Cucina Verite: La Grande Bouffe

I had to skip last week's Cucina Verite because it took me a full 10 days to get through the entirety of Marco Ferreri's La Grande Bouffe, and frankly, I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about it. When the film was first shown at Cannes in 1973, Catherine Deneuve, who was married to one of the film's stars, Marcello Mastroianni, stopped speaking to him for a week. Ingrid Bergman reportedly had to leave the theater in a fit of nausea, and commented afterwards that she was almost speechless with disgust.

Some of you may better remember the English filmmaker Peter Greenaway's homage to La Grande Bouffe, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, a similarly appalling food/excrement/sex/cannibalism romp. I recall the experience of watching Greenaway's film twenty years ago vividly. Like Bergman, I nearly tossed my cookies.

What is the point, you might ask?

La Grande Bouffe does have its amusements. Were it released today, it would receive an X-rating.  There's certainly every variation of naked female pulchritude on display, most notably the fleshy, vivid carnality of a schoolteacher who turns out to be quite the nymphomaniac (played by Andrea Farreol). The plot concerns a foursome of debauched professional men who take off for a weekend to a deserted country house, where they plan to eat and fuck themselves to death.

There are wonderful foodie moments: One character holding a cow's head at eye level and reciting the "Alas poor Yorick!" speech from Hamlet. A live turkey massacre. Many processions of pasta. The pan-fried kidneys that win Andrea's heart.

But this isn't a movie to stimulate any appetites beyond the most depraved, and that's part of the point. We can't eat our way out of the human condition, much less out of our own animal skins. In the end, I'm afraid we're stuck with our own farts, bad breath, and bellyaches. We are what we eat. Even Mastroianni's stiffened corpse, stored in a meat locker, hardly escapes the resemblance. 


Hit the jump for a recipe, based on a dish served in the film:

Tortellini with Mushroom Carbonara Sauce (from


* 1 pound purchased fresh tortellini

* 12 bacon slices, coarsely chopped

* 1 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced

* 2 cups chopped onions

* 4 garlic cloves, minced

* 1/2 teaspoon dried sage leaves

* 4 large egg yolks

* 1 cup whipping cream

* 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


Cook tortellini in pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid.

Sauté bacon in large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp and brown. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons drippings from skillet. Add mushrooms, onions, garlic, and sage to skillet. Sauté over medium-high heat until mushrooms are tender, about 8 minutes.

Add 1/2 cup reserved pasta cooking liquid to skillet. Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Whisk egg yolks and cream in small bowl to blend. Add cream mixture, tortellini, and 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese to mushroom mixture. Toss until sauce thickens and coats tortellini, adding more cooking liquid by tablespoonfuls to thin sauce, if desired, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer pasta to serving bowl and sprinkle with remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese.

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Gail Shepherd
Contact: Gail Shepherd