Excitement is mounting about the movie Blonde.

I haven’t had a chance to see it at the cinema so I’ll be tuning in on Wednesday when it premieres on Netflix.  It’s been a long time since I’ve had a bit of event TV in the diary and I’m going to hook my computer up to the projector and turn all the lights off and immerse myself in it.

If you are doing the same, perhaps you’d like something Marilyn related to eat beforehand?  This is an unusual recipe for this blog, as 99.9% of the recipes I write about have a firm connection to a particular star.  They are things I can be fairly certain the star either cooked themselves or liked to have cooked for them by their cooks, wives, husbands, mothers or some other significant other.  This recipe has a more tenuous connection to Marilyn, but it is a fascinating connection nevertheless.

This post is MUCH LONGER than my usual posts so if you are just here for the recipe, scroll right down to the bottom of the page.  What follows is something I wrote a long time ago and I didn’t really know what to do with it.  As there is a buzz about Marilyn at the moment, I thought I’d stick it up here.  Get yourself a glass of Piper-Heidsieck (Marilyn’s favourite champagne)

or mix yourself a Bloody Mary if you’ve just woken up, and enjoy the ride…

If you spend too long looking at photographs of Marilyn on Santa Monica beach wearing a chunky cardigan and not much else you will eventually want that cardi.

If you are a knitter, you will spend many hours on the internet trying to find the original pattern for it. You’ll dream of cosy Autumn nights indoors click-clacking away on the sofa and fantasise about photographs of you posing in it and not much else on a windswept beach in the South of England.  Eventually, you will give up and commission someone who knows what they are doing to knit it for you.

I am writing this in a perfect facsimile of Marilyn’s Santa Monica cardigan.  It is made from soft and thick squidgy yarn and is a thing of great beauty.  It’s the most expensive piece of clothing I have ever bought (apart from my wedding outfit) and it was worth every penny. There is care and creativity in every stitch.  Plus, I cannot help but feel I am channelling Marilyn when I wear it.  It’s impossible not to. 

When it arrived in the post, the package contained a photograph of Marilyn in the original jumper, which sold at auction for $167,500 in 1999.  My sweater was a snip compared to that.

For many years the only thing I could tell you about Marilyn and food was that she liked green peas and carrots together on a plate as she found the colour combination pleasing.  I have no idea where I got that nugget of information from, hearsay I guess.  Much of what passes for a fact about Marilyn is hard to verify.  It is true, however, that she once wrote out by hand a very labour-intensive recipe for turkey and stuffing.  I’ve made that stuffing, and it was delicious.  Especially when a lump of it was mixed up with an egg and made into a savoury waffle.  I invented a foodstuff!  I called it a Marilyn Monroe Waffle! 

Plus I followed her daily crazy meal plan once, it included so much milk that I felt like a Friesian.

I did love the 11 pm bedtime egg nog though.

A few years back I almost kicked someone out of my kitchen when they said Marilyn couldn’t act.  My disgruntled question was, “Well, what have you seen her in?” to which they had absolutely no answer.  OK, hers is a certain kind of acting and it is not to everyone’s taste but I can’t help but bristle if someone criticises my beloved Marilyn.  I think she’s fabulous in comedies, and basically, any time she’s on screen I won’t be looking at anything else.  She’s a bit like Louise Brooks in that respect.  She’s utterly luminous and makes your eyes stand out like organ stops.

I remember being utterly starstruck by a woman at University who was a big fan of Marilyn’s.  Although I think of myself as still being a girl at that age, Alison Fullalove was most definitely a woman.  How could she not be with that surname?  She had loads of books about Marilyn and was the first person I ever saw eat a piece of chicken with their hands. 

It was just about the sexiest thing I’d ever seen in my life up until that point.  She had a short blonde Marilyn hairdo and still looked gorgeous on a bad hair day when she rolled out of bed with a mighty hangover.  I guess it’s hard to maintain a pin-curl routine when you are partying hard in between seminars on comparative literature.

Talking of books, did Marilyn read, or didn’t she?  Online you can easily find lists of the 430 books she had in her personal library when she died, and there are scads of photos of her with books in hand.  My favourite of these depicts her reclining in jeans and a washed-out sky blue shirt deep in thought over How To Develop Your Thinking Ability.  You can say what you like about Marilyn’s mind, but at least she was trying.

