Dinner and a TV Show – Columbo – Ransom For a Dead Man

When I started 6th form college at the tender age of 17 I met some very cosmopolitan people.  I lived in a tiny village in the Essex countryside

and the college was in Colchester – a BIG town.

I felt very grown up and started hanging out with some very rock and roll types.  I once answered the door of my new friend Louise’s house to Van Morrison….

It’s a long story.

One of the friends I made at college invited me round to his house for lunch one day.  I sat in his kitchen in awe.  Not only was there a FISH TANK

but there was a television too.  Yes, in the kitchen.

I thought this was just about the most bohemian thing I had ever seen.  Since then I’ve always liked the idea of this, despite not having a television myself for around twenty years now.

However, I have the next best thing in my kitchen – a DVD player.  This has been my friend during many lonely nights testing recipes for the Columbo cookbook

and by my reckoning, every episode of Columbo has screened at least three times in my kitchen.

I was absorbing Columbo while I cooked.

Of course, I was not giving it my full attention, but every time I was rattling pots and pans alongside the great Lieutenant sleuthing away, I would notice something different in the episode.  I would always have a piece of paper close at hand to note things down.  Like Columbo though, I was often scrabbling around to find a pencil.

Now the Columbo book is done and out in the world, Rumpole of the Old Bailey has become my kitchen companion.  But that’s another story…

When I heard about The Lovely Lee Grant Blogathon

I knew I wanted to get amongst it.  I got my Columbo boxset out again to watch one of my favourite episodes.

I absolutely love Lee in this episode.  She totally rocks the villain role as Leslie Williams.

I know that a couple of other people are writing about this excellent piece of television for the blogathon so I’m not going to review the show.  I will link to the other posts when they go live, I’m sure those folks will do it more justice than I ever could.

Instead, I thought it might be fun to give you a glimpse into how fab it is to cook a favourite recipe of the star of a show, while that actual show is going on in the background.  So here’s how it went down at Silver Screen Suppers Towers the night I made Lee Grant’s Mozzarella Marinara a la Rachel Fioretti.

Rachel was Lee’s mother-in-law.  In the newspaper article featuring this recipe Lee said, “Lately when I’ve been working, my mother-in-law has been doing the cooking.  She’s the saint of our kitchen.”

Well, when I made this, Lee Grant was the saint of my kitchen!

I fully intended writing a full breakdown of where I was at with the recipe at all the key plot points but it didn’t quite work that way.  When you are dealing with boiling hot marinara sauce that is behaving like a plopping mud pool in the South Island of New Zealand that’s not going to happen.

So here are the salient moments according to my scribbled notes.

I really enjoyed chopping parsley during the scene where Lee is flying solo with the ransom money – the music is really terrific and great to chop along to.

My sauce was on the boil during the funeral scene.  Plopping and spraying everywhere like a red pool full of mini geysers…

I’d finished all the previous day’s washing up at the moment Columbo gives his first hint that he’s rumbled our lovely Leslie.

I took a break during the scene where Columbo has a bowl of chilli at Bert’s place.  I watched the whole bit standing up by the DVD player.  It’s brilliant.

As Columbo is closing in and Lee makes her speech about him being “shopworn” I am ready for the mozzarella.

When Margaret is going bonkers with a gun

I am whipping the eggs and dipping the mozzarella sticks.

As Leslie sips her sherry and Columbo orders a root beer at the airport

I am almost done

As the end credits roll, dinner is served.

So I proved it to myself, Lee Grant’s Mozzarella Marinara a la Rachel Fioretti can be made, and some washing up can be done, in the time it takes for Columbo to wrap up a case.  Even if my kitchen did look like the murder scene at Leslie Williams’ place…

This dish was delicious, mmmmmm!  Definitely not a diet dish! As Fay Weldon so succinctly put it, “naughty but nice.”

Lee Grant’s Mozzarella Marinara A La Rachel Fioretti

For the cheese:
1 lb / 450g mozzarella cheese
About 1 cup / 250ml skimmed milk
1 cup / 125g herb-flavoured Italian breadcrumbs*
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 eggs, beaten
Corn oil for deep-fat frying

Cut cheese into 1 inch thick slices with a very sharp knife. Soak the cheese in milk in a shallow glass or china dish. Turn cheese several times, allowing cheese to soak in milk until it softens. Drain cheese and set aside.

Combine the breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper. Dip cheese slices in the beaten eggs, then coat in the crumb mixture. Heat corn oil in frying pan until sizzling. Drop the coated cheese slices into the hot oil. Cook the slices until crisp and golden brown, turning once. Drain the slices on paper towels to remove excess fat. Serve with hot marinara sauce.

For marinara sauce:
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
2-3 tablespoons parsley, chopped
½ cup olive oil or corn oil
1 can (1 lb 12 oz / 800g) peeled Italian tomatoes flavoured with basil
1 can (6 oz / 170g) tomato paste
½ teaspoon oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Simmer the garlic and parsley in olive oil in a saucepan over low heat until partially cooked but do not burn garlic. Break up tomatoes with fork, add to saucepan with about 1 cup / 235ml water, tomato paste, oregano, salt and pepper to taste. Cook over medium heat, stirring until sauce is reduced in volume and thick. Sauce must be piping hot to serve on the side or poured over the hot batter-fried cheese slices.

