One of my favorite films with a memorable food-moment is Amélie, a simple and joyful French film from 2001. [Spoiler alert…] Amélie is a solitary character with a wonderful internal life. She observes the world exactingly. She appreciates simple pleasures and amusing oddities in the goings-on around her with her eyes open, and her mouth closed. Amélie finds joy in her private life, but also experiences a lack human closeness. Throughout the movie she launches a series of secret undertakings that bring beauty, life, love and joy to her father, her neighbours, her co-workers and the man who helps her at the vegetable stand. Her mischievous initiatives become a catalyst for change, new possibilities and happiness. Waging her secret campaigns for improvement in the lives of others brings Amélie vicarious joy, but she experiences isolation on her own. One evening, Amélie stands in the kitchen of her darling little apartment, making herself a bowl of noodles, clearly on auto-pilot. She drains the pot of pasta, and uses a rotary grater to top the noodles with cheese, all the while staring in apparent contemplation of the state of her life. The quiet evening in her safe haven ends in lonely and frustrated tears at the realization that she is living outside, without meaningful connections of her own. I love so many things about this film, and I watch it now and then and discover more that I enjoy. What I have enjoyed since the first viewing is that simple bowl of noodles. You can do so many things with food, and especially pasta, but so often, the simplest are the most perfect and enjoyable. Boiled noodles, a little butter, salt, pepper and sometimes, some grated cheese served as simply as possible is a plate of food that manages to nudge on sublime.
Here is my most recent bowl of buttered noodles with cheese. We had only lasagna noodles in the cupboard, so I boiled them in an ample amount of water, lightly salted. Once they were cooked al dente, I drained them and used a pizza cutter to slice the broad noodles to an imperfect approximation of papardelle. I thank Martha Stewart for including broken and jagged shards of lasagna noodles in a pasta recipe in the cookbook Dinner at Home for inspiring the use of spare and broken lasagna noodles in a non-lasagna dish. I stirred a little butter thinned with a splash of warmed vegetable stock to allow the noodles a thin coating. I topped the bowl with finely grated white cheddar, ground pepper and a tiny shake of salt. It was delicious. No further elaboration is required. As for Amélie, she finally succeeds at taking the joyful leap into living her life when she removes a literal and figurative mask of protection and reveals her identify to a man whom she secretly admires. In opening herself up to the possibility of success or failure at love, a life that Amélie has previously observed as an outsider begins to unfold. Our moments of real pleasure in this life are so precious-they are best enjoyed through attention and fully and openly savoring every delicious experience, no matter how simple.