Niccolo Paganini might have also been a virtuoso in the kitchen.
Niccolo Paganini might have also been a virtuoso in the kitchen. Wikimedia Commons
It's probably no surprise that Niccolo Paganini loved food, because as a youngster he was deprived of it.
When he was five, he began to play the mandolin; two years later he switched to violin, all under the stern oversight of his father, Antonio. Little Paganini was forced to practice from morning until night, and if his persistence waned, his father wouldn't let him eat.
Maybe that's why the famed fiddle virtuoso — perhaps reminiscing about those difficult times — loaded up his ravioli recipe with about as much veal, sausage and butter as it could possibly stand. Later in life, Paganini would have had difficulty chewing all that meat, after two jaw operations in fall 1828 required the removal of all his teeth.
Library of Congress
Paganini's handwritten recipe
Paganini's handwritten recipe Library of Congress
But even that probably didn't stop Paganini from enjoying the variety of cuisine he found in the various European cities — Paris, London, Vienna, Prague, Berlin, Warsaw — where he was routinely hailed as the world's greatest virtuoso.
With thanks to the music division of the Library of Congress, below you can read Paganini's own recipe for ravioli (transcribed from his own handwriting, left). It comes from the fascinating Gertrude Clarke Whittall Foundation Paganini Collection, where you can view sketches of Paganini's financial transactions and musical scores.
1 1/2 lb. flour
2 lb. lean beef
1/2 lb. lean veal
A calf's brain
pinch of borage
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 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.
For a ravioli, cut the pasta slightly wet, and leave for an hour covered to give thin sheets.
So, after you have the table set, and Paganini's ravioli ready to serve, there's just one more task: pick the appropriate music. Which Paganini piece best compliments this rather maximalist ravioli recipe? Perhaps nothing too heavy. How about his violin caprice "La Campanella?" What do you think? Please leave you musical suggestions in the comments section.