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Food for Thought: Recipes in the Collections

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Niccolo Paganini, Harris and Ewing Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.
Niccolo Paganini, Harris and Ewing Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

With the Thanksgiving holiday coming up this week, most peoples’ thoughts turn to food and family recipes. It seems like the perfect time to share recipes that rest in the Music Division’s collection. One of the more memorable comes from a 19th-century virtuoso: Paganini’s ravioli! The Music Division is home to a collection of Paganini materials, including papers and diaries that remained in the possession of the Paganini family until the early 20th century and were eventually purchased by Mrs. Gertrude Clarke Whittall for safekeeping in the Library’s collections. Among the most interesting items in the collection are four little notebooks that served as Paganini’s diary, address, and account books, including the violinist’s famous “Secret Red Book” that he kept close at hand throughout his European travels. The Paganini papers in our Whittall Collection also include Paganini’s own handwritten recipe for a special ravioli! See this translation and watch out for the calf’s brain(!):

Paganini's recipe for ravioli. Whittall Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.
Paganini’s recipe for ravioli. Whittall Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

For a pound and a half of flour, two pounds of good lean beef to make the sauce; place in the frying pan some butter, then a small amount of finely-chopped onions, and brown slightly. Put in the beef, and cook till it begins to take on a bit of color. For a thick sauce, take a few pinches of flour and gradually sprinkle them into the meat juices to brown, then take some [canned] tomatoes, break them up in water, pour some of the water into the flour in the frying pan and mix well to dissolve. Finally add some finely chopped and pounded dried mushrooms, and that’s the meat sauce.

Now for the pasta. To lift the eggless dough: a little bit of salt in the pasta will help with its consistency.

Now for the filling. Using the same pan as for the meat, in the sauce, cook half a pound of lean veal, then remove, chop it and pound it. Take a calf’s brain, cook it in the water, then remove the skin covering the brain, chop and pound well, separately take a little Lugano sausage, remove the skin, chop and pound separately. Take a good pinch of borage, boil, squeeze out thoroughly and pound as above.

Take three eggs, sufficient for a pound and a half of flour. Beat them thoroughly and add the various ingredients listed above, which should be pounded again, adding a little Parmesan cheese to the eggs. And that’s the filling.

You could use a capon in place of the veal, and sweetbreads in place of the brain for a more delicate filling. If the filling is hard, add some meat juice.

For a ravioli, cut the pasta slightly wet, and leave for an hour covered to give thin sheets.

There are more recipes to be found in the Music Division’s collections, but perhaps those should wait for another blog post. And of course, remember that we can always sing about food — Leonard Bernstein’s La Bonne Cuisine: Four Recipes for Voice and Piano sets his own translation of specific recipes taken from Emile Dumont’s La Bonne Cuisine Française. Specifically, the four movements set recipes for 1) Plum Pudding, 2) Queues de Boeuf (“Ox tales”), 3) Tavouk Gueunksi, and 4) Civet à Toute Vitesse (“Rabbit at Top Speed”). The Leonard Bernstein Collection holds Bernstein’s translation of La Bonne Cuisine in box 71 and his holograph manuscript for the music (that is, manuscript in Bernstein’s own hand) in Box 1046.  If anyone is so inspired, you could always sing along as you prepare your plum pudding!

Comments (4)

  1. Good one, Cait! I’m going have to try this out!

  2. If you try it out Sharon, please post your response. Inquiring minds want to know!

  3. Most appetizing! However,it is beyond my competence.
    Paganini was certainly a carnivore!
    Best for me to stick to the violin!!

  4. Ref:For how many persons are the prescribed ingredients intended to serve?
    Looking forward to some enlightenment from somebody,somewhere…!!

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