Lena Pepitone worked for Marilyn in the last few years before her death and said that Marilyn never read.  At least she never saw her reading anything.  Although who knows what happened late at night when Marilyn was left alone with her thoughts?  Maybe now and then she snuggled down with a good book rather than retiring with her more usual bedtime companions, Piper-Heidseick champagne and sleeping pills.  We cannot possibly know.  What we do know though, from Lena’s account in Marilyn Monroe Confidential, is that when she woke up, around the normal person’s lunchtime, Marilyn wanted a Bloody Mary.  Fairly instantly.  I absolutely know the feeling.

Lena was employed to look after Marilyn’s wardrobe.  Like many of us, the blonde bombshell lacked confidence about her looks and often tried on a gazillion outfits before deciding which one was bearable. It seems as though Lena spent a lot of her time putting stuff back on hangers.  But she also ironed and altered clothes for Marilyn.  Lena’s creative sewing skills were often needed when Marilyn’s weight fluctuated as she was determined to wear everything skintight.  Seams were forever being let out, for like her arch-rival Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn loved food. 

Lena was Italian and soon began cooking for Marilyn. She loved lasagne, spaghetti with sweet Italian sausages, veal cutlets and stuffed peppers.  In common with most people who enjoy their grub, Marilyn would often express her appreciation out loud, which exclamations such as, “Gee that’s good” after a large helping of chicken soup.  She also relished a nice healthy belch.

As much as I loved all the details of the food and drink Marilyn favoured, the thing I loved most about this book was the insights into how well Marilyn treated those who worked for her.   For example, she insisted that a bottle of Chivas Regal whisky be kept on hand for Cora, the woman who cleaned her apartment.  “Cleaning’s hard enough,” Marilyn wisely said, “She deserves a big drink.”  Whenever I next plan a big cleaning blitz of my flat, I’ll be sure and have some ice in the freezer for my whisky carrot.

This lasagne recipe, clipped from a newspaper, was found tucked in one of Marilyn’s very own cookbooks. 

Two of them were up for auction recently but they didn’t meet the reserve price.  That means they could be mine, all mine if I come into several thousands of pounds and have nothing else to spend it on.  In the auction listing for Marilyn’s copies of The New Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School Cook Book and Irma S. Rombauer’s The New Joy of Cooking the blurb reads, “A few pages have small stains from cooking — no doubt the cookbook was kept close to the stove as she cooked these elaborate meals.”  Perhaps.  Or maybe she asked her cook or beloved Lena to prepare dishes from these legendary cookbooks for her delight?

We have no evidence that it was Marilyn who clipped this recipe from the newspaper, and we’ll probably never know if she ever cooked it, but why not imagine that it was, and she did?  We know that she loved lasagne and was hatching a plan to throw a lasagne party for forty shortly before she died.  Maybe she was going to use this recipe, multiplied several times?  Let’s put our Santa Monica cardigans on with aprons over the top, pour ourselves a glass or two of Piper-Heidsieck and cook this lasagne in Marilyn’s honour.

This dish is delicious and I feel very lucky to have four portions in my freezer.  I’ll be eating one in my Marilyn cardigan on Wednesday.

(Potentially) Marilyn Monroe’s Cheese Lasagne

8 oz lasagne noodles or any wide noodles

2 x 8-oz cans tomato sauce*

2 cups creamed cottage cheese

1/2 teaspoon basil

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1/2 pound cheddar cheese, thinly sliced

1/4 cup Parmesan or Romano cheese

1/2 cup buttered bread crumbs

Cook the noodles according to directions on package.  Drain.  Mix the tomato sauce with the cottage cheese, basil, salt, Worcestershire sauce and onion.  Arrange alternate layers of noodles, cheddar cheese and the sauce mixture in a buttered two and one-half quart casserole. Top with crumbs that have been mixed with grated cheese.

Bake in a moderate oven (375 degrees) for about 25 minutes.

Serves 6

  • For non-American cooks, you could use passata or a pre-made pasta sauce.  “Tomato sauce” in the US isn’t ketchup as it is to us Brits!

Mmmm – roll on Wednesday!

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