I love musical theatre. That’s a considerably new revelation. As I’ve gotten older, I developed a genuine appreciation for the history, stories, music, dance and artistry that is Broadway. My distain for the genre was totally unfounded (I’ve always loved Meet Me in St. Louis, The Sound of Music, Singin’ in the Rain, and White Christmas), but I vociferously rejected musicals thanks in part to my sister’s obsession with CATS when we were kids. Hearing Mr. Mistoffelees played on a loop made me a bit hostile towards musical theatre and Andrew Lloyd Webber. But the melodies, beautifully choreographed dance numbers, and emotion of Broadway musicals are undeniable.
Like music, food evokes emotion and is the impetus for creativity and self-expression. Food can be edible performance art conducted masterfully by the chef de cuisine at a three-star restaurant, or simply and lovingly in a home kitchen. It is a sensory experience, enriched when shared with others, the memory of which stays with you once it is gone, much like a live music performance. A recipe’s replication may be infinitely nuanced, and its interpretation by both cook and diner allows for just as much interpretation.
If the story of my life were made into a Broadway musical, it would have a very eclectic score. To say that I listened to a wide variety of music growing up would be an understatement. My grandfather preferred only opera; my grandmother loved Mozart, Strauss, and Beniamino Gigli. Big-band era music, anything circa the 1950s, oldies, and even disco include some of my mom’s favorites, and my father’s includes Israeli folk music, country, jazz, blues, and almost everything in between.
Music can influence our dining experiences and many restaurants spend a great deal of effort to create the right ambiance. Some of the simplest musical compositions are sometimes the best, and the same can be said for food. Simple ingredients thoughtfully arranged make some of the best and most memorable meals. Dinner at my house is always accompanied by music and just as music can enhance your dining experience, it can enhance your cooking experience. For me, Dean Martin is cooking music. Maybe it is his songs of pizza and amore, or his Italian heritage that inspire me to cook, but whatever it is, The King of Cool and la cucina go together like, well, Dean Martin and dinner.
Strozzapreti (Strangle the Priest)
Adapted from Maria Teresa Jorge via Food52
Strozzapreti, also called gnudi, are Italian dumplings similar to gnocchi. In Italian, gnudi means nude, and in this case is a cheeky way of referencing pasta-less ravioli. Gnudi are typically served over sage brown butter, but Maria Teresa suggests fancying it up with a quick tomato sauce for color. You can make extra and freeze uncooked gnudi.
- 2 cups fresh ricotta
- 1 cup fresh spinach, cooked, very well drained and finely chopped
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- 2 eggs
- 5 tablespoons flour, sifted
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- Black pepper
- 6 sage leaves
- ½ cup butter
Drain the ricotta in cheesecloth set over a large bowl for ½ hour to drain any excess water. If you can find sheep or buffalo ricotta it’s much richer and creamier than cow’s ricotta.
Wash the spinach and cook it in a minimum amount of water. Drain, let cool and squeeze it dry until no water is left. (This is important otherwise the mixture becomes very watery and difficult to work with and cook). Chop the spinach very finely.
Lightly beat the 2 eggs. In a bowl add the drained ricotta, chopped spinach, eggs, sifted flour, 2 tablespoons of parmesan, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. With a fork, fold the ingredients together gently. Taste for seasoning.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Lightly dust your hands with flour and make little 1-inch diameter balls, using a teaspoon to help measure the gnudi. Place the gnudi on the parchment paper as you go along, leaving some space between each. At this point you can refrigerate them until it’s time to cook them (or even freeze them).
Melt the butter with the sage leaves and as soon as the butter starts sizzling remove it from the heat but keep it warm.
Warm a serving plate. Add half the melted sage butter to the bottom of the plate.
In a large pot, bring water with a little salt to a boil and as soon as it reaches the boiling point, drop in a few gnudi at a time. As soon as they float to the surface remove them with a spider or slotted spoon and place on the warmed serving plate where you have put half the hot melted butter. Finish cooking all the gnudis, and drizzle the remaining butter on top. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan and serve immediately.
Tomato Sauce: To make the tomato sauce, chop 3 very ripe tomatoes, skin and seeds included. Fry a roughly chopped onion with one garlic clove just until translucent, then add the tomato. Stir and cover. Let cook for 10 minutes. Put everything in a blender and mix until you have a very smooth, velvety sauce. Season with salt and pepper and add a dash of sugar if the tomato sauce is a bit acidic. Drizzle a little tomato sauce on your plate, put the gnudis on top, drizzle the remaining sage butter, and sprinkle with Parmesan.