Monday, March 21, 2011

Oh Food Network, You Do Get The Juices Flowing

I have a confession. Sometimes, it's hard to watch cooking shows on TV without thinking about... um, how shall I say this delicately?

Sex. Okay. I said it!

Afterall, the kitchen and the bedroom made a love connection centuries ago. Chocolate, oysters, wine -- all aphrodisiacs. But asparagus? Pine nuts?!? Apparently, yes.

Fast forward to the late 1990's and early aughts, when Food Network brings gastroporn to the masses. Frederic Kaufman provided play-by-play in his fascinating article Debbie Does Salad for Harper's Magazine.

For the past several weeks, (author and porn still photographer) Barbara Nitke had been running porn films side by side with Food Network shows, studying the parallels. She had also been analyzing the in-house ads, like a recent one for the network’s “Chocolate Obsession Weekend,” which promised to “tantalize your tastebuds.” In this spot a gorgeous model pushes a chocolate strawberry past parted lips as she luxuriates in a bubblebath. The suds shot dissolves into Food Network superstar Emeril Lagasse, who shakes his “Essence”—a trademarked blend of salt, paprika, black pepper, granulated garlic, and onion powder—into a pan of frothing pink goo. The camera moves into the frying pan and stays there. “There’s something very visceral about watching the food,” said Nitke. “It’s very tissue-y. It’s hard not to think of flesh when you’re looking at these closeups.”

(I love that line, "Shakes his Essence". I've got boom-chicka-boom soundtrack playing in my head now!)

But seriously, even the more watered down video hints at that other Necessary Pleasure.

The thumb in the mouth. The "mmm, mmm, mmm..."

"Nitke and I watched as Giada (De Laurentiis) prepared some Italian cookies. As usual, she was dressed in a tight, sleeveless top. “Now I can touch the dough and elongate it,” she said. “I’m getting it all over my fingers.” When Giada squeezed a lemon, the camera moved in for a closeup of the abundant yellow stream. “All that juice,” came Giada’s thick voiceover. “Oh my god,” said Nitke. “It’s watersports.”

And that, my friends, is why I cannot cook anything from Giada without thinking of ... well, you know what I'm thinking.

Please know, though, she's not just a pretty face. Girl's got some serious skills! And her recipes are usually very, very good.

So when our friends Andy and Connie suggested we try Giada's Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables we headed straight to Whole Foods to stock up on the ingredients.

  • 2 red peppers, cored and cut into 1-inch wide strips
  • 2 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 summer squash, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 cremini mushrooms, halved
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced into 1-inch strips
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 1 tablespoon dried Italian herb mix or herbs de Provence
  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 3 cups marinara sauce (store bought or homemade)
  • 1 cup grated fontina cheese(warning!! kinda pricey, but worth it)
  • 1/2 cup grated smoked mozzarella
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus 1/3 cup for topping
  • 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

On a baking sheet, toss the peppers, zucchini, squash, mushrooms, and onions with olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and dried herbs.

Roast until tender, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook for about 6 minutes. Since you will be cooking the pasta a second time in the oven, you want to make sure the inside is still hard. Drain in a colander.

In a large bowl, toss the drained pasta with the roasted vegetables, marinara sauce, cheeses, peas, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Using a wooden spoon, gently mix, until all the pasta is coated with the sauce and the ingredients are combined.

Pour the pasta into a greased 9 by 13-inch pan. Top with the remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan and butter pieces. Bake until top is golden and cheese melts, about 25 minutes.


Chef Tanya -- Luh-uh-uved it! Such depth of flavor, great color and very filling. The recipe says it serves six, but it must be six linebackers! We had more than 1/2 of it left. Gonna share with hungry co-workers tomorrow.

Jason -- It was great! But it better be, since it's got $9 million cheese in it.

Hannah -- It was really good. I liked it. I like cheese and it was really, really cheesy. Just the right amount of cheesy. And it had a hint of zesty to it, too. A good kind of zesty. And cheese. And the noodles were cooked just right. And the cheese. (yeah, she won't be going vegan anytime soon!)

Olivia -- It was good. But not good enough to make me forget about the huge spider I caught in my room this afternoon. Ewww. (It was a HUGE freakin' spider. We're usually a trap & release family, but this guy got the death penalty)

Miranda -- (Picked up a snack with friends after studying at the library. Car + debit card = this)

Bonus: This recipe is very flexible. We didn't have penne, so we substituted elbow macaroni (1/2 regular, 1/2 wheat - and the kids didn't even notice the wheat). We had regular mozzarella in the fridge, so used it instead of smoked.

You could also substitute your own veggies. Like maybe ... phallic shaped asparagus? For more aphrodisiacic (dang, squiggly line tells me that's not a real word) recipes, click here.



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