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Sublime Seduction: Food and passion meet at State Theatre on Saturday

The State Theatre in downtown Modesto will be the site of the annual Reel Food Film Festival featuring movies with culinary appeal, as well as a sampling of culinary delights.
The State Theatre in downtown Modesto will be the site of the annual Reel Food Film Festival featuring movies with culinary appeal, as well as a sampling of culinary delights. Modesto Bee

Confession: I love food movies.

I don't care much for action, comedy or even drama. But a food flick? I'm there — usually because it's an excuse to have something interesting to eat.

The night my husband and I gorged ourselves on Indian food after seeing "Monsoon Wedding" is one of my favorite memories. So is the rainy afternoon we sprawled out on the couch, cartons of Chinese food at our feet, to devour (no pun intended) "Eat Drink Man Woman."

And "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"? Don't get me started. I saw this at The State Theatre years ago and I practically broke down in tears because the Greek restaurant across the street was closed that night. Sure, I'd already had dinner, but how could I watch the people on screen feast on spanakopita, moussaka and stuffed grape leaves without so much as a nibble afterward?

Given my fascination with food movies, it should come as no

surprise that I'm recommending one. Well, I suppose I've just recommended several, but there's one coming up at The State Theatre that every foodie should see.

It's called "Big Night" and it's the story of two brothers who come to America from Italy to open a restaurant. One brother thinks they ought to be serving Americanized Italian food, like spaghetti and meatballs, to bring in business. The other, the chef, sticks to his guns and serves the food he loves, including a luscious-looking risotto (and I don't even like risotto!) and timpano. That's a huge casserole made of ziti, meat, cheese and all sorts of layered goodies, including quarters of hard-boiled egg, coated in dough.

In honor of the movie, I was going to pick timpano for this week's recipe. But after a few minutes on the Internet, I changed my mind. This dish may be a masterpiece, but it takes an entire day to make.

So I chose something Italian, but not over-the-top. Something I imagine the brothers would serve as part of an antipasto course at their restaurant. A simple white bean and tomato salad tossed in a lemony vinaigrette.

I picked the dish because I wanted something elegant and seasonal, but still in reach of those of us who don't set aside 12 hours to make dinner. I just can't see whipping up a timpano after swimming lessons and before hitting Target.

Shopping was a breeze. All the ingredients were at my neighborhood grocery store. Preparation? Not so easy. I struggled to open the anchovy can and nearly severed my finger. And I fought with my food processor lid, just like I do every time I attempt to use that darned machine.

Once the technical difficulties were done with, everything went smoothly. Infusing the olive oil with rosemary and garlic — something I don't think I've done before — was simple. Even chopping the anchovies — something I was not looking forward to — wasn't so bad.

The salad? Yum. The dressing was the star — salty, cheesy and flavorful. It made the simple combination of beans and tomatoes seem like a treat.

Now, if only I had rented a food movie to go along with it.

Bee staff writer Kerry McCray can be reached at 578-2358 or at

What The Testers Had To Say

This was OK, but not worth making again. If I were to do it again, I would use a lot less parsley or maybe switch it for some basil. The dressing was good and has potential for other salads.

— Sarah VanderHelm, Riverbank

I tried it without anchovies. This salad is nice and tangy, easy to make and good for supper when the temperature is 110 degrees because you don't have to use the oven. I recommend a large bowl for folding everything together.

— Joan Peck, Modesto

Nothing about this recipe stirred my interest, so I resolved not to make it. Then my wife said she needed to take a salad to a luncheon and suggested that I make this one for her. That was the only impetus I needed. Following the recipe was easy. When I make it again, I will make only one change: Where it says to pulse the ingredients in a food processor, I will put them in a blender. My food processor didn't produce the smoothness I looked for. Although there are some strong- flavored ingredients in this salad (garlic, rosemary, anchovies, lemon zest, parsley), all blend well when they are given time to blend. My wife thought several dozen people had sampled the dish. She brought back an empty bowl, and no one threw stones. I'd say this recipe is a keeper.

— Ralph Moore, Modesto

This recipe was a hit at our house. The lemon and rosemary flavors blended surprisingly well with the other dressing ingredients. My husband thought the presentation on the plate might be a bit nicer if we had used a slotted spoon to serve it. (There was a lot of dressing.) I was happy sopping up the excess dressing with French bread. The recipe says it serves six to eight, but I would put my estimate at three to four.

— Ann Griffith, Modesto

I thought this would be a really good and different kind of salad to serve with more rustic food and was not disappointed. It's very easy to prepare and throw together, although if I had rosemary olive oil, I would have used it instead of making my own. I did omit the anchovy and substituted a dash of Worcestershire sauce, as suggested. Comments from my family ranged from refreshing and light to tart and spunky, as the lemon definitely offers a kick to the dressing. In the future, I'll not add all of both dressings ... I thought the bean/tomatoes were a bit drenched, but I liked the difference between the two textures.

— Karin Reenstierna, Modesto

I am not a big fan of cherry tomatoes because I like my tomatoes peeled. So I peeled some vine-ripened tomatoes and substituted diced tomato pieces for the cherry tomatoes. Everyone loved the dressing. There is just the right hint of rosemary and lemon in each bite. The whole salad is very simple to make and even with the wait time, I was finished in less than an hour. Some of us ate the salad on top of our greens, some by itself. Both ways are quite delicious. This recipe is only enough for three or four servings unless guests only want a taste. Next time, I'll add something crunchy like diced celery or green pepper just to add another texture.

— Ann Waldron, Sequim, Wash.,

formerly of Modesto.

Here's another recipe that is ready to serve in a snap. Not being a bean lover, I doctored this up a bit by adding fresh mozzarella balls, purple onion and cooked pasta. There was plenty of dressing to soak into the additional ingredients. The dressing is very flavorful, with a zing from the lemon juice. The rosemary-infused oil is this dish's best asset. It can be used in salad dressing, chicken or paired with balsamic vinegar for dipping sauce. Although not a favorite (blame the beans), this went well with our barbecued chicken.

— Lisa Moreci, Oakdale

White beans are a favorite for our family. The herbs and spices added great flavor with the Parmesan cheese even though I did not add the anchovies. I used a combination of red and orange cherry tomatoes with small, pear-shaped yellow tomatoes. I served each portion on a lettuce leaf and received rave reviews from all.

— Shirley Cantele, Modesto

This salad was very easy to put together. The ingredients are all fresh and blend well together. I did find the lemon was to overpowering, and would omit the juice and just use the zest next time. I also think a little less oil would be just fine as well.

— Debbie Kennedy, Modesto