Maybe because they have to stimulate two senses at once-sight and taste-good “food movies” are rare. Or maybe it simply takes an extraordinary filmmaker to make you crave an omelet (Big Night). In thinking about these films I’ve come up with a half-assed theory on food film excellence.
The most memorably tempting movie food is (stay with me) a symbol of effortless, simple escape from a miserable world. Food is so essential and so, well, delicious, that it pulls us from the muck (and mire). And it can’t be fancy stuff. I’m talking basic, pure, a few ingredients, belly-sticking stuff. Take the Godfather, Number 2 on my list.
Is there any more crappy situation than being holed up in room with ten mobsters hoping not to get shot? Neither can I, but gloom and impending doom can instantly be lifted by the smell of browning sausages and simmering tomatoes. A complex ragu can’t prevent Santino from being shot: let’s be realistic not much can extract you from the pit of a mob war. But if you’re going down, a full stomach is the way to go.
In Babette’s Feast (my Number 1 food flick), a less lethal but still dim and hopeless life is instantly relieved by brilliant smells and tastes. A simple, lovingly prepared omelet washes away the death of a dream in Big Night (Number 4). And a matchless bowl of ramen-as complex as the mobsters’ ragu-solves all problems in Tampopo (Number 3).
Like a sunbeam through a patch of clouds, good food-especially unfussy or expertly made-brushes away our worries. And so we come to Ratatouille.
Despite what they say, Ratatouille isn’t a food movie, it’s a cartoon, and cartoon soup doesn’t turn me on. Not surprisingly, though, its lone food movie moment occurs during the darkest of times, when the game is up and all is about to be lost. An elegant (I must say, a clever re-interpretation) dish of ratatouille saves the day.
But back to reality. These blini are more like a cartoon ratatouille than, say, a good omelet. Usually, blini are savory hors d’oeuvre food, mini pancakes topped with caviar and sour cream. But, at least in my world, pancakes are sweet, drenched in butter and syrup. So why not stack a bunch, dust them with confectioner’s sugar and call it mini-dessert?
To be clear, I didn’t cook these blini on a single burner in a mob hideout surrounded by sweaty armed men. Or in a perpetually dark Danish town. Or the late hours after the shuttering of my restaurant. Or on a desperate Japanese quest. Or even in the form of a tiny French rat.
But as I fried and sifted powdered sugar over these quarter-sized cakes, I felt a bit more content, a bit clever. This was my own food, and my own movie. By the way, Animal House is my Number 5 food movie.
(NOTE: The blini recipe is from the French Laundry, but I refuse to credit him with everything! It’s a good recipe, but a blini is a blini, and I’ll take it dusted with sugar any day of the week. I know my kid would. Unlike most blini dishes, these are best served warm.)
Sugar Coated Blini
Makes about 24 blini
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes
2 tablespoons flour
2-3 tablespoons crème fraiche
1 egg yolk
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup crème fraiche or sour cream
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
- Add taters in a small pot, cover with cold water by a few inches and cook till tender.
- Remove and as soon as your fingers can stand it, run through a ricer or food mill.
- Measure out 9 ounces (this is a bit anal-it’s probably most of the potatoes), place in a large bowl. Whisk in the flour until combined then the eggs one at a time until thoroughly incorporated. Then whisk in the yolk. (A wooden spoon works better, actually.)
- Hold the whisk w/ some batter over the bowl. It should fall in a thick ribbon and hold it’s shape when it hits the batter below. If too thin, add some crème fraiche. The batter holds for a few hours at room temperature.
- Heat a large nonstick pan over medium heat. Add a few tablespoons butter. When hot, spoon 1 teaspoon of batter for each blini. It should take a minute or two on each side for them to brown. Let cool slightly.
- Using a mini-sifter, tea strainer, or anything with tiny holes (!), sift sugar over a stack of blini and serve on a platter. To do it as an hors d’oeuvre, plate small, 2-blini stacks.