Posts Tagged ‘Pasta with Zucchini and Basil’

An Evening of Food on CNN

Wednesday, August 24th, 2022

Anthony Bourdain explores the Lower Eastside of New York City, New York on April 1, 2018. (photo by David Scott Holloway) Courtesy of Warner Media.

In 2014 superstar chef Anthony Bourdain visited near my home in Franklin County, Massachusetts, for an episode of his CNN television program, Parts Unknown.

For this series Bourdain traveled throughout the world highlighting foods and cultures of various areas. He celebrated cooking in a variety of forms and places. He also frequently showcased the problems of areas he visited: poverty, war, inequality.

When he came this way Bourdain chose to look at a part of Franklin County that was unknown to many of us: the heroin and opioid epidemic in Greenfield, our county seat, and neighboring towns.

I was taken aback when I saw the episode, but after watching the documentary Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, I understand Bourdain’s choices in our area better.

The film, which will air on CNN this Saturday, Aug. 27, at 9 p.m. as part of an evening devoted to food, reminds viewers that Bourdain was a recovering drug addict.

Roadrunner begins with the creation and publication of Bourdain’s book, Kitchen Confidiential, in 2008. Its success transformed him from a restaurant chef who could barely make rent payments to a literary and television icon.

“I was interested in the story of a middle-aged man who suddenly gets everything he always dreamed of and what comes next,” said director Morgan Neville in a press release. “What are the things that come with achieving your dreams?”

The film’s answer to that question is complicated. What is clear is that Bourdain and his producers wanted their work to help the world by profiling places and issues that mattered. In many ways they succeeded.

I spoke last week with Lydia Tenaglia. She served as consulting producer for Roadrunner and produced all of Bourdain’s television programs over a span of two decades.

Tenaglia explained that she and her husband and business partner, Chris Collins, visited Bourdain at his restaurant to suggest a series after Kitchen Confidential came out.

“He was like, ‘Okay, whatever, sure,’” remembered Tenaglia. “So much was flying at him at the time, he was keeping himself open.”

The two producers suggested the title A Cook’s Tour for the series, in which Bourdain (who had spent almost all of his cooking career in the New York area) would travel the world and learn how different cultures approached and appreciated food. They quickly sold the idea to the Food Network.

After a couple of years, Bourdain and his producers moved to the Travel Channel, where their show was called No Reservations. When the Travel Channel began to change its emphasis, they went to CNN with Parts Unknown.

According to Lydia Tenaglia, when she and her husband started working with Bourdain, the producers chose the programs’ destinations and wrote all of the scripts. That soon changed.

“Tony was a very, very quick study,” she remembered. As time went by, Tenaglia, Collins, and Bourdain learned from each other, and the program became “more geopolitical, more sociopolitical,” she noted.

She likened the progression of the three series to education: A Cook’s Tour showed Bourdain in high school, and No Reservations became his college. By the time they collaborated on Parts Unknown, she said, Bourdain had achieved the status of professor emeritus.

“The show had evolved to a place where it became a vehicle for Tony’s very personal editorializing,” she said. The episode involving Greenfield was part of that trend, she observed.

Tenaglia clearly misses her friend, who committed suicide in 2018 at the age of 61. Nevertheless, she is proud of the work they did together and the ways in which it changed American television’s view of food.

“What we did with Bourdain really influenced deeply a genre of television that hadn’t really existed until then,” she concluded.

Roadrunner showcases both Bourdain’s appetite for adventure and the demons he fought for years. The obvious devotion of the friends who are interviewed in the film, and the contrast between the chef’s talent and his final unhappiness, combine to make the film moving.

To lighten the evening, CNN will follow Roadrunner on Saturday night with several episodes of Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, which Tenaglia sees as influenced by Bourdain’s work.

In this program Tucci, an Italian-American actor and cookbook author, travels to his ancestral homeland to sample regional specialties. Onscreen, he and Bourdain differ in key ways. Where Bourdain moves with purpose and a little edge, Tucci is more diffident. And he twinkles.

Stanley Tucci hunts for truffles. Courtesy of Warner Media.

They have a lot in common, however. Like Bourdain, Tucci has experienced hard times. His first wife died in 2009. In recent years, he has battled cancer.

The two also share a desire to taste the food loved by everyday people in the regions they visit. They charm cooks and audience members with their humor and candor. And they fearlessly try unusual foods that might make the rest of us squirm.

The two show that food is a conduit through which we can get to know other countries and other people. It is an outlet for talented artists. Above all, they tell us, food is never just fuel for our bodies. It also fuels our souls.

To get readers in a viewing mood, here is a recipe from one of the Searching for Italy episodes that will air on Saturday. It focuses on Naples and the Amalfi Coast.

Apparently, the Amalfi Coast has a climate similar to that of Western Massachusetts in summer. This recipe, which relies heavily on zucchini and basil, is perfect for August here. I thought about adding a little corn, but that didn’t seem very Italian.

Spaghetti with Zucchini and Basil
(courtesy of Chef Tommaso de Simon and CNN)

Ingredients:
sunflower oil for frying
6 medium zucchini
salt as needed
1 pound spaghetti
freshly ground black pepper
butter to taste (at least 2 tablespoons)
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (preferably aged 2 years)
1 large bunch fresh basil leaves

Instructions:

Place a generous amount of the oil into a deep frying pan or a wide saucepan. Heat it to 375 degrees.

Slice the zucchini into thin rounds, and then fry them in batches in the hot oil until they begin to turn golden. Drain the zucchini with a slotted spoon, place them in a bowl, and leave them in the fridge to allow the zucchini to rest and soften for at least 2 hours. (Overnight is even better.)

When you are ready to prepare the dish, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the spaghetti according to package instructions until it is al dente. Reserve some of the cooking water for the next step.

Heat the rested zucchini in a large frying pan until it begins to release green oil. Add 2 ladles of the spaghetti water. Season with a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir in the butter.

Add the drained spaghetti to the pan and stir. Remove the pan from the heat, add a couple of handsful of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and toss everything together.

Divide into 4 portions, sprinkle each bowl with more cheese, and top with lots of fresh basil leaves before serving. Serves 4.