What Babette’s Feast teaches us about the Eucharist

Babette's Feast mirrors the Mass's symbolism (SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)

In The Catholic Table by Emily Stimpson Chapman, which I blogged about last week, the author lists a few films which, in her words, “sense the sacramentality of supper and its power to bring grace into people’s homes and lives.”

One of these, naturally enough, is Babette’s Feast. This wonderful film (which is, incidentally, on the Vatican’s list of recommended films) was inspired by a short story of Karen Blixen, the Danish author of Seven Gothic Tales. It bears all the hallmarks of Blixen’s eccentric, thought-provoking view of life: it is theatrical, ironic, insightful and otherworldly.

Chapman writes about the film: “It is a beautiful tribute to the generosity of God. Babette is a former chef living as a humble servant, who wins the lottery and spends it all on a lavish meal for her employers. Her generosity is wild and reckless. She spends everything she has to give two unappreciative old ladies and their equally unappreciative (save for one) friends a feast worthy of a king. But out of that wild generosity and the magnificent meal it creates, friendships are restored, wounds healed and joy returns to a joyless community.”

She continues: “That’s what God has done for us in the Eucharist. He became man, gave his life on Calvary, and by some miracle of grace, re-presents that sacrifice in every Mass, in every parish, in every corner of the world. He pours out His life unceasingly and without limits for us and then gives us that life through the Eucharist. We’re not worthy of that feast. We don’t appreciate it even remotely sufficiently. But He gives it just the same. Because of that we are transformed, just as the old men and women who ate Babette’s feast were transformed, but in an even more radical way.”

Chapman’s book also includes many of her own recipes, not as lavish as the food prepared by Babette, but sounding delicious all the same. She has kindly given me a special recipe for Herald readers which she calls “Dirty Risotto”:


2 tablespoons/28 grams butter
1 lb/454 grams Italian sausage
8 ounces/225 grams mushrooms, slice
1 red pepper, sliced
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups/454 grams risotto
Half cup/118 ml white wine
8 cups/1.9 litres chicken broth
4 oz pecorino or parmesan, grated
Kosher or sea salt, pepper

Instructions: Prepare vegetables; in a medium saucepan bring the broth to a simmer; in a large pot melt the butter, add in sausage and cook until almost browned; add in onion and cook until translucent; add in garlic and cook briefly, until you can smell the garlic; add mushrooms and peppers and cook until soft; add risotto and toss to coat; cook for 1 minute, stirring several times, then add in white wine and stir until the liquid is absorbed; slowly add in a ladleful of broth at a time, until all the liquid is absorbed; stir continuously (this should take about 15-20 minutes); when the risotto is creamy and just slightly firm to the bite, remove from heat and stir in cheese; taste for salt and pepper; serve immediately.

Perhaps this dish should be eaten before Ash Wednesday? Bon appétit!