Inside the Intentionally Scandalous ‘The Futurist Cookbook’

In 1932, a charismatic Italian poet with a propensity for provocation declared war on his country’s most sacred idol: pasta. It was “an absurd Italian gastronomic religion,” Filippo Tommaso Marinetti decried in The Futurist Cookbook, and those known to enjoy the “passéist” dish were “melancholy types” who “carry its ruins in their stomachs like archaeologists.” They suffered from “incurable sadness,” he railed against his fellow countrymen. And they were weak, pessimistic, and maybe even impotent.

In short, pasta was emasculating. And emasculation had no place in Italian Futurism, the bizarre and nationalist art movement founded by Marinetti in 1909 on the belief that Italy could never gain primacy if its feeble men were so preoccupied with history and tradition. For a strong, Futuristic Italian man to exist, Marinetti wanted anything that celebrated the country’s heritage literally destroyed—museums, libraries, even spaghetti.

When he published The Futurist Cookbook 90 years ago and introduced its controversial dishes and instructions on what and how to eat, he sought to trigger a culinary upheaval of “the Italian way of eating and [produce] the new heroic and dynamic strengths required of the race.” In other words, he wanted Italian men to eat a certain way in order to fulfill his thoroughly sexist, nationalist vision of Italy’s future. The Futurist Cookbook wasn’t meant to be an instructive culinary text or a careworn book in the kitchens of Milan. Widespread offense was the point. And not only did Marinetti succeed in his endeavors, but consider some of the sleek, prefab food in our diets—energy drinks and nutritional supplements, to name a few. You’ll realize his recipes presaged today’s food-as-fuel eating trends that aim to wrest enervated men from their decidedly unmanly lifestyles and reshape them into trimmer, more imperial figures.

An early follower of the philosophy that “you think, you dream, and you act, according to what you drink and eat,” Marinetti believed that food should typify “absolute originality” and propel the diner toward higher levels of consciousness (how woo-woo). The recipes included in the incendiary cookbook would undoubtedly leave him—almost certainly a him—in a discombobulated state.

In “Carrot + Trousers + Professor,” a “formula” conceived by a fellow Futurist poet known by the pen name Farfa, a raw carrot is served upright with two boiled eggplants fastened to its bottom with a toothpick. It gets cheekier: The plump aubergines are meant to mimic “violet trousers in the act of marching,” he explains, and the carrots tops, “the hope of a pension.” Together, they make a professor, which is among the “smelly gangrene” of history-obsessed professions that Marinetti wants to “free this land from.”

Virtually nothing, edible ingredient or otherwise, is off-limits for a Futurist dish. (Except pasta.) Marinetti generously includes blueprints drawn by Futurist artists to aid in visualization of the more incomprehensible dishes. One such is the “Tennis Chop,” wherein a veal cutlet, anchovy, and banana are arranged in a downright ghastly way to resemble a racket.

“Tennis Chop,” a formula featuring a veal cutlet cooked in butter and cut in the form of a tennis racket. An anchovy with a slice of banana on top forms the handle. Cherries soaked in liqueur and rolled in ricotta, egg, and cheese form a ball.

The Futurist Cookbook (Penguin Modern Classics)