 large stick of celery
4 tbsp. homemade tomato sauce
2 large onions finely sliced
8 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. sugar
good olive oil
1) Dice the eggplants, put in a bowl with salted water for about 2 hours.
2) Clean the celery and blanch in salted water for 5 minutes.
3) Place the capers in a bowl with hot water to draw the salt out and drain after a few minutes.
4) Fry the onion in a little oil in a large frying pan, together with the capers and roughly chopped olives.
5) Add the tomato sauce and stir with a wooden spoon. Turn off heat.
6) Squeeze the eggplants, dry them carefully and fry in another frying pan.
7) Cut the celery into small chunks, fry in the oil.
8) Put celery and eggplant in saucepan with the sauce, mix well and blend the flavours for 5 minutes over a low heat. Sprinkle with sugar, pour the vinegar over and, after a few minutes, turn off the heat and cover with the lid.
9) Serve the caponata cold or at room temperature, in an earthenware bowl, garnished with basil leaves.
It’s really important to use a good, aged balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil for the best flavour. Feel free to adjust the vinegar and sugar amounts if you are not happy with the “sweet and sour” balance. Many recipes use brined green olives called cerignola olives — I’ve always been happy with the kalamata. Caponata can be served on baguette toasts, pita or any kind of crackers.