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A Futurist Banquet

TWO PRESENT-DAY FUTURISTS FOLLOW THE RECIPES OF THEIR FIRST-GENERATION ITALIAN PREDECESSORS AT THEIR OWN BANQUET: MOUNDS OF MERINGUE SHAPED LIKE AIRPLANES, CHICKENS ROASTED WITH BALL-BEARINGS STUFFED IN THEIR CAVITIES, AND NO PASTA WHATSOEVER.
DISCUSSED
DISCUSSED: Mussolini, Flamingo Tongues, Violent Opposition to Pasta, The Arrogance of Cookbook Recipes, The Senate of Digestion, Some Rice to Honor Mallarmé Zabaglione vs Mascarpone, Three Criteria for Judging Dishes, Hostile Guests, The Room as Aluminum Train, Being Sucked Dry by an Angry Persimmon, Intuitive Antipasto, Surprise Bananas, The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook.

A Futurist Banquet

Manuel Gonzales
12 Snaps

THE MENU

SELECTED AND PREPARED
BY FUTURIST MARK BINELLI
AND FUTURIST MANUEL GONZALES

Primo Antipasto: “Aerofood”
Insalata: “Words-in-Liberty”
Secondo Antipasto: “Intuitive Antipasto”
Dolce: “Surprise Bananas”
Contorno: “Diabolical Roses”
Primo piatti: “Rice Oranges”
Secondo piatti: “The Jumping Askari”
Desserto: “Manandwomanatmidnight”

SOME CRUCIAL BACKGROUND ON FUTURISTS AND FOOD

The founder of Italian Futurism, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, published the first Futurist manifesto in 1909, on the front page of Le Figaro. The poet and philosopher’s eleven-point program was a celebration of speed, new technology (particularly the automobile and the airplane), aggression, even war. Point Seven: “Except in struggle, there is no more beauty. No work without an aggressive character can be a masterpiece. Poetry must be conceived as a violent attack on unknown forces, to reduce and prostrate them before man.” Point Nine: “We will glorify war—the world’s only hygiene…” Point Eleven: “We will sing of great crowds excited by work, by pleasure, and by riot; we will sing of the multicolored, polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals… bridges that stride the rivers like giant gymnasts, flashing in the sun with a glitter of knives…”

Marinetti and the Futurists believed that art, in particular, should be violent and disruptive, a destultifying experience. To that end, the Futurists tended to spread their ideas via outrageous public spectacles—from manifestos to literal brawls with critics to theatrical evenings that often ended with the performers being pelted with vegetables by enraged audiences. (Another early Marinetti manifesto: “The Pleasure of Being Booed.”)

Futurist painters such as Carlo Carrà and Giacomo Balla produced abstract, Cubist-influenced canvases which sought to capture and convey inherently dynamic energies—the key Futurist principles of velocity, movement, simultaneity, flight—in works such as, respectively, “The Funeral of the Anarchist Galli” (a violent depiction of a riot between police and mourners at the 1904 burial of a notorious Italian bomb thrower) and “Abstract Speed: The Car Has Passed.” Marinetti dubbed his colleagues “aeropainters,” while he himself produced “aeropoetry”: his best-known work being a highly experimental mergence of onomatopoeia and creative typesetting called Zang Tumb Tumb, published in 1914. Still, the form best suited to Marinetti’s overheated writing style remained the manifesto, and his often wildly diffuse rants survive as his most readable (and entertaining) work. For instance, in the fancifully titled “Let’s Murder the Moonlight,” Marinetti describes the blotting/slaying of the “ancient green queen of love” with the fires of three hundred lightbulbs. Other manifestos include “Down with the Tango and the Parsifal,”“We Abjure Our Symbolist Masters, the Last Lovers of the Moon,”“The New Religion-Morality of Speed,” and “Against Past-Loving Venice,” the Futurist term for “past-loving” (i.e. reactionary) being passéist.

There were also Futurist forays into music and film. The painter and musician Luigi Russolo published “The Art of Noises,” his own manifesto-style attack upon his country’s contribution to the musical canon—the opera, the bel canto, Maestro Vivaldi’s Quattro Stagione—then proceeded to tour with his Intonarumori (which loosely translates as “Noise Intoners”), homemade “instruments” (oversized boxes with protruding funnel-speakers) which produced mechanized crackles, scrapes, buzzes, gurgles, and the occasional explosion. The 1916 Futurist film Vita Futurista featured surreal, slapstick episodes with titles such as “How a Futurist Sleeps” and “Invasion of a Passéist Tea Party.” Filmmaker Arnaldo Ginna later complained about the lack of professionalism of the Futurist actors, who continuously clowned, refused to take orders, and performed bizarre stunts.There are no surviving prints of Vita Futurista, though various filmic techniques were pioneered in the film, including the use of a split screen and complicated shots filmed with multiple mirrors.

