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!

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