Ian Fleming's story collection From a View to a Kill
was published in 1960. Several of the stories – Risico
, From a View to a Kill
, and For Your Eyes Only
originated as the outlines for a proposed CBS James Bond series. Risico
places James Bond in Italy, going after the "big men" of a Communist-funded narcotics pipeline. Dinner with his contact, Signor Kristatos, sees Bond ordering
Tagliatelle Verdi with a Genoese sauce which Kristatos said was improbably concocted of basil, garlic and fir cones.
Fir cones, indeed! It's a bit surprising that Fleming had never heard of pesto alla Genovese, made with pine nuts (or pine kernels, if you prefer); Elizabeth David had brought out her book Italian Food
in 1954, and Fleming himself was well-read, well travelled and had visited Italy at least once (though obviously that doesn't mean he encountered pesto...)
Getting information right
seems to be something of a hiccup. I have a copy of wine-writer Cyril Ray's book In a Glass Lightly
, published in 1967, where he has this to say about Fleming's wine expertise:
...Ian Fleming (who was once my immediate superior, when he was Foreign Manager for Kemsley Newspapers, and I was the Moscow correspondent of The Sunday Times) knew nothing about wine except what he was told when he rang up friends in the wine trade, and then usually got it wrong.
While visiting New York in Diamonds Are Forever
, Bond again has dinner with a contact. This time it's Felix Leiter, and the venue is Sardi's restaurant, where Leiter does the ordering.
"… I've taken a chance and ordered you smoked salmon and Brizzola," said Leiter. "This is one of the best places in town for beef, and Brizzola's the best cut of that, straight cut across the bone. Roasted and then broiled. Suit you?"
When the food arrives, it's a bit of a curate's egg so far as Bond's concerned.
The smoked salmon was from Nova Scotia, and a poor substitute for the product of Scotland, but the Brizzola was all that Leiter said, so tender that Bond could cut it with a fork.
This treatment, however, is a bit of a mystery. Bond writer Raymond Benson, in The James Bond Bedside Companion
describes it as a fictional invention by Fleming. One thing it certainly is not
, was the only Italian form of meat with a similar name that I was able to find. Bresaola
, though looking and sounding close to Brizzola
, is neither roasted nor broiled but air dried and served in thin slices as an antipasto starter or snack.
This could have been on Sardi's menu along with some other beef main course, and Fleming mixed them up. He did that in several books, with food, wine and even guns (but carried off his mistakes with such verve that these are the Bondian aspects he's supposed to have been most knowledgeable about!) I suspect we're back to that fir-cone situation, where Fleming was told something he'd never heard of before, and described it in terms that seemed most familiar to him.
I'm a heathen so far as the American attitude towards steak is concerned: I like it well done, or at least well on the side of medium. This doesn't mean shoe leather, it just means I don't want my meat bleeding all over the plate. If I want blood, I'll cut myself; a rich beef jus
is not blood.
At least one American I met was pretty rigid about what can and can't be done to beef. Diane and I went to dinner once with a business acquaintance who took us to "a great steakhouse," but when I requested mine "medium-well done" (or it might even have been "well-done") he actually got out of his seat and suggested, none too politely, that if I was going to ruin the meat, we should go somewhere cheaper... I was brought up to believe that it didn't matter what your guest wanted to do to their food, so long as it wasn't actively nauseating; this was your guest
, and that should be enough. On that occasion, apparently not. But I wonder: might Fleming also have been taken aback by an excessively bloody piece of beef, sent it back for a bit more cooking, then adapted the whole thing into a "special?"
The Brizzola business of double-cooking made me think of that memorable dinner, not only roasting beef, but broiling it afterwards. One would think that would end up with seriously overcooked meat, but from Bond's reaction, it clearly did no such thing. More to the point, a consultation of our cookbooks – we have about 400, after the last cull – suggest that "broiling" isn't just a way to cook food, but also to finish it after another, longer cooking method. You can see the elements falling into place...
Then I encountered an Italian dish called Brasato di Manzo al Barolo
, which is beef braised in (very good) red wine, then served in thick slices – tranches, to use the old term. The slices are thick enough to pass under a seriously-hot commercial broiler to produce a burnt, crunchy finish without actually cooking the slice of braised meat any further, and whether this was done to the proper recipe or not, it sounded like a feasible way for a restaurant to put its individual spin on the dish.
Besides describing unfamiliar things in familiar terms, Ian Fleming, bless his little cotton socks, had (according to at least a couple of observers) no head for drink, and as a result his "research meals" for James Bond novels were often something of a mishmash of incorrect or illegible notes. I've even seen one source suggesting that Bond's famous "shaken not stirred" Martini – which apparently contradicts the way in which every martini was made prior to that – was a result of Fleming sampling far too many martinis, getting the method wrong, and then sticking to his guns afterwards. It doesn't hurt that in his essay How to Write a Thriller
he elaborates on how someone going against the grain like that makes for a more interesting character, which works for me. The only place it doesn't work is that such behaviour makes said character stand out and become memorable – both characteristics that a spy would do well to avoid.
It seemed to me that we'd found at least one likely candidate for "Brizzola." Diane had other suggestions; that it might originally have been a deliberately-underdone rib roast cut between the ribs into individual portions like really large T-bone steaks, and finished on or under a grill. Alternately, it could have been a London broil sliced and finished in the same way, which is what I did to a fine piece of rump steak the other night, for my birthday dinner.
The meat had been marinating since Monday in olive oil, red wine, red wine vinegar, oregano, cracked pepper and crushed garlic. It was then slow roasted, frequently basted with the marinade, then cut into four thick slices and whizzed under the grill. Luckily our kitchen cooker has a very enthusiastic grill, if it's allowed to preheat properly, so the end result was delicious.
And yes, you can
cut it with a fork...!