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Exploring the intersection of art and food, we prepare two dishes from the 1930s devised by the pasta-hating Italian Futurists. BEHOLD: 1) MEAT SCULPTURE and 2) LIKE A CLOUD. To support our channel, or at least consider it: http://www.patreon.com/artassignment

Thanks to our Grandmaster of the Arts Indianapolis Homes Realty, and all of our patrons, especially Patrick Hanna, Constance Urist, and Chad Crews.

Assistance provided by: Futurist Friend Nichole Hicks.

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 (00:00) to (02:00)


(PBS Digital Studios intro)

Throughout history, food has served as subject matter, inspiration, and of course, sustenance for artists, but food has also been the art on a number of occasions.   Today, we're gonna talk about one such occasion and we're gonna try to make it for you, too.  

Today we're attempting two recipes from The Futurist Cookbook, originally published in Italian in 1932.  The Futurists were careful not to call them recipes, though, because that's a French word and they were after a (?~0:33) Italian way of eating, so we're gonna be trying two of their formulas.  

First is "Sculpted Meat", which is composed of a large cylindrical (?~0:40) of minced veal stuffed with eleven different kinds of cooked vegetables.  This cylinder, standing upright in the middle of the plate, is crowned with a thick layer of honey and supported at the bottom by a sausage ring, which rests on three golden spheres of chicken meat.  

Second, "Like a Cloud", a great mound of whipped cream streaked with orange juice, mint, strawberry jam, and sprinkled lightly with Asti spumante.  Yeah, these are gonna need some backstory, which I'll share with you in due course, but the first step in making a meat sculpture is, of course, acquiring some meat.  From what I could tell, (?~1:16) is a sort of meat patty, so I added a couple eggs to three pounds of ground veal, mixed in half a cup of bread crumbs soaked in half a cup of milk, a little salt and pepper, and that made our solid substance for our cylinder.

You'll be surprised to learn that the Futurists were obsessed with, that's right, the future, and when the movement was founded in 1909, the future meant all things technological, automated, and fast, so I presume this cylinder we're rolling out here is referencing their celebration of industrialization, and into our cylinder will go what they describe as, "A synthetic interpretation of the orchards, gardens, and pastures of Italy."  Let's make sure we have 11 different kinds of vegetables here.  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.  Yep, got 'em.  

 (02:00) to (04:00)


All of these I prepped beforehand by either roasting or quickly parboiling them and letting them cool.  We're going to place some of each of them into the center of our meat slab, kind of like we're making a giant horrifying sushi roll.  Having another set of hands is helpful here as you pinch together the two sides of the slab and say a little prayer, in Italian, of course, that it stays together.  We were a little concerned this guy wouldn't hold, so we strayed from the recipe and decided to wrap this thing in caul fat, usually used for (?~2:30) and the like, and it's the lacy membrane of fat that surrounds a cow's internal organs.  Smells as good as it looks, guys.

With that in place ,we took our meat baby and carefully transferred it to a baking rack, supporting it on either side with logs of crushed aluminum foil.  Then you give it a little pat or good luck and send it on its way to a 400 degree oven.  So while that's roasting, let's get our supporting meats going.  We'll put our sausages into some water and bring it to a boil.  Then, on to our golden spheres of chicken meat, which I'm interpreting as giant chicken meatballs.  

Before the cameras were rolling, I added an egg, some bread crumbs, and seasoning to two pounds of ground chicken.  Dividing this into only three meatballs seemed unwise, so we made an extra for good measure and rolled each in some Panko bread crumbs before dropping them into some hot canola oil to fry.  Gotta get 'em golden.  

So while these are frying, let's have a little Futurist story time, starring the movement's fearless leader, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti.  The Futurists were an audacious and vocal group of writers and artists, frustrated by what they saw as Italy's decline.  They advocated aggressively for dismissing the past, embracing speed and dynamism and all things new, like airplanes, cars, technology, and unfortunately, violence and war.  

World War I claimed the lives of many members, but Marinetti survived and put out a manifesto of Futurist cookery in 1930 and the full cookbook a couple years later.  The Futurists wanted to transform every aspect of life and cooking was something that touched the lives of everybody.  Their manifesto caused an uproar, mostly because getting rid of the past for Marinetti meant getting rid of pasta.  