By the outbreak of World War I, Marinetti—nicknamed “the caffeine of Europe”—had spread his gospel throughout the Continent and beyond. Numbered among his admirers were the ever-Italophilic Ezra Pound, who said of Modernism, “The movement that I, Eliot, Joyce and others began in London could not have existed without Italian Futurism,” and Tristan Tzara, whose Dada manifestos, wrote the scholar R.W. Flint, were a “flagrant imitation” of Marinetti’s.

The Futurists embraced the war wholeheartedly, playing as it did to their nationalistic impulses and their notion of a will to power in which the epitome of the race might arise from great tumult. Marinetti himself received a medal for bravery at Vittorio Veneto, one of his country’s rare military successes. The natural distractions of war, however, combined with Italy’s extremely poor showing, proved a setback for the movement.After the war, Marinetti allied himself, at various stages and levels of intensity, with Mussolini, though the very unharnessed nature of Marinetti’s brand of avant-gardism seemed decidedly at odds with the Duce’s militant statism.

In the Futurists’ waning years, Marinetti grasped for something else to revolt against. He had challenged the way artists paint and writers write, the way architects design cities and composers define music. What was left? Before his (and, essentially, Italian Futurism’s) death in 1944, Marinetti wrote several novels, invented a new sense-based artform he called “Tactilism,” joined Mussolini in his march on Rome in 1922, and watched as his movement strayed into areas such as mathematics and radio. He also decided to attack the one aspect of Italian culture that even the most iconoclastic would likely agree needed little in the way of refurbishment. In 1932, Marinetti wrote a cookbook.

*

While the first known written recipes date from the second millennium BCE and had their origins in Mesopotamia, the oldest surviving cookbook is attributed to ancient Roman Marcus Gavius Apicius, who acted as a culinary expert for Augustus and Tiberius and served such foods as flamingo and nightingale tongues, camel heels, roasted ostrich, and stuffed sterile sow’s womb. Apicius is also credited by Pliny to have first begun stuffing figs down the gullets of geese in order to engorge their livers, which would imply an Italian origin (rather than a French one) for foie gras. According to the Oxford Companion to Food, the oldest surviving culinary manuscript from Christian Europe (written in old Danish) was most likely composed in the first half of the thirteenth century. Some 150 other surviving cooking manuscripts were written in various languages before the era of printed textbooks: The Forme of Cury (1390), The Viandier of Taillevent (late fourteenth century), Libre de Sent Sovi (also late fourteenth century), and the manuscript of the Italian Maestro Martino, which was drawn on heavily by Platina for De Honesta Voluptate (1475), the first-ever printed cookery book. The Italians, then, have had their hands in the creation of recipes and cookbooks from nearly the beginning, so it isn’t surprising that, in 1932, when Marinetti and his fellow Futurists scanned the horizon for another bastion of Italian culture begging for modernization, they chose to publish not just a cookbook, but one violently opposed to the mainstay of Italian cuisine: pasta.

“It may be that a diet of cod, roast beef and steamed pudding is beneficial to the English, cold cuts and cheese to the Dutch and sauerkraut, smoked pork and sausage to the Germans,” Marinetti writes, “but pasta is not beneficial to the Italians. If these people have been heroic fighters, inspired artists, awe-inspiring orators, shrewd lawyers, tenacious farmers it was in spite of their voluminous daily plate of pasta.When they eat it they develop that typical ironic and sentimental skepticism which can often cut short their enthusiasm.” He proceeds to cite a Neapolitan professor by the name of Signorelli, who posits that because pasta is swallowed rather than masticated, the brunt of the digestive process is born by the pancreas and liver, resulting in “lassitude, pessimism, nostalgic inactivity and neutralism.”

The Futurist Cookbook, however, is more than an anthem against pasta and pasta-lovers. The Futurists tackle, at turns, the eating experience (reenvisioning it as an all-senses blowout) and the arrogance and futility of cookbook recipes (as will become obvious), as they meanwhile make a mockery of formal dining. Diners are to be, according to the Futurists, barraged with noises (most often the sound of aeroplane engines) and smells (emanating not just from the food, but from conprofumos spritzed on the napes of the guests while they eat). According to Futurist thought, eating and cooking, like art, should be a violent and disruptive event.While meals should provide fuel for the human machine, they should not weigh one down, dull one’s senses, and should therefore, through some illogical leap, taste like and be shaped like the future—mounds of meringue should be dotted with truffles (carved to look like airplanes), chickens should be roasted with ball-bearings stuffed in their cavities to impart the flavor of steel,and so on and so forth.

