What is it about Italy that causes so many of us to swoon and get all dewy eyed? Dreamy tones proclaim the romance of Venice, the charm of Florence, the glamour of Rome and the earthy edge of Sicily. Renting a villa in Tuscany has become cliché for the self-anointed sophisticated traveler. Weeks spent learning the cucina of Umbria provide visitors with recipes to last for years and a way to feel superior to the camera-round-the-neck tourists directing their spouses to hold up the Tower of Pisa.
I don’t know the answer to the question. Perhaps it’s the relaxed, easy going pace. Could it be the pleasure of a simple passeggiata, a nocciola gelato and gazing at Michelangelo’s David? Or, maybe it’s George Clooney diving off his boat in Lake Como, expecting you to wrap him in a fluffy towel after his dip. That would surely make me swoon.
The romance with Italia and the current fascination with the early 60’s were supposed to whip together into a dazzle of words, music and mod fabulousness in “Nine:” the recently released screen adaptation of ‘Nine,’ the musical stage interpretation of Fellini’s Felliniesque Oscar winning film “8 ½,” based on the director’s own life and struggle with “director’s block.”
Wow, that’s a lot of trickling down. I’d been excited to see “Nine,” the film, since I saw the first preview. All flashing paparazzi lights, swinging style, a galaxy of stars and the brilliant, and beautiful Daniel Day-Lewis…the only man who still looks cool wearing earrings. And despite my aversion to anything fantastical, whimsical or chaotic, I’ve actually seen “8 ½” several times and I am somehow able to appreciate its power without having an anxiety attack.
So, I planned what should have been a perfect evening; my dear friend Daisy and I headed to Chelsea to meet our gorgeous college classmate Joe and his equally gorgeous partner Christian for “Nine” and dinner. Hello? Excellent. If not for the $12.50 and the 112 minutes of my life I will never get back.
I wish I could pinpoint the problems. I never saw the stage version of “Nine,” but my mother and sister loved it and often break into some of the more familiar songs. This might have been my first clue that something was amiss since they are the only two people in my family who can’t carry a tune. I know I didn't care about any of the characters. Also, maybe I’ve just had it up to here with depictions of the tortured artiste (“Pollock,” “Walk the Line”), his head in his hands, giving himself permission to cheat on his wife and abuse everyone who loves him while he is overwhelmed with angst: “What will I paint?” “Have I nothing left to say?” I don’t know, but stop your whining and get a job at the post office if creating is so damn painful for you!
I suppose I could say it’s the fault of the director, Rob Marshall. And it probably is. The performances were 90% good. Daniel Day-Lewis embodied Guido, the tortured, charming, narcissistic director, as only he could. Judi Dench (his long time costume designer), Penelope Cruz (his mistress) and Black Eyed Pea Fergie (the local prostitute from Guido’s childhood) were great. Nicole Kidman made real, live facial movements, as his beautiful muse and her singing was light and moving. Marion Cottillard was wonderful and heartbreaking as the expected long suffering wife. I recommend that everyone download her version of “My Husband Makes Movies.” And even Sophia Loren, slightly propped up and ten shades darker than the Irishman playing her son, was fine as Guido’s Mama.
But now I come to the 10%. Kate Hudson. Someone please explain her to me. She plays a vapid Vogue reporter out to shag Guido and does what Oprah called a “showstopper” (I wish the show had literally stopped) where she struts, ponies and flips her hair down a cat walk, surrounded by chorus boys all dressed as Guido, and delivers a song called “Cinema Italiano.” Here are some of the completely mortifying lyrics (in no particular order) she was asked to sing, or rather, purr.
“Gives me a special thrill, each time I see that Guido neo-realism, I love the dark handsome guys w/ their skinny little ties dressing mod looking out of sight. I love to watch them as they cruise w/ their pointy leather shoes wearing shades in the middle of the nights. The speedy little cars the hip coffee bars the sleek women in Positano. His angles wide & tight. Each moment feels so right. Defines Italian style by only his decision. Guido’s the ultimate uomo Romano. I love his cinema Italiano!”
Weren’t you embarrassed just reading that? Honestly, I wanted to crawl under my seat which is saying a lot since the floor was sticky with Lord knows what. And then I couldn’t get the song out of my head. For days!
Thank goodness the lasagna I had at our fun, boozy post-cinema dinner felt more Italiano than the movie, so all was not lost. And I’ll admit, after seeing all those “speedy little cars and the hip coffee bars” I couldn’t stop thinking about biscotti. So, in tribute to the “Nine” that should have been, please enjoy these crisp, chewy, slightly spicy and not too sweet biscotti.
'Nine,' Why Weren't You a Ten Almond Apricot Biscotti
Adapted Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, 2005
Printer Friendly Version
1 cup raw whole almonds
1/2 cup dried Turkish apricots, chopped
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon anise extract (see note)
3 large eggs, plus 1 egg lightly beaten
Zest of one lemon
1 Tablespoon anise seeds (see note)
Preheat oven to 375, line a large baking sheet with parchment, set aside.
Spread almonds on baking sheet with rim and warm in oven till light golden and fragrant, @ 6 minutes. Set aside and cool.
Chop 1/2 cup of apricots into 1/2" pieces, set aside.
Sift together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt into medium bowl, set aside.
In electric mixer beat butter and sugar on medium-high till light and fluffy, @ 3 minutes.
Beat in anise extract.
Add eggs one at time, beating after each addition until incorporated and scraping down sides of bowl if necessary.
Add flour mixture and beat on low until combined.
Mix in anise seeds, lemon zest and almonds. When they are incorporated add chopped apricots.
Turn dough out onto lightly floured board and knead a bit to insure nuts and apricots are evenly distributed. Flour hands if necessary.
Divide dough in half and shape each piece till it is @ 18 inches long.
Place on prepared baking sheet and brush each log with lightly beaten egg.
Bake in oven about 30 minutes until lightly browned and firm to touch.
Remove sheet from oven and transfer the logs on the parchment to a cooling rack. Reduce oven temperature to 300 while letting logs cool @ 20 minutes.
When logs are cool place them on a cutting board and using a serrated knife cut logs crosswise, on the diagonal into 1/2" thick slices.
Place wire rack on rimmed baking sheet and arrange cut slices on rack.
Bake until firm to the touch @ 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and let cool completely on racks.
YIELD: at least 4 dozen
NOTE: if you do not like the subtle flavor of licorice substitute vanilla extract for anise extract and omit anise seeds completely. The biscotti will still be delicious.