 (04:00) to (06:00)


He saw Italians as being weighed down by this heavy food and included the opinions of doctors and professors to claim that pasta induces lethargy, pessimism, nostalgia, and neutralism.  Marinetti was also a friend of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who wanted to relieve Italy of its dependence on foreign markets.  Pasta required imported wheat, so they believed the food of the future was home-grown rice, which would create a country of "lithe, agile peoples who will be victorious in the likely event of future wars."  

Much of this was pseduoscience, but they were right about the coming war.  Anyway, giant meat sculptures like the one we're making were to be part of this new Italian way of eating, and now that our meatballs are nice and golden, let's pull them out and seeing that our sausages, while fully cooked, are sad and looking grey, let's give them a little dunk in the hot oil.  Why not?  

It's worth mentioning that Marinetti prefaced the formulas with a note saying that the vague quantities given should stimulate the imagination of futurist cooks and may lead to fortuitous new dishes, so you should also feel free to improvise when you make your meat sculpture.  We pull those out when they're nice and brown and since our meat baby still needs more time in the oven, we'll go ahead and get dessert going.

So this cloud we're making is of whipped cream and they call for a great mound of it, so I'm just going to whip up two cartons of heavy whipping cream in my stand mixer.  You can do this by hand with a bowl and whisk.  It's just gonna take you longer.  So like a cloud is really an outgrowth of the futurists' obsession with air travel, calling themselves aeropainters and aeropoets and including lots of airplane imagery and even sounds in their cookery and banquets.  

By the way, I added a splash of vanilla extract and a little bit of confectioners sugar just to make it extra tasty.  Just like real clouds.  When it forms stiff peaks, pour it out onto a platter until you're satisfied with the size of your great mound.  To it, we'll add the called-for orange juice, streaks of strawberry jam, and a handful of fresh mint leaves.  

 (06:00) to (08:00)


Then you're gonna open up your bottle of osti spumante.  Quick bubbly opening lesson here.  The technique I like is to take a kitchen towel, cover the cork with it, and twist the bottle while holding the cork in place.  Then you sprinkle a little of that over your cloud and buon appetito.  Now call your team into the room and invite them to dig in, but remember an imporant futurist dining rule, which is to avoid utensils and enjoy the tactile pleasure of eating with your hands.  

Because there was much more to futurist eating than the food alone, they sought absolute originality not only in the food itself, but in its presentation, accompanying some dishes with perfumes propelled around the table with electric fans, intervals of dramatic music between meals, and sometimes even the sound of an airplane motor coming from the kitchen.  Beyond providing nourishment, food was to make life more joyful, spiritual, and dynamic.  

Anyway, now that dessert is out of the way, let's get to the main event.  Our cylinder is finally browned and we're ready to assemble the sculpture.  On to the platter go three of our golden spheres of chicken meat, and on top of that, we try to figure out a way for it to be a ring of sausages, as the formula calls for, but we decide to amend it a little and make it a raft of sausages instead.  Those are vehicles of the future, right?  

To give this thing its best chance of standing upright, we've decided to support our sausage raft with bamboo skewers and then we place it atop the spheres.  Now comes the big moment, where we tip up the meat cylinder, breathe a sigh of relief that it stays together, and place it gingerly atop the raft.  There's no way this thing is gonna hold together without a little assistance, so in go more skewers at varying angles until we feel structural integrity has been achieved and then we step away to marvel at our um, achievement?

Now's as good a time as any to tell you that the futurists wanted to promote good digestion as well as "bring about that playful and virile state of mind, indespensible after lunch and at night."  These meals were to be "provocative and evocative" and at that, I have to say they are utterly successful.  This is imagery and symbolism that transcends time and place and oh shoot, we forgot the honey.  Okay, so no one, not even Marinetti, thought Italians were gonna start making meat sculptures for every meal.  

 (08:00) to (09:16)


What the futurists were after, overlooking the heavy fascist implications of a lot of their messaging, was unbridled optimism and an eagerness to upend tradition by reimagining an aspect of life that is part of all human, or at least Italian human, experience.  So come on everybody.  (?~8:36).

The Art Assignment is funded in part by viewers like you, through Patreon.com, a subscription based platform that allows you to support creators you like in the form of a monthly donation.  Special thanks to our grand master of the arts, Indianapolis Homes Realty.  If you'd like to support the show, check out our page at patreon.com/artassignment.