Moonstruck is a delightful and endearing romantic comedy about love and life set in New York City’s Italian-American community. In it, Loretta Castorini, (brilliantly played by Cher), an unlucky in love Italian widow (her first husband was hit by a bus) finds romance through the intervention of la bella luna. With her second wedding to stodgy mama’s boy, Johnny Cammareri, just weeks away, she meets and reluctantly falls hopelessly in love with her fiance’s estranged younger brother, Ronny! Her dilemma and her hilariously eccentric family make for an unforgettably enchanting and irresistible movie experience.
I chose Moonstruck for this month’s Dinner and a Movie, first and foremost, because I love it. I love it not only for its abundant humor, warmth and charm, but also because of its rich ethnic flavor and pervasive theme that love and family are the most important things in life and are meant to be celebrated with gusto! And, there is a helluva lot of gusto going on in that movie!
As an Italian-American from the Bronx, watching Moonstruck is an emotional experience for me. I can really identify with it. In fact, several of the characters could have come straight out of my own family album! Each time I watch it, a comforting wave of familiarity and understanding washes over me. In the final scene, where the music swells and the camera pans to all of the old family photos, I always spill a few tears.
Another reason that I love this movie is for its beautiful music, much of which is taken from Puccini’s glorious opera, La Boheme. According to both Norman Jewison and John Patrick Shanley, the director and screenwriter of the film, Moonstruck was always intended to have an operatic feel from its conception. Jewison specifically envisioned La Boheme because he felt that its music was the perfect vehicle to enhance the various dramatic, comedic and romantic elements of the film. It worked. Imagine Moonstruck without Puccini’s music. It just wouldn’t be the same!
Remember this scene? It’s the one where Ronny takes Loretta to the opera for the first time to see La Boheme at The Met. Loretta is moved to tears as the singers perform the beautiful duet, Donde Lieta Usci. I think it is one of the most compelling in the whole movie.
Italian opera was the inspiration for my dish, Pasta alla Norma. Pasta alla Norma is a divine concoction of eggplant, onions, tomatoes, basil and ricotta salata, a semi-hard salted ricotta cheese, served over pasta. Legend has it that this classic Sicilian dish was named for Vincenzo Bellini’s popular bel canto opera, Norma, which premiered in 1831 at La Scala.
The most famous and memorable Norma of all time was Maria Callas, with eighty-nine stage performances of the opera under her belt. If you look closely at my photos, you can see a picture of La Divina, herself, as Norma in a 1950 production at La Fenice in Venice.
There are many variations of Pasta alla Norma, but the essentials of the dish are pretty much the same. The traditional preparation is with fried eggplant, although I’ve seen recipes where the eggplant is roasted. I made the fried version because it is more authentic and…..what the hell? How often do I fry eggplant?
Pasta alla Norma
2 large globe eggplants, diced into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, small dice
4-6 garlic cloves, sliced
1 teaspoon-1tablespoon hot chili flakes, according to taste
One 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, crushed
2 sprigs fresh basil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound pasta of your choice (I used rigatoni)
6-8 ounces ricotta salata, crumbled or thickly grated
Handful of fresh basil leaves, torn or sliced for garnish
Place the diced eggplant in a large colander with a plate underneath it and sprinkle with a generous amount of salt. Place another plate on top of the eggplant and let stand for 30-45 minutes. Remove the eggplant and dry thoroughly with a paper towel.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and saute until soft and translucent, about 7-8 minutes. Add the garlic and chili flakes for the last minute or two until fragrant.
Add the tomatoes and basil sprigs to the saucepan. Bring to a healthy simmer, lower heat to medium-low and simmer covered for 20 minutes. Uncover and continue to simmer for about 15-20 minutes more, or until sauce thickens. Add salt and pepper if needed.
While sauce is simmering, cook the pasta and the eggplant. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente.
In a large skillet heat, the 1/2 cup olive oil over medium high heat until almost smoking. Add the eggplant in batches and fry until golden brown, about 5-8 minutes. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels. Set aside.
To serve, toss the pasta with the tomato sauce. Top with the eggplant. Sprinkle the ricotta salata over the top and garnish with the sliced basil.
And, now for the Roundup:
Maryann from Finding La Dolce Vita believes that an Italian movie needs Italian Popcorn! So, she sent over this “Italianized” version. Popped in olive oil and tossed with Italian herbs, spices and Parmesan cheese, this looks like the perfect tasty snack to curl up on the couch with! Thanks, Maryann!
Lola from Aglio, Olio & Peperoncino sent over her Mamma’s Pasta e Ceci. Lola says “This dish is a family legacy, and since most of the comedy’s dialogue scenes take place with the family gathered around the kitchen table, and Grandpa dispensing wisdom and humor with each bite, I wished to honor that homey Italian family tradition by contributing with my mother’s famed Pasta e Ceci soup.”
Thank you Lola! We’re honored that you’ve shared a treasured family recipe with us!
This delicious looking Peppers and Cheese Focaccia comes from Andreas of Delta Kitchen. Andreas says that his dish was inspired by the Italian bakery in the movie. Don’t you just love those vibrant colors? Thanks, Andreas!
Holly from Food and Entertaining – Holly Hadsell – El Hajji calls her dish Moonegg. She loves all the food scenes in Moonstruck and it was hard for her to make one choice. She decided on this egg dish because it was the first time she had seen anything like it. Great choice, Holly. It looks mighty tasty! Thanks for sending it over!
My incredibly talented and creative co-host, Marc from No Recipes contributed his take on “Pasta Fazool”. Marc’s inspiration for his dish was the opening song in the movie. He says, “The movie opens to the song That’s Amore which mentions Pasta Fazool in one of it’s verses. Watching the movie, it’s a dish I could totally
see showing up on the Castorini’s dinner table.”
You’re so right, Marc. Your Pasta Fazool, itsa maka me drool! Thank for sharing this with us!
These luscious Italian Wedding Cupcakes came from Lisa of My Own Sweet Thyme. Lisa says that like the movie itself, these Italian Wedding Cupcakes have a dark sweetness, tempered by a tart glow and a nutty texture that is Oh, So Good! I completely agree, Lisa. They look amazing! Thanks!
Zabeena from A Lot on My Plate sent over not one, but TWO great dishes! The first, Steak Diane, was actually inspired by that big, beautiful full moon. Zabeena says that the effect of a full moon plays an important role in the film – “she brings the woman to the man” – she referring to Roman Moon goddess Luna. Another moon goddess is Diana, hence Steak Diane. A steak was, of course, also particularly fitting because it is what Loretta cooks for Ronny in the film when they first meet. (I love the way that girl thinks!)
Zabeena’s other dish, Ciabatta Breakfast Starter, was inspired by the kitchen scene where Rose cooks Loretta up some eggs in the hole for breakfast.
Both Dishes look fabulous! Thanks, Zabeena!
“Moonstruck is not exactly a film about food… it’s mostly about love, family and starting over again. But because Nicolas Cage plays a one-handed baker named Ronnie Cammareri and there are subsequently many scenes of his bakery, I think Moonstruck still counts as a food movie.” explains Bellini Valli from More Than Burnt Toast. So, in honor of the movie and the baker, she has sent over her Pasta Shells with Shrimp and Garlicky Bread Crumbs – a Parmesan and a lemon anchovy pasta salad with shrimp. Sounds absolutely divine, Val. Thanks for sharing it with us!
Pat from Mille Fiori Favorati was born and bred in Brooklyn, not far from Brooklyn Heights and Carroll Gardens, where much of Moonstruck was filmed. She feels that the movie portrays a true slice of Brooklyn life.
Pat says, “Because I think Moonstruck’s Johnny Cammareri was a “baccala” –which is also known as an Italian slang word for a less than smart person — for letting Loretta’s love slip from his life in the movie to his brother Ronny, I prepared my version of “Baccala Florentine” as my dinner recipe.”
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this month’s installment of Dinner and a Movie. I’ve certainly had a great time putting it together for you. Stay tuned for details about next month’s movie. Marc gets to choose, and I’m sure it will be another great one!
By the way, I also wanted to mention that some of these great screenshots came from Echte Tunus of Movie Screenshots. You should check out his site. He does really nice work!