Posts Tagged ‘The Seven Year Itch’


Talking Turkey: I Have a Lot of Catching Up to Do

January 1, 2013

Confession: I’ve never cooked a Christmas turkey … haven’t even come close.

Growing up in 1960s Australia as new immigrants, we embraced each Christmas Eve – like many Europeans do – as the main festive season celebration. Christmas Day on the other hand was spent with family friends at harbourside picnics. No sit-down dining room lunches for us: we swam, watched the adults playing cards and ate northern Italian fare of wiener schnitzel, Kransky sausages, potato salad and radicchio – with not a trussed-up bird in sight.

I feel like a misfit when friends talk about their turkey roasting secrets. Sure, I’ve made roast chickens. Even turkey osso bucco. But I never had a reason to cook a whole roast turkey, until discovering a surprising recipe.

A book published in 2010 of Marilyn Monroe’s private writing reveals she was a confident cook who even prepared her own complicated stuffing for turkey or chicken. The complex task of measuring, soaking, chopping, shredding and browning took more than two hours – after shopping for the 15 ingredients. I’m not a big fan of poultry stuffing, usually disliking the flavour but really being put off by that infamous Mr. Bean turkey stuffing episode where he loses his watch inside the enormous bird’s cavity. The word “forcemeat” springs to mind here (from the French “farce”). screenshot_MM_recipe_2

Fragments is a collection of Marilyn Monroe’s intimate notes, poems and letters spanning 1943 to her death in 1962 and includes the stuffing recipe hand-written on an insurance company letterhead.

The recipe dates from 1955 while Marilyn was at the height of her movie fame and The Seven Year Itch was released. Food historians consulted about the ingredients – which included sourdough bread, hard-boiled eggs and turkey giblets – concluded there was an Italian connection due to the inclusion of oregano, pine nuts, raisins and grated Parmesan cheese. These hint at a southern Italian influence and it came in the form of Joe DiMaggio, whom she married in 1954 and whose parents were first generation Sicilians. The other clue? The absence of garlic. DiMaggio, eager to assimilate into the American mainstream, didn’t eat garlic.

Turkey cupcakes (with stuffing). Image beaumontpete - flickr

Turkey cupcakes (with stuffing). Image beaumontpete – flickr

I have almost a year to work up to this challenge. Or skip the main course and go straight to dessert with these turkey cupcakes. Or change my mind and stick to the Christmas schnitzel.

Here’s Marilyn’s stuffing recipe.



As the Tomato Said to the Actress

October 30, 2012

I don’t know why this wasn’t plainly obvious to me, but my canned tomatoes have taken on new meaning since I discovered the brand name’s origins.

A quick internet search on Gina Lollobrigida – after finding her autographed photo in a shoebox – threw up ‘La Gina’ canned tomatoes. The story goes that Italian immigrant Carlo Valmorbida was a huge fan of the luscious Gina and upon deciding to introduce canned tomatoes to Australia in 1963, named his product after her. Am I the only person who didn’t know this?

Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida black and white image

I think this photo of Gina is either from the late 1960s or mid 1970s. She came to Australia as a Logie Awards guest in 1974 so that’s possibly the more accurate. All I remember is my father coming home from work one day with the autographed photo for me, with the inscription “To Ambra, con simpatìa, (with affection) Gina Lollobrigida”.  My late father worked in hotel maintenance in those days and would often meet visiting overseas actors and singers and bring home mementos.

I got to thinking about tomatoes in relation to women. Known as the “love apple” for its seductive colour and sensuous sweet flesh, it was believed to be the devil’s fruit by the Roman Catholic Church, offered by Eve to Adam instead of an apple. Even more annoying for the patriarchal church, the tomato was considered the very symbol of woman: tempting, bewitching and a threat to male dominance.

During the 1920s and 1930s the expression “tomato” was used in some American films to describe a good-looking woman. Sometimes women even used it to describe themselves: in Billy Wilder’s 1955 comedy The Seven Year Itch,  Marilyn Monroe’s ditzy blonde greets her downstairs admirer with “Hi. It’s me, don’t you remember? The tomato from upstairs.”

And it goes without saying that “tomayto” is a lot funnier than “tomahto”.

Gina played the lead in the 1969 screwball comedy Buona Sera, Mrs Campbell (which later was the inspiration for ‘Mamma Mia’) but I doubt the choice of name was related to Campbell’s Condensed Tomato Soup. However La Lollo obviously likes a tomato connection, appearing in a late 1960s’ advertisment for Leggo’s Tomato Paste.

La Gina canned tomatoes

This summer I look forward to embracing the tomato, starting with  Jamie Oliver’s Tomato Consommé

Warning: you’ll need a butcher’s hook.

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