Saturday, September 24, 2011


The meal being prepared in The Angels’ Kitchen was essentially the recipe that the Italians, especially the Neapolitans, then ruled from Madrid, acquired from the Spanish. At least, this is how Antonio Latini acquired it. According to his autobiography, after an unfortunate start as a poor orphan, first in his native Fabriano and later on the streets of Rome, in 1658 Latini was taken into the kitchen service of Cardinal Antonio Barberini. There, Latini quickly rose through the ranks to become kitchen steward (scalco). Over the next few years, Latini served as a steward in other noble and ecclesiastical households in Italy, before being offered the post of steward to Esteban Carrillo y Salcedo, a grandee of Spain and regent to the Spanish viceroy of Naples. This was powerful, wealthy Spain, with an empire bridging the Old and New Worlds, so it was a great success for the forty-year-old Latini. Upon his arrival, Latini was given forty gold scudi to defray his travel costs and his new clothes "in the Spanish style". He was now in charge of cooking in Carillo’s villa on the slopes of Vesuvius, overlooking the Bay of Naples, where Carillo "often banqueted with the most noble personages in royal splendor and magnificence." Here Latini was rewarded with the titles of knight of the golden spur and count palatine, dictated his autobiography in 1690, and compiled his masterpiece, Lo scalco alla moderna, published in two volumes a few years before his death in 1696.
Latini’s cooking is at once refined and eclectic, borrowing from his own broad range of experiences and contacts. Latini is not afraid to use popular food traditions, from vegetable soups to tripe and other offal; to develop a "new way of cooking without spices," using herbs rather than strong flavorings; and to experiment with newer ingredients, like turkey, chocolate, chilies, maize, and, of course, the tomato. All the dishes in which the tomato appears are indicated as "in the Spanish style" (alla spagnuola). The first is a fiery tomato condiment to accompany boiled foods. The second brings together eggplants, squash, tomatoes, and onions, a combination that became a Mediterranean standby. The third tomato recipe takes the form of a hearty mixed meat stew, named after the pot, cassuola, in which it was cooked.
Latini’s three recipes are the first time tomatoes were used in European culinary literature. They met the increasing demand for condiments and dishes that were flavorful but not based on spices. Cooks now were trying to stimulate the appetite with delicate and pleasing foods.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Brassaï: Picasso, do you know what the earth preserves best? Greco-Roman coins.
Picasso: It's insane how many Roman coins are being found! It's as if all Romans had holes in their pockets. They sowed coins wherever they went. Even in the fields. Maybe to grow money . . .
Brassaï: With excavations, I always have the impression they're breaking a mold to take out a sculpture. In Pompeii, it was Vesuvius that did the casting. Houses, men, animals were instantly caught in that boiling gangue. There is something deeply moving about those convulsed bodies, captured at the moment of death. I saw them in their glass cages in Pompeii and Naples.
Picasso: Dali was really obsessed with the idea of such monstrous castings, of that instantaneous end to all life by a cataclysm. He talked to me about a casting of the place de l'Opéra, with the opera building, the Café de la Paix, the high-class chicks, the cars, the passersby, the cops, the newspaper kiosks, the girls selling flowers, the streetlights, the clock still marking the time. Imagine it in plaster or bronze, life-size. What a nightmare! If I could do that, I'd choose Saint-Germain-des-Prés, with the Café de Flore, the Brasserie Lipp, the Deux-Magots, Jean-Paul Sartre, the waiters Jean and Pascal, M. Boubal, the cat, and the blonde cashier. What a marvelous, monstrous casting that would make.