Serves 4.

I have one other recipe for Lee in my collection, and it’s a very good one.  Her Chicken Malibu is a delight.  When I made this for the Columbo cookbook and tweeted about it I was so thrilled to get a reply from Lee herself.

“Thanks so much @silverscreensup! As for the chicken, it’s been too long since I made it last. Thanks for keeping the recipe alive.” 

Well, thanks to you Lee.  I love your work, I love your autobiography

and I love your recipes!

Pure class!

Thanks to Realweegiemidgetreviews and Angelman’s Place for hosting this fun blogathon.  Do skip over to their sites to check out all the other blog posts about the lovely Lee Grant.

Down Among The “Z” Movies wrote a great piece about Ransom for a Dead Man for the blogathon – out-detecting the detective, I love it.  What a coincidence that we both mentioned Rumpole of the Old Bailey!

12 Responses to Dinner and a TV Show – Columbo – Ransom For a Dead Man

  1. Hazel 21 Aug, 2018 at 7:54 am #

    Chicken Malibu sounds really good, I was slightly worried it might involve actual Malibu, or at least coconut and am very relieved it doesn’t! And fried mozzarella- what’s not to love?!

    Not quite in the same league as opening the door to Van Morrison but Leo McKern used to live in the village I was brought up in. I think his daughter was one of my Mum’s Guides in the ’70’s. I just found a copy of the village newsletter from 1977 that says the ‘International actor’ had recently moved to another local village which had better rail links to London!

    • Jenny 21 Aug, 2018 at 2:01 pm #

      Haha – love your Leo McKern story Hazel. I bet folks were soooooo disappointed when he moved to another village. Village rivalry – almost an Archers storyline!

      Yes, the Chicken Malibu is really good, I recommend it totally, and fried mozzarella – YES! It was scrumptious!

  2. gill jacob 21 Aug, 2018 at 9:18 am #

    Love your contributions to my blogathons and Lee is a star – shes liked a few of my reviews with her and added a comment here and there. Shes wonderful. I’m definitely going to check this episode out thanks to those reviews of it I’ve got so far Lee seems like a delicious villain!

    • Jenny 21 Aug, 2018 at 2:04 pm #

      Lee is indeed a delicious villain, she is soooooo good in the Columbo episode, you should definitely check it out, I think you’d love it. Thanks so much for organizing the blogathon – it was lots of fun to participate and the mozzarella was delicious!

  3. Chris 21 Aug, 2018 at 12:27 pm #

    Absolutely delicious! You have made me very very hungry–both to see the episode and to taste this recipe.

    Thanks so much for joining the blogathon—beautifully done, and I love your gorgeous and innovative blog! I am a foodie as well as a movie lover!

    • Jenny 21 Aug, 2018 at 2:06 pm #

      Thanks so much Chris – it was SO MUCH fun to cookalongacolumbo! I just love Lee Grant so thanks a million for organizing the blogathon and thanks for your kind words about my blog. Love yours too! Must find some time to check out all the blog posts, might take me a while… Viva blogathons!

  4. Patricia L Nolan-Hall (CaftanWoman) 21 Aug, 2018 at 1:40 pm #

    Your article is so much fun! Loved cooking with you and watching the Lt.

    • Jenny 26 Aug, 2018 at 9:47 am #

      Thanks so much Patricia – I just read your great post about Lee Grant in Ironside. I must admit that I had no idea that Ironside featured so many amazing co-stars, I feel a box set purchase coming on – fingers and toes crossed that there is such a thing…

  5. Steve Q 21 Aug, 2018 at 9:38 pm #

    Maybe the third review will do the episode justice! I love the idea of the blog – I’m a confectioner myself; 160C boiling sugar doesn’t let you watch anything else. I was expecting a very 1970’s dish, but this is basic enough to be timeless.

    • Jenny 26 Aug, 2018 at 9:37 am #

      Thanks a million Steve Q – I har ya about not doing anything else while you are boiling sugar – haha! I have had at least one disaster on that front… Loved your review of Ransom For a Dead Man, it’s such a great episode. Will be keeping an eye on your great blog from now on – Jx

  6. Greg 22 Aug, 2018 at 3:33 pm #

    Those look absolutely delicious! My only point of confusion was when the recipe said to soak the cheese in milk until it softens…really? Does the mozzarella actually get any softer than it was to start with? It’s mostly liquid already. None the less…I laughed at the tomato splattered stovetop photo! Happens to me all the time…I need one of the mesh screen things that I had back in the 80s (but every time I see one at the store, I talk myself out of it). I’ll grab one next time and then I’m going to make this recipe!

    • Jenny 26 Aug, 2018 at 9:35 am #

      Hi Greg – yes, I wondered about that too – soaking the mozzarella – I did it, but I didn’t notice any difference. In the magazine article this recipe appeared in Lee actually recommends soaking it ALL DAY. Maybe mozzarella didn’t get sold in little packs surrounded by whey in the olden days? I too have thought to myself a gazillion times that I should get one of those splatter mesh protector thingies and I never do…

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