Come Into My Kitchen

Cooking strikes a chord with Charles Bruffy, chorus director for the Kansas City Symphony

Charles Bruffy’s recipe for Carmine's Country Rigatoