Ah, Big Night... how I LOVE this movie. It was one of the first foodie movies I "collected" and I was so excited to see it picked for April's Food 'N Flix event. If you have not seen it and love food, especially Italian food, you must see it. It helps that the cast is stellar--Stanly Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Isabella Rossellini and Minne Driver headline. Campbell Scott plays a supporting role (as well as directed the film, along with Tucci), and Allison Janney is her usually delightful self.
Set in the 1950's, the movie is about two brothers, Primo (Shalhoub) and Secondo (Tucci), fresh from Italy, who open a restaurant (Paradise), on the Jersey Shore. The restaurant is failing despite the wonderful food cooked by Primo--who hates the fact that the customers want "Americanized" versions of the Italian dishes he cooks. Philistines! Secondo, who manages the front-of-house of the restaurant, has tried to build the business and mediate between the customers' wishes and Primo's stubborness (although he gets a little fed up too, telling a woman who insists that spaghetti should always come with meatballs, "Sometimes spaghetti likes to be alone," one of my favorite lines from the movie)
Rival restaurant owner Pascal, has a booming business despite his mediocre food and wants the brothers (mainly chef Primo) to come work for him. Turning Secondo down for a loan, Pascal tells Secondo that he will call jazz great Louis Prima to eat at their restaurant when he is in town, saying it will help revive their business. The rest of the movie is devoted to preparing for this "Big Night" and the brothers put all of their effort and resources into this one evening that can change their fortunes.
The food in this movie is sublime from the risotto to the rosy fioretina sauce, to the timballo (a tower of baked pasta goodness), but as usual, I waited until the last possible minute (umm... the night before entries are due) to make my Food 'n Flix dish inspired by the movie. I needed a quick and simple pasta dish, full of Italian goodness. Not one to let an opportunity to multitask go by, I had the perfect cookbook sitting on my review stack to "road test" a recipe from and be my Big Night dish.
Canal House Cooking: Volume No. 7: La Dolce Vita, by Melissa Hamilton & Christopher Hirsheimer (Andrews McMeel Publishing, January 2012, Paperback 122 pages) has been on my stack for a few months now, with lots of recipes tagged to make. Part of the Canal House series of seasonal cookbooks, it is full of luscious Italian dishes and gorgeous photos that the authors spent a month creating and perfecting in a rustic farmhouse in Tuscany. You can easily tell from flipping through it, that Hirsheimer and Hamilton are are former magazine editors from the sheer beauty of the book. Their cooking chops are formidable too, with recipes like Chickpeas and Stewed Tomatoes, Osso Buco, Cabbage & Fennel with Sausages & Borlotti, Oil Poached Swordfish, Fresh Ricotta, Butter & Lemon Ravioli, and Gelato di Gianduia. It's a book that is a great addition to the series, but stands well on its own for any Italian food lover out there who like to cook with fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Having a passion for both pappardelle and mushrooms, my heart quickly went to the dried porcini and fresh cremini mushroom sauce tossed with thick ribbons of pasta. Of course Primo would have made the pasta himself (and there is a fresh pasta recipe in the book), but I have a good little gourmet section of a nearby grocery store that stocks a wonderful pappardelle that cooks in about 2 minutes. They also stock my favorite sun-dried tomato paste and dried porcini. This dish goes together quickly but tastes like it took time and effort making it perfect for a casual dinner or serving to company.
Canal House says, "You can use fresh porcini in this recipe in place of the cremini and dried porcini. But if you can't find fresh porcini in your market, do what we (and the Italians) do, use dried porcini with the affordable and more commonly cultivated cremini to add deep, earthy mushroom flavor."
Pappardelle & Mushrooms
Canal House Cooking: Volume No.7: La Dolce Vita, Hamilton & Hirsheimer
1 oz dried porcini
2 Tbsp butter (I used Earth Balance spread)
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp tomato paste (I used sun-dried tomato paste)
1 1/2 lbs cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 cup finely chopped parsley
salt and pepper
1 lb dried pappardelle
Cover the porcini with boiling water and soak about 15 minutes to let soften. Heat butter and olive oil together in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add tomato paste and cook for another minute. Add the cremini mushrooms, stir everything together, and cook 10 minutes.
Strain the porcini and reserve the soaking liquid. Chop porcini and add them, their liquid, and parsley to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper and stir to mix everything together. Cook until the sauce thickens slightly, about 2 minutes.
Cook pappardelle according to package instructions and drain, reserving about 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Add drained pappardelle to the sauce along with the water and mix everything together.
Notes/Results: This dish has just a few ingredients, but they work together perfectly to make a meaty, earthy dish that is full of wonderful mushroom flavor. If you enjoy mushrooms at all, this is the pasta for you. The wide pappardelle noodles are the perfect size and weight for the mushrooms making it a bowl of elegant comfort food. The only real change I made was to substitute Earth Balance butter spread for the butter--making it dairy-free, but keeping the flavor and richness that butter adds to the sauce. Delicious! I will make this again.
Our April Food 'N Flix host Spabettie, did a fabulous job of selecting Big Night for this round, and she will be rounding up all of the entries on her blog in a few days. May's F'nF pick is another favorite foodie film in my collection, Sideways, hosted by Tina at Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Manor.
Pasta perfection like this must also go directly to Presto Pasta Nights, hosted this week by my friend Simona at briciole. She will be rounding up a bevvy of pasta dishes on her blog on Friday.
Note: I received a copy of Canal House Cooking Volume No. 7: La Dolce Vita from the publisher (Andrews McMeel), however I received no monetary compensation to review it. As always, my thoughts, feedback and experiences cooking from it are entirely my own.