I hadn’t done a Food in Films post in quite awhile and I’m sorry for that. These are among the most fun posts I can do, particularly because I enjoy the inherent creativity in recreating food from a movie. You really do have a lot of artistic license, almost more so than recreating food in a book because the visual aspect of the food and the necessity of understanding what the author had in mind is necessarily different from the vision of a filmmaker and their approach to food.
Being still working from home and trapped in this never-ending pandemic, I’ve been rewatching old favorites quite a lot, both on streaming services and also dusting off my own DVD collection. I was going through them the other day, and found an entire shelf of DVDs dedicated to, and set in, Venice. Well, Venice is probably my favorite city in the entire world, more so than even Barcelona and I love Barcelona! But there is something about the siren call of La Serenissima, as Venice is lovingly called by those who adore her as I do, that draws me back again and again. And in this case, the criminally underrated film Dangerous Beauty is on the menu today.
Dangerous Beauty, Harlequin romance title notwithstanding, is an absolute jewel of a film. It’s the fictionalized version of the life of a famous 16th century Venetian poet and courtesan named Veronica Franco. Veronica is of an old Venetian family but they are impoverished, and so her desire to marry Marco Venier, of one of Venice’s most notable families and who was expected to become one of the powerful Council of Ten (essentially the governing body of Venice) is not allowed. Her mother, Paola, gives her the options of becoming either a lady’s maid, working in a winery, becoming a nun, or turning her talents to becoming a courtesan. With those choices, I’d choose the path of courtesanship any day too, though it does tell you how bleak the choices were for women back then.
The film is lushly filmed, gorgeously captured, with the most stunning – if questionably authentic – costumes, gowns, hair styles, jewels, etc. Veronica herself is a closet heroine, being both highly educated and well-read, as well as being trained to be a wonderful female companion and of course, being one of Venice’s most famous courtesans, her sexual skills and prowess were also legendary. Venice itself is as much a character in this film as Veronica and Marco are, lending its beautiful canals and famously sinking, opulent palazzos to the backdrop of what is a fascinating early tale of feminism, finding your own destiny and path in life, and never bowing to those who would punish you for being yourself.
With witty dialogue and verbal ripostes like “If your prick is as limp as your verse, no price can buy time enough” (my personal favorite), “a coat of arms does not an inheritance make,” and of course this one “desire begins in the mind,” you can understand why I love this movie so much. It combines a feminist mindset with gorgeous sensuality, and reminds all of us that beauty is not just about looking a certain way but also having faith in yourself and understanding that looks are only a small part of what makes us who we are. An important part, but ultimately it’s having that education, that ability to read and write and learn…….those are things that are the most hard-won in life and the things that are nearly impossible to take away. After all, our looks will fade, we may lose our money or our jobs or our lovers, but our education and the wonderful workings of our minds will (hopefully) remain with us the longest and provide us the most satisfaction.
The cast of this film is also outstanding! Some of my favorite character actors make an appearance here, including the sexier-than-hell Rufus Sewell as Marco Venier; Fred Ward standing in as Domenico Venier; the always amazing Jacqueline Bisset as Paola Franco; Jake Ward (remember him from that rad TV series American Gothic?) as King Henry of France; Naomi Watts as Giulia de Lezze, the woman Marco is forced to marry; Moira Kelly as Marco’s sister and Veronica’s best friend Beatrice Venier; the wonderfully funny Oliver Platt as the dangerous Maffio Venier; and of course, the gorgeous and talented Catherine McCormack playing Veronica to perfection. I really don’t understand why McCormack wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award for this performance, but Hollywood is full of dumbasses so perhaps it’s not surprising.
Possibly my most favorite scene in a film that is full of favorite scenes is when Paola is teaching Veronica how to become a courtesan. She tries to make her understand that lust starts in the mind, that beautiful clothes add to the package, and that pleasure is not a weapon but a tool that can be rendered even more powerful when the courtesan herself feels it, not just gives it through sex. Paola slowly eats an artichoke leaf, sips a glass of wine, then, oh so sensually, demonstrates her oral sex method by lasciviously deep-throating an asparagus spear before looking expectantly at her daughter to see if Veronica has internalized this important lesson. Veronica, of course, being angry at this is her only option, defiantly munches away on her own asparagus spear. It’s hilarious and erotic at the same time.
So what else could I have done but made Venetian-style asparagus, after a scene like that? I used my friend and fellow food blogger Luca Marchiori’s method to make sparasi alla Veneta. Traditionally, white asparagus is used in Venice, but it’s a bit more difficult to find where I am – sadly, not Venice – so I used green asparagus and it was lovely. And no, I didn’t deep-throat it. Read on!
20 asparagus spears, trimmed
4 hardboiled eggs
8 anchovy fillets
1 tablespoon capers
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Steam or boil the asparagus for 5-7 minutes, or until they are tender-crisp. Pat dry.
Peel the hard boiled eggs and put them into a food processor.
Add the anchovy fillets and the capers, and whizz together with the eggs until well combined.
Keep the mixer going at low speed, and slowly add in the vinegar and the olive oil until they both incorporate into a lovely, thin mayonnaise-like sauce.
With the asparagus served just warm, spoon over the sauce. The capers and vinegar pack a punch and the anchovies give it the perfect desired saltiness. Enjoy with a glass of Italian wine, preferably in a Murano glass goblet and whilst channeling your inner sex goddess/courtesan/poet while you do so.