A Roman Tale by Carroll Baker

I don’t screw up in the kitchen much, so when I do, it’s usually in a spectacular fashion. Today was no different, and I think it must be the universe’s way of getting back at me for daring to read some total fluffy, smutty trash. But it’s set in Italy, I told myself as I opened the book and fell into the 1960’s world of Rome. Well, sometimes a girl just needs some smut in her life, and A Roman Tale delivers. But oh the kitchen fuck-up!

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Anyway, this book combines lots of sex, the film industry, Italy, and some not-so-cleverly hidden allusions to famous actors and actresses into a – heh heh heh – fantastical roman á clef. Get it? A Roman Tale? Roman á clef? Oh, never mind me and my bad pun. Another punishment for screwing up so royally in the kitchen.

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The main character, Madeline Mandell, who is supposed to be based both on the author and actress Carroll Baker and of course, the inimitable Marilyn Monroe, moves to 1960’s Rome – the “La Dolce Vita” years – after her Hollywood career tanks. She’s known as “Venus” due to her sexy image, though the reality is that she’s essentially frigid due to her jerk of a former husband. She hopes the move to Rome will both reignite her movie career and allow her all the sexual experimentation she missed out in in the United States.

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She is befriended by three international actresses – Astrid, Helga, and Cleo (who are supposedly based on Ursula Andress, Anita Ekberg, and Sophia Loren), and starts an Italian film. She is introduced to the debonair Umberto Cassini, who of course she becomes infatuated with and he with her. The parallels to Fellini’s masterpiece La Dolce Vita (and one of my top 5 favorite films of all time) are unmissable.

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But of course, nothing ever goes smoothly and the fly in the ointment is the British actress Serena Blair (likely based on Audrey Hepburn), who is pulling some machinations behind the scenes to get all four coveted roles in an upcoming major film, Boccaccio Volgare, that Madeline, Astrid, Helga, and Cleo are vying for.

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It’s pure fun and escapism, this book, adorned with descriptions of beautiful gowns, gorgeous mansions, significant amounts of wild sexual escapades including a group orgy, girl-on-girl, masturbation, a little back-door action and of course, the final lovemaking scene between Umberto and Madeline that (SPOILER ALERT!) literally ends with them living happily ever after when they are married. Other storylines are interspered as well, involving the many and varied sexual escapades of nearly every single character in the book, and there is not a damn thing wrong with that. I’d say it’s good clean fun, but it’s actually really trashy, not particularly well-written, extremely smutty, fun.

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Hey, a little smut never hurt anyone!

Rome, of course, is the star of the book and all the stunning landscapes of The Eternal City are described in mouthwatering detail…….La Bocca della Veritá, Piazza Navona, The Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, Fontana di Trevi, Palatine Hill, and so much more. I think I stuck with the book mainly for the location descriptions, though the sex and the food helped whet my appetite. For cooking, of course! 🙂

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A subplot involves a young Italian starlet named Pina who seduces most of the men and infuriates most of the women at her extravagant wedding. Umberto squires Madeline and they share in the mammoth five-course feast, featuring several pastas and many other delectable-sounding dishes.

After the spaghetti alla primavera, there was tagliatelli with cream and peas, penne with cheese and asparagus, ravioli with cognac and truffles, and then the antipasto assortment. The main course was roast pork with kidneys, sausages, roast potatoes, and spinach puffs.

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Having decided this was a great excuse to play with the pasta maker attachment for the Kitchen Aid and make fresh homemade pasta from scratch, I decided to recreate the penne with asparagus mentioned as part of the wedding feast. It did not come out well, as I will detail below. And for the record, do not ever let anyone tell you making homemade pasta is easy, at least the first time around. It isn’t. Wear an apron because if not, you’ll have flour all over you. ALL OVER YOU. Also, it’s way messy. Like, use every pan and stirring implement and utensil in the kitchen messy. (This is the aftermath of my kitchen post-making fresh pasta.)

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INGREDIENTS

For the pasta:
3 eggs, cold
2 and 1/2 cups 00 flour
1 teaspoon sea salt

For the sauce:
1 lb. fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into roughly 1/2″ chunks
1 shallot
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
6-7 strips pancetta
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup of white wine
1/2 cup water from the boiled pasta
Parmesan cheese to taste

METHOD
Measure out the flour onto a flat surface, and make a well in it.

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Crack in the eggs, and mix them into the flour using a fork.

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Once the eggs are incorporated, start kneading by hand. You may have to add some warm water if your dough mixture is too dry and crumbly.

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Roll and knead the dough until it coheres, then form it into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for up to an hour, if not longer.

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Put on a large pot of water to boil and add some sea salt. While the water is heating, chop the shallot and garlic and add to a pan with the olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt.

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Finely chop up the pancetta and add to the shallot and garlic, and fry until it starts to get crispy.

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Pour in the heavy cream and the wine, and bring to a very low simmer, then toss in the asparagus chunks.

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Cover and let cook slowly over low heat, and flour a flat surface. Unwrap the pasta dough and start rolling it out into a round disc shape.

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When it’s about a half-inch thick in diameter, cut into pieces, roll into small balls, and start feeding them into your pasta machine.

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I attempted penne. You can see that, in this case, concept far outweighed execution……other than my desire to execute myself over the travesty that was my homemade pasta. But at least my cute dog is in the pic, to distract you.

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Put the freshly cut pasta into the boiling water on the stove and cook. In theory, the pasta should cook within a couple of minutes. In reality, my pasta cooked and cooked and cooked and softened after maybe 10 hard minutes of boiling. I still can’t figure out what I did wrong, but luckily I’m a seasoned kitchen hack so I had a packet of ready-made fettuccine on hand.

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Add the fettuccine to the boiling water, and cook for 8 minutes until al dente. Add about half a cup of the pasta water to the asparagus sauce and let simmer a few more minutes.

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Grate over some fresh Parmesan cheese.

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Plate and serve. So although my penne was somewhat of a disaster, it actually tasted quite nice. The texture was quite thick, so I think I probably should have rolled it out thinner or perhaps refrigerated it longer. Regardless, I served my sad penne with the perfectly cooked fettuccine, swirled in the pan of creamy asparagus and pancetta.

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It might have looked somewhat frightful, but it actually was delicious. I just closed my eyes and pretended I was in Rome having smutty sex rather than eating what my friend Janet called “pasta and dumplings.” (sigh)

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31 thoughts on “A Roman Tale by Carroll Baker

  1. I’m sorry, Vanessa, but your homemade penne looks atrocious! LOL! But thank you for sharing your kitchen mishap – maybe that’s why it’s extra funny to me because your posts are always mouthwatering and make me forget that even seasoned cooks can have a rough day in the kitchen. Fettuccine to the rescue and now I want a plate full of that creamy asparagus and pancetta!
    Are you familiar with this quote attributed to Phyllis McGinley? “A bit of trash now and then is good for the severest reader. It provides the necessary roughage in the literary diet.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. NOW that was an ambitious menu – hmmm maybe cooking is an outlet for my repressed sexual side, lol!! Now I have my answer…Your pup looks like he wants a bit of that pasta, and my pasta didn’t turn out well the first time I made it…and my kitchen pretty much always looks like that when I cook! I try to clean as I go…it’s gotten worse with my hands and shoulders but luckily Kraig and his g/f stop over so my more ambitious escapades are reserved for them to help eat (and help clean.)!

    I have the long roller, cutter. My problem was I followed a recipe that said to go too thin. Is it possible that the fail was because the pasta was just a bit too wet? That’s my two cents.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I always think if you’re going to go for something, you need to go for it all the way. Even if you fail, no point in doing things half-assed, right? 🙂 I’m glad I made it and I’ll be trying again. I
      I’ve had a couple of people say similar things about the pasta……..also that for egg pasta it’s better to use a long pasta roller and cutter, and that for the shaped pasta like bucatini, penne or macaroni, using water and a semolina flour is best. So back to the drawing board for me. I actually did drop a bit of the pasta I made on the floor for my girl Roxy and she seemed to enjoy it. 🙂 So there’s a testimonial right there!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You are fearless!

    Well, I guess it’s better you than me, I know fresh home made pasta, beats package pasta, but even the size of my kitchen, my inexperience, and my time, figure let someone else do it.

    But not be discouraged practice make the master, with time you can be like this guys here:

    As usual I enjoyed your post, and your experience with making pasta, I am sure you will master it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are so kind! Thank you so much. I’m determined to master Fresh pasta so you may be hearing from me again on this subject. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and that you made you laugh because your posts always give me the giggles. Thank you again!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. …sometimes it’s hard to keep your mind on the food at hand as your hands reach for something… hard in mind. (ouch.) But… er…though not wanting to sound teacher-ish, since I do make pasta, egg nearly always, relatively frequently, objectively rather… well, and since never more than say, 8 servings or so, always by hand (rolling the dough does make better noodles as the imperfections in wood and pressure causes those micro-variations that catch condiment and delight the tongue – though, maybe we should keep away from tongue comments for the moment – while kneading the dough allows you to control for ‘nervousness’ of the resulting noodle.) I will a little.

    First: for all pastas, egg as well, the quality and often type of flour used is important, as the quality of the eggs. This former as fatty, yellow and fresh as you can find. For an egg ‘sfoglia’, though 00 will usually do, still a well-done, somewhat quality hard, better if stone-ground, flour. (Penne by the way are usually ‘poor’ as a pasta, that is no egg, only water, salt, flour and oil, in case you didn’t already know.) Then, though the proportions classically are 100 to one (one egg to 100 grams,) it all depends on how rich you want the noodle to be (some pastas use a lot more egg yolk, though the more yolk, the harder to work the resulting dough,) and more importantly – it’s the dough that tells you if it wants more flour or liquid as you work it. And it does have to be worked, I’m afraid a lot more than it appears you did in the photos. You can say for 2eggs-200 grams about 15 minutes but that’s sort of nonsense. The dough should be worked though until you can see sort of bubble-things forming below, within the dough. You start yes with the usual doughnut, add the eggs, then whip gently with a fork adding a bit of air by doing so, enlarge the opening, (it’s nearly impossible to avoid allusions when describing pasta dough making,), wet the flour evermore, then in with your hands first until you get all the liquid absorbed, add either flour or liquid as needed, more handwork and then start stretching the whole with your whole shoulder and body, fold and roll, fold and roll. It’s great exercise for your tricepts and pectorals (which, in the central part of Italy, for those women now… in their 60’s, you can see: breasts remain high, no armflaps, a lifetime of making pasta. No gym or scalpel required.) Then, rolling the dough…is a bit of an art form, and even better exercise. I’m not sure about your pasta maker but, ah, I’ve never heard of one as the one you described, where you can shove the dough in that way. The end result still has to be about 3mm thick or less, depending, but it’s simpler to hold up the sheet and see if you can see your hand on the other side. Even the maker will do all the work, the dough has to be ready to be rolled into noodles before the forms are made….
    I’m overextending here after dinner. sorry. Anyway…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure you’re right about the amount of time needed for the dough kneading, but it was my first time and I didn’t actually realize it needed so much time. Lesson learned. I’ll be giving it a try again with a more traditional long pasta roller and cutter. The pasta maker attachment I used is actually something that connects to my Kitchen Aid and cuts out shorter pastas like bucatini or macaroni, not the long strands like fettuccine and tagliatelli.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ..cool. I’d like one of those… but then again, it’d be cool to try it by hand. I started using a ‘guitar’ (for square pasta) not too long ago and it’s a kick.

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      2. ..ps. the first time I made pasta was with a friend who’d just received one of those classic rollers. Two… not very tidy guys making pasta in a just-out-of-university apartment. Yup. turned out as you might expect. We were grinning, of course, but I recall the 200 grams of flour being made into two plates with maybe 4 noodles in each that seemed to weight about 4 pounds each strand. You could have used them as window sealers against the wind coming off the lake (Erie). Or keep one your car just in case your windshield came loose, to re-seal.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Another great post and kudos to you for admitting the pasta went wrong. Your recipe and technique look fine so who knows. It will remain one of life’s mysteries. The book sounds a hoot but I can’t help wondering why the author,
    in the extract you quoted,
    mixes round the primo (pasta) course with the antipasti. Research Ms Baker! Thanks again though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I actually followed your method from your post about making pasta like a nonna! I did everything you said, including using a fork to incorporate the eggs, using 00 flour, using durum wheat flour for dusting, etc. My only thought is that I perhaps didn’t roll it thinly enough? Or maybe the fact that we are in the desert 7,000 feet above sea level affected the texture, because THEY DID NOT COOK! Oh, I was beyond aggravated, Luca! I am laughing about it now, but I was so peeved that I couldn’t get the damn penne to “penne!” 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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