The first third of The Futurist Cookbook is dedicated to a brief history of the Futurist movement’s culinary exploits, including the manifesto against pasta and news-clippings recounting Futurist banquets and grand openings of Futurist restaurants. The last two-thirds of the book concern the “formulas” (preferred Futurist term for “recipes”), focusing first on the banquet formulas (these directions read like a mix between a training manual and experimental short fiction), then the formulas for individual courses. Despite their overt aims to redefine Italian cuisine, remove pasta from the Italian culinary palate, and create food that would revitalize the Italian spirit and excite all of the senses, the Futurists seemed more concerned with the creation of art (visual and word art) and with the rousing of rabble than with the creation of pleasing or even edible food. Consider “Senate of the Digestion” (formula by the Futurist Poet of National Record Farfa):

Four diners will each order two well-known dishes or digestive drinks. Or eight diners one each. The other guests will secretly vote against one or the other.The winner will be the drink or dish that gets the fewest negative votes.

And so it ends, a formula only four sentences long, and if you don’t quite understand the recipe or the “game” within the recipe (Does one vote against the other guests or the other dishes? Is the winner then the guest who ordered the dish or the dish that was ordered? And what does the winner get, anyway?) you are in good company, or, at least, in the same company as Futurist Binelli and Futurist Gonzales, for we do not understand it either. Consider, too, the beginning of the formula for what Marinetti titled “Heroic Winter Dinner”:

A group of soldiers who at three o’clock on a January afternoon will have to get into a lorry to enter the line of fire at four, or go up in an aeroplane to bomb cities or counter attack enemy flights, would seek in vain the perfect preparation for these in the grieving kiss of a mother, of a wife, of children or in re-reading passionate letters. A dreamy walk is equally inappropriate. So is the reading of an amusing book. Instead these fighters sit down round a table, where they are served a ‘Drum Roll of Colonial Fish’ and some ‘Raw Meat Torn by Trumpet Blasts.’

The recipes are ambiguous, and there is, with the exception of the cocktails, an almost universal lack of ingredient lists. Futurists renamed their cocktails polibibitas (which loosely translates to “political drinks”), but these are made of such hard-to-find liqueurs—green walnut liqueur, gentian liqueur, juniper liqueur, and so on—that Futurist Binelli and I decided to create our own polibibita, equal parts Campari, vodka, and Triple Sec, which had the distinct flavor of the future in that it tasted very much like gasoline. The food formulas, however, read more like prose poems than like what one might encounter in a Julia Child or a Bobby Flay book. One formula is an actual poem (Awake my friend, for if you sleep / you will not make this superb dish— / an antipasto from blue sea deep— / for he who sleeps will catch no fish) that runs forty-two lines and explains in detail the cooking and serving instructions for a fish appetizer (“Folgore’s Dazzling Appetizer,” by the Futurist poet Luciano Folgore). “Rice Herodias” (formula by the Futurist Dr. Sirocofran) reads in its entirety:

To glorify the highest virginal purity and at the same time unite it with the greatest voluptuousness in the way of perfume, and to honour thus the glorious name of Mallarmé, who poetized the virgin Herodias in a green and watery landscape scattered with deeply sensual purple irises, take some rice and cook it in plenty of milk salted to taste. Drain it and sprinkle with finely-powdered orris root.

How, then, to enjoy or even understand this cookbook?

OUR METHODS & AN EXPLANATION

Our solution: we created our own Futurist banquet. We invited thirteen friends to the apartment of Futurist Gonzales and his wife, some of whom arrived wearing homespun Futurist and anti-Futurist attire (the former consisting of a small barbecue grill tray stitched onto a red shirt and the latter consisting of a T-shirt with “Fuck Futurism” scrawled across the chest in black marker), but all of whom, despite some complaints and sarcastic, mocking remarks, fell in line and ate what was served, each guest almost entirely complicit in our experiment.

The Futurists were fond of banquets, as noted earlier, providing directions for the “Aeropictorial Dinner in the Cockpit,” a “Tactile Dinner Party,” the “Synthesis of Italy Dinner,” “Dinner of White Desire,” and so on. Though we toyed with the idea of recreating the “Extremist Banquet” (“For this banquet, where no one eats, and the only satiety comes from perfumes, the guest may stay at the table for two days”), we could not rule out food entirely, enamored as we were with the possibility of cooking dishes such as “Manandwomanatmidnight” and “Surprise Bananas” and the “Jumping Askari.” (We did, however, move our guests from the kitchen to the dining room no fewer than three times, in part due to interruptions and distractions, but also as an experiment to see how many times we could announce that dinner was to be served and not serve dinner before anyone began to complain.)

