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Touch of Basil: Orson Welles’ spicy salad recipe
08:53 am


Orson Welles
Touch of Basil: Orson Welles’ spicy salad recipe

While waiting for the third volume of Simon Callow’s Orson Welles biography to arrive in the mail, I’ve been watching a number of movies by and about Welles. Among them is a documentary that was to have aired on French TV in May 1968, before regular programming was preempted by real life. Portrait: Orson Welles is one of the bonus features on the Criterion edition of The Immortal Story, released last year, and in it Welles shows how he made a salad.

The instructions below are a composite of Welles’ words and those of the documentary’s French narrator. I can’t help you reconstruct Orson’s proprietary blend of dried herbs, but I do know where you can find sherry vinegar from Jerez.

I used to be a very keen, if messy, amateur cook. But in the last years—14 years now since I married Paola—I haven’t been allowed in the kitchen. So the only cooking—the only messing about, rather, that I’m permitted—is the salad[...]

I use dried herbs. This is basil; we use fresh basil when our friends bring it from Italy. Two different kinds of mixed herbs that I prepare myself, and a little garlic salt, and the olive oil; we have very good olive oil for salads in Spain. Of course, the secret of all is the vinegar, which comes to us from our friends in Jerez, where the sherry is made. This delicious vinegar is made from a mix of sherry and wine. Some lemon, pressed in this little German device which looks a little cruel, but it’s very efficient. A bit of pepper and salt, and very important, Tabasco, that great American invention. Be generous with that. And now after this has been mixed—I haven’t been given a fork, as I usually have, so I can’t mix it as well—a bit more oil, and we should be [Welles tastes the salad dressing] ready.

The salad itself, of course, is carefully dried and then put in the icebox to chill. It’s a simple lettuce that grows right outside the house. And we’re ready.

Cut to Jeanne Moreau, facing the camera in a severe sixties dress decorated with a labyrinth glyph, reading from Paul Valéry’s “Fluctuations on Freedom”; and then to Welles at the lunch table, improvising a monologue as Richard Nixon, in which the candidate promises to restore a “true blue America” by wiping out the Irish, Jews, and blacks. Below are the first four minutes of Portrait: Orson Welles, available in its entirety (and with English subtitles) on DVD or on Filmstruck.

Posted by Oliver Hall
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