We decided we should sample recipes that could satisfy, at least to some degree, both the imagination and the palate, with the intent of providing appetizers, salad, first course, second course, and a dessert course.1 In choosing our dishes, we judged each potential dish based on three criteria:

1) The clarity and consistency of the recipes. Were we, by following the formulas laid out by Marinetti and other Futurists, able to create the dishes as they were described?

2) The predicted reaction of our dinner guests. We were less concerned with how the final product tasted. Subsequently, some rancor and hostility resulted. One guest wrote in an email after the dinner: “We all emerged with agitated senses, paranoid. In the car on the way home, we spoke aggressively against each other, or demonstrated our contempt by refusing to answer at all. Everyone was dismissive about everything, and had the interior of the car not been so packed with scarves, coats, and bodies, surely we would have fought and fought and crashed and then fought through the burning wreckage of [our] car.”

3) The book as a form of literary pleasure. There are people who enjoy reading cookbooks not just as cooking manuals but also as forms of literature. (Futurist Gonzales admits to being one of these people.) The writing throughout The Futurist Cookbook is at once odd, frustrating, exciting, and feverish. The manifestos are steeped in overindulgent prose, and, as quickly became evident to us as we prepared and then sampled the dishes, the formulas make for far better reading than eating.

We discovered, however, that the descriptive nature of the recipes granted us a certain sense of freedom in the preparation of the food. Cooking, to a degree, is nothing more than an edible chemistry experiment. In this way, a typical cookbook recipe is both comforting and nerve-racking, for if one follows all of the steps as they are laid out, one should produce the same dish as the four-star-restaurant chef who created the recipe. If the food comes out wrong, then there is little doubt as to who messed up. (You did.) With the Futurist recipes, however, there was little chance of “messing up” when the only instructions were “A whole salami, skinned, is served upright on a dish containing some very hot black coffee mixed with good deal of eau de Cologne” (“The Excited Pig,” by the Futurist aeropainter Fillìa).We were further emboldened by the Futurist desire to change “radically the eating habits of our race, strengthening it, dynamizing it and spiritualizing it with brand-new food combinations in which experiment, intelligence and imagination will economically take the place of quantity, banality, repetition and expense.” And so, after preparing the dishes and converting the living room of the Gonzales apartment into a Futurist dining room (done so by covering the room with aluminum foil in homage to the Futurist desire that Italians be light enough to ride the new “aluminium trains,” and by stringing white Christmas lights along the perimeter of the room and placing in staggered intervals small, industrial lamps, suggested by Marinetti himself for more than one Futurist banquet), we sat down to eat.

PRIMO ANTIPASTO

We first served a series of appetizers, beginning with “Aerofood.” The recipe for “Aerofood” calls for fennel hearts, black olives, and kumquats, served to the diner on a platter from the right, while, from the left, the diner is handed a rectangle made from sandpaper, silk, and velvet (though, in this case, we used sandpaper, small squares of felt, and a dark blue feather).While the food is carried to the mouth with the right hand, the left hand is to lightly and repeatedly stroke the tactile rectangle, which should heighten the eating experience and raise it to a level that will encompass not just the taste buds and the olfactory senses, but the body’s sense of touch as well. The recipe further calls for waiters to spritz a conprofumo of distilled carnations on the diners’ necks while from the kitchen emanates a violent conrumore of an airplane motor and dismusica by Bach. Unable to find a conprofumo of carnations and, even if found, unwilling to spritz our guests ourselves (and who can afford waiters?), we made ourselves content with the squares of sandpaper.

Tactilism has, for some time, been an important component of food preparation and enjoyment, known within the food industry as “mouth-feel,” but we were intrigued by a food tactilism that should take place outside the mouth. When one eats, say, sea-urchin roe set delicately atop sticky rice or calf-brain tacos tucked inside a corn tortilla or bone marrow scooped out of a meaty rib-eye, one expects, respectively, the texture of tiny briny bubbles, of soft scrambled eggs, of buttery custard. But that a certain amount of tactilism should also occur outside the normal eat- ing arena solidified a place on our menu for “Aerofood.”2

To prepare the dish, we sliced the fennel hearts into long, delicate strips, which were then slid into the pitted Kalamata olives. Since this was the middle of November, however, and well past the season for kumquats, we decided to use persimmons. Round and squat and a rich reddish-orange, persimmons, when sliced, reveal a seedless pulp marked by a delicate, star-shaped impression. These we sliced into large, thin ovals and layered over the platters and then, atop the persimmons, we formed a concentric circle with the fennel-stuffed olives.

Ripe persimmons have a subtle sweetness and a pleasant, cleansing flavor. The first persimmon, however, was not yet ripe, which we discovered while preparing the dish. We had each sampled a slice, and, after the first few disappointing moments (“They don’t really taste like anything”), our lips puckered viciously and our mouths were sucked dry by the fruit. We decided, then, that the slices of persimmon should be large, ensuring that the dish, when sampled by our guests, would be quite successful, as each diner’s tactile experience would be further heightened by the experience of being sucked dry by an angry persimmon.

It turned out, though, that while one of our persimmons was unripe, the other was quite ripe, and so one half of the table cringed at the fruit’s astringency while the other half of the table continued merrily eating the sweet, refreshing slices of ripe persimmon, causing no small amount of anger and jealousy to develop between opposite sides of the room.This situation was further heightened by the late arrival of two guests, one of whom carried with her a feminist Futurist manifesto composed by the female companions of Marinetti in response to the Futurist claim that women were the weaker sex. Standing at the head of the dinner table, she promptly began to recite the feminist manifesto, further angering the dinner guests. Her rabble-rousing technique, however, was quickly quieted as Futurist Gonzales slipped a slice of un-ripened persimmon into her mouth.

ENSALATA

The notion of “words-in-liberty” (parole in liberta) in Futurist writing essentially advocated the “liberation” of the noun from her linguistic weak sisters (adjectives, adverbs, finite verbs, punctuation), allowing the writer to pummel the reader with a solid club of essential nounness. Point One of the “Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature”:“One must destroy syntax and scatter one’s nouns at random, just as they are born.” Later, the manifesto continues:

Matter is neither sad nor gay. Its essence is courage, will power, and absolute force… Only the unsyntactical poet who unlinks his words can penetrate the essence of matter and destroy the dumb hostility that separates it from us… They shout at us, “Your literature won’t be beautiful!”… And how lucky! We make use, instead, of every ugly sound, every expressive cry from the violent life that surrounds us…Come! Don’t put on these grand priestly airs when you listen to me!… After free verse, here finally are words-in-freedom.

Abstraction can often be a result of an artist’s obsession with the micro—a painter more interested in pure color than literal depiction, a writer focusing on individual words rather than traditional narrative. The chef, too, can willfully lose sight of the utilitarian, big-picture purpose of fine dining—making food taste good—in favor of exploring the intensity of very specific flavors, “pleasure” becoming a secondary consideration. A recent New York Times article about “challenging” foods mentioned a sautéed foie gras dessert (with chocolate sauce) and an appetizer incorporating oysters and cucumber sorbet.

In comparison, “Words-in-Liberty” the recipe (by Futurist Aeropoet Escadamé) presents far less radical clashes.The recipe calls for three dates, two figs, five biscotti, a “half-moon” of watermelon, a cube of Parmesan cheese, a sphere of Gorgonzola cheese, a “thicket” of radicchio, and eight balls of caviar, all arrayed upon a bed of mozzarella, “to be eaten,” the author continues, “eyes closed, letting one’s hands wander here and there, while the great painter and word-in-liberty poet Depero recites his famous song ‘Jacopson.’”

We sliced the fresh mozzarella, then used the slices to tile a pair of large plates.We placed a handful of chopped radicchio (which naturally forms a “thicket”) in the center, ringing both plates with the rest of the ingredients, excepting the watermelon (out of season) and caviar (the Believer did not offer us an expense account).

Perhaps because we used two communal plates for the “Words-in-Liberty” rather than individual plates for each diner, our guests seemed rather skittish when it came to letting their hands “wander here and there.”Their daintiness perhaps diluted the intended effect of random combination. Still, unlike, say, the cut-up method of William Burroughs, the results here were rarely indigestible, the various textures and flavors (spongy, bitter, crunchy, sweet) all proving more complementary than combative.

Locating the Depero recitation proved more challenging. To the best of our knowledge, there is no surviving recording of Depero reciting “Jacopson.” As a substitute, Futurist Gonzales was able to find an MP3 recording of Marinetti himself reciting his poem “Dune” (1914).

SECONDO ANTIPASTO

“Intuitive Antipasto” posed an interesting challenge. The recipe begins:

Hollow out an orange to form a little basket in which are placed different kinds of salami, some butter, some pickled mushrooms, anchovies, and green peppers. The basket perfumes the various elements with orange.

To “hollow” our oranges, we sliced them in half and scooped out the pulp, so that each orange produced two “baskets.” Each basket was then laden with a mixture of diced salami, prosciutto, and bressaola; a single mushroom from a jar of oiled Italian mushrooms; and a single anchovy. We forgot about the butter, which, admittedly, would have made what proved to be one of the least popular dishes on our menu markedly more disgusting. The green pepper was the recipe’s most perplexing ingredient. Of course, if sliced or diced, a pepper could easily fit into an orange-peel basket. But the recipe does not call for slicing or dicing. Rather, it continues:

Inside the peppers are hidden little cards printed with a Futurist phrase or a surprising saying (for example: “Futurism is an anti-historical movement”—“Live dangerously”—“With Futurist cooking, doctors, pharmacists and grave diggers will be out of work,” etc.).

Clearly, a whole green pepper would, at best, sit awkwardly atop an already-stuffed orange-peel basket, even if the orange were genetically modified to the size of a grapefruit. This image seemed contrary to the dish’s (admittedly vague) description, and did not even address the fact that the recipe calls for peppers, plural, a patent physical impossibility. We eventually posited that by “green pepper” the translators actually meant “hot pepper,” but by this point our prep work was already well underway, and so we simply wrote the Futurist slogans on slips of paper and buried them under the chopped meat.

As mentioned, “Intuitive Antipasto” proved to be one of the most hated dishes of the evening. This surprised us, as the preparation of the dish had been quite pleasant, particularly snacking on the delicious diced meats. But when assembled, the ingredients formed a whole that, somehow, became more repellent than the sum of its parts. One dinner guest noted that the look of the meat reminded her of carrion (not an association a chef normally hopes for in an appetizer).3

The buried notes, of course, reminded our diners of Chinese fortune cookies,which were actually invented (according to James Trager’s Food Chronology) in Los Angeles in 1916, by a noodle-maker inspired by the ancient Chinese rebel tradition of smuggling secret messages via stuffed bun. A message delivered through food certainly assures a writer one of the most receptive audiences imaginable. Honestly: Have you ever not read your fortune cookie fortune? Do you know anyone who eats the stale cookie shell, puts the note in her purse, saying,“I’ll check this out later,”and then never gets around to it? Short of a suicide note, does any other writing medium offer such stellar odds, once delivered to a potential reader, of being read? Messages delivered in food, if meant for the readers’ eyes only, are also more easily eaten. Only one of our diners ate his note. He also ate the entire orange rind, at no prompting from his hosts.

DOLCE

Futurist Gonzales and his wife once cooked for dinner guests a recipe of chicken stuffed with grilled banana, all of which was then breaded and fried and served with a black-bean and mango and corn salsa. The reverse, then—a banana whose cavity has been scooped out and filled with cooked chicken and meat juices, and then fried in butter—did not look so unappetizing. Though the recipe for “Surprise Bananas” simply calls for scooping out the cavity of the banana and filling it with cooked chicken, we decided that serving a banana stuffed with chicken would not be surprising enough. With careful hands, then, we slit open the bananas and slipped the fruit from the peel and, after scooping and stuffing and frying, replaced the bananas in their peel, and layered them attractively on a large platter. Texturally, the dish might have been considered a success. Frying the bananas created a slightly crisp surface and a soft, warm banana filling that contrasted nicely with the roasted chicken.

The taste, however, was less than satisfactory. Our guests found the banana flavor overpowering and the flavor of chicken unsuspected and unsettling. Part of the problem stemmed from our inability to stuff much chicken into the bananas without tearing them apart. Perhaps if the recipe were modified to use plantains—which are larger and so should be able to accommodate more chicken—this problem would be solved.

Also suggested by more than one guest was that the recipe be modified so that “Surprise Bananas” contain no bananas at all. The idea, then: remove the bananas from their peels, fill the banana peels with cooked chicken, and close the peels up again, so that when a diner peeled the banana expecting a banana, she would be surprised instead to find cooked chicken.To accommodate the vegetarian needs of one of our diners, we did in fact serve a surprise banana that was nothing more than a banana that had been fried in butter.

CONTORNO

The simplest (and arguably best-titled) recipe on our menu,“Diabolical Roses,” (formula by Futurist Pasca d’Angelo) called for two eggs, one hundred grams of flour, the juice of one-half of a fresh lemon, and a tablespoon of olive oil. These ingredients were mixed into a thin batter. Then, the recipe continues:

pluck the heads off some velvety roses in full bloom, toss them in, and fry them in boiling oil the same way as with Jerusalem artichokes. Serve very hot.

Rather than fry entire roseheads, we modified the recipe and plucked, battered, and fried individual petals. Tasting the dish inspired a pleasant frisson amongst our guests, as most were initially quite resistant to the idea of eating roses, and yet even the least adventurous of the guests found the petals quite agreeable, ultimately ranking the dish as a favorite. Notes Futurist Binelli:“My mother makes a similar dish, except she uses the petals of zucchini flowers instead of roses. Zucchini petals are larger and meatier, but it’s essentially the same idea. You’re mostly tasting the batter, but there’s a nice contrast between the hot, crispy shell and this kind of bland and pulpy interior. It’s actually kind of similar, also, to fried okra, only I’d say okra’s more slimy than pulpy.”

The recipe’s author adds, parenthetically, “These roses are ideal for newlyweds to eat at midnight in January especially if they are covered with Mafarka pudding,” emphasizing, here, the dish’s primary appeal—namely, that it allows the diner to tangibly ingest an intangible, a symbol, an idea. In the case of the rose, this idea is love, beauty, romance—choose your favorite totemic value. Last year, the New York Sun, in a story about the post-bust return of conspicuous consumption, reported on a bar in Manhattan serving what was billed as “the World’s Most Expensive Cocktail”—a fifty-dollar concoction laced with liquid gold.

PRIMO PIATTI

“Rice Oranges” was, perhaps, as food alone, the most successful dish prepared from The Futurist Cookbook. Though the recipe calls for an overcooked saffron or tomato risotto, we opted for a warmer, more autumnal flavor, and cooked a truffle risotto instead. The rice is to be cooked past the point of al dente so that the grains can be formed by hand into orange-sized balls. These balls are then hollowed out with the forefinger and inside are placed small cuts of dried meats (we used proscuitto, soppressata, and bressaola), small cubes of cheese (fontina and fresh provolone), pine nuts, and raisins (which, due to an oversight, were left out). The hole in the “orange” is then covered with more risotto, and each rice orange is dredged in flour, dipped in an egg wash (one tablespoon of water with one scrambled egg), then rolled in bread crumbs seasoned with dried parsley, oregano, and basil, salt and pepper to taste. These “Rice Oranges” are then fried in olive oil and served hot.

Though the dish was well-received, there was some argument as to how closely it followed the Futurist manifesto against pasta. Many people shouted out against the risotto as pastacuitta, when in fact risotto is made from Arborio rice, and should not be confused with the rice-shaped pasta, orzo. Still, in the book, Marinetti polemicized without mercy against traditional Italian cuisine—most of all, pastaciutta, which he blasphemously called “an absurd Italian gastronomic religion.”

An ally of Marinetti’s, Marco Ramperti, sounded an even more hysterical note:

It [pasta] puffs out our cheeks like grotesque masks on a fountain. It nails us to the chair, gorged and stupefied, apoplectic and gasping, with that sensation of uselessness which, depending on the individual, brings pleasure or shame, but in any case must be abhorred by anyone boasting a Futurist spirit or anyone young and alert.This “macaroni” as they call it abroad has made us the butt of indecorous metaphors beyond the Alps. Once it was that we ate spaghetti with our hands. Then they conceded us forks. But spaghetti was not removed from our folkloristic picture. Today all Europe knows how many helpings Primo Carnera eats, just as they knew in 1894 how much Francesco Crispi devoured. The allegorical Italian has always got his avid mouth wide open over a plate of tagliatelle when he isn’t dangling dripping strands of vermicelli down his greedy gullet. Its enjoyment lies entirely in the way it forces the jaws wide open, the way it demands voluptuous self-abandonment, the way it sticks to the palate and the intestines, the way the eater feels he has become one with it, knotted into a sticky ball and re-fashioned. But it’s a piggish enjoyment. It’s a short-lived bliss. Swallowed down the way it is, spaghetti poisons us and weighs us down. We suddenly feel as leaden as false coins.We have no more easy syllables or ready images. Our thoughts wind round each other, get mixed up and tangled like the vermicelli we’ve taken in. The only piquancy on our lips is tomato.

The argument then: if Marinetti and his ilk were against starchy pastas and their dulling effects on the Italian male, how does rice, also quite starchy and quite heavy, make for agile Italian bodies, “ready for the featherweight aluminium trains which will replace the presentheavy ones of wood iron steel”?

SECONDO PIATTI

The first question that arose when we served our main course, “The Jumping Askari” was, naturally, What’s an Askari? The answer—an East African soldier, Askari being Swahili for “guard”—led to a more troubling issue: is our main course creepy and racist? The recipe itself is quite vague:

Cook a leg of lamb with bay leaves, pepper, rosemary and garlic. Strain off the juices and serve with dates stuffed with salted pistachios, some dry white wine and lemon juice.

Still, there’s something unpleasant about naming a leg of lamb dish after an African soldier, the titular “jumping” possibly meant to menacingly animate the brown legs in question. Add to this the Futurists’ nationalistic fervor and eventual entanglement with Fascism and Italy’s longstanding designs on Ethiopia, and you have yourself a problematic recipe. (Though certainly not as problematic as an­other dish, the “League of Nations,” which involved tiny black salamis bobbing in a bowl of white custard, to be eaten while a twelve-year-old Negro boy hid under the table tickling and pinching the legs of any ladies present.)

That said, could one enjoy the lamb separately from its implications, much as, say, one might take pleasure in The Pisan Cantos? We did. We also forgot the wine, and our dates were actually figs, and these were stuffed with almonds rather than pistachios. Since actual cooking instructions were so vague, we decided to keep things as simple as possible, first searing the lamb on the stove in a Dutch oven with olive oil, lemon juice, bay leaves, rosemary, and garlic, and then roasting the lamb (in the same pot) in the oven for one hour at 375 degrees.

For those interested in more of a challenge, we came across the following recipe in The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook:

The Seven-Hour Leg of Mutton

In an earthenware pot place a rind of pork fat cut in small pieces. Interlard a leg of mutton with ham, garlic and lard. Put your leg of mutton into the pot with salt, pepper, 2 large onions, 3 glasses water, 1 glass white wine. Cover the pot with a plate and paste paper around the pot and the plate. In the plate pour some wine and allow it to simmer for 7 hours.

Interestingly, the above recipe is credited by Toklas to Alexandre Dumas, who, along with The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, was the author of The Large Dictionary of the Kitchen. As for the Toklas cookbook, Futurist Binelli notes parenthetically: “It’s funny, I read the whole thing assuming it had been written by Gertrude Stein, as a sort of lesser sequel to the Autobiography. It honestly ­wasn’t until I’d finished that I looked at the jacket copy and realized Toklas had actually written the book herself. It was an interesting experience, scanning for hidden poetry and little Modernist flourishes in what was, it turned out, a real cookbook.”

Toklas, nonetheless, ends her book with real poetry:

And now it amuses me to remember that the only confidence I ever gave was given twice, in the upper garden, to two friends. The first one gaily responded, How very amusing. The other asked with no little alarm, But, Alice, have you ever tried to write. As if a cook-book had anything to do with writing.

1 Here, however, is what happened to the dessert course: Futurist Gonzales decided on the dessert “Manandwomanatmidnight,” red zabaglione poured over a large platter, on top of which the cook places a raw onion ring (stood on its side) on one end, two candied chestnuts opposite, and between the chestnuts and through the onion ring, one long strand of candied angelica (representing, well, a man and woman at midnight). Futurist Binelli, while shopping for ingredients with Futurist Gonzales, confused zabaglione with mascarpone (which is a cheese and not a dessert), and so was, eventually, forced to call his mother in Michigan (who called his aunt) to find out exactly what zabaglione was and how to find/make it, causing Futurist Gonzales to, at one point, remark, “You are the worst Italian, dude.” (Said Futurist Gonzales’s wife later that night:“Even I know what zabaglione is.”) Then, while tromping through Little Italy in search of candied chestnuts and candied angelica (a fruitless endeavor), Futurist Gonzales came down with a rather vicious head cold, which had, by the time of the dinner, become devastating. When it came time, then, to make the dessert, Futurist Gonzales, weak and surly and terse, remarked (somewhat ungraciously), “So I suppose that now you people want me to make dessert and brew you some coffee.” It should suffice to say that “Manandwomanatmidnight” was not enjoyed that evening.
2 When considering the Futurists and experiments in textures, we were immediately reminded of Ferran Adria of Barcelona (recently profiled in the New York Times Magazine) who is considered by some to be the best cook on the planet and whose dishes (liquid ravioli, liquid caviar, air, and foam, for starters) “[provoke] all the senses, including the sense of disbelief.” Air, Adria’s latest creation, is a flavorful essence, of carrot, say, or artichoke, served in a tiny cup as if it were a drink, and when it enters one’s mouth, it disappears.Adria believes in the importance of striking the most basic contrasts of flavors and tactile sensations when creating dishes. One tapa consists of four white almonds, “sugared, salted, acid, bitter… the four basic tastes” laid out on a black platter and served with only a glass of water, emphasizing yin and yang (black and white) while guaranteeing that no other flavor distracts the diner. He has also created dishes that require specific instructions (to be passed from waiter to diner).Which makes us wonder if nouvelle cuisine (or nueva cocina, in Spain) makes any kind of nod to the Futurists?
3 Though this comment brought to mind garum, the ancient Roman fish sauce made by leaving brined fish meat, blood, and intestines to ferment in the sun for a week or so; by the end of the week, the pungent sauce would naturally ooze from the rotting pile. There are rough modern equivalents of garum which do not involve purification—for instance, pissalat, a Niçoise anchovy paste often spread on tarts. There are also far more equivalent modern equivalents of garum, for instance in Southeast Asia, where the liquid by-product of brined, fermented fish—nuoc mam in Vietnam, nam pla in Thailand, patis in the Phillipines—is still bottled. While in Spain last summer, Futurist Binelli recalls reading about a nouveau garum craze in certain upscale restaurants. A modern garum recipe from the book A Taste of Ancient Rome calls for cooking down a quart of grape juice to one-tenth of its original volume, then mixing the concentrate with two tablespoons of anchovy paste and a pinch of oregano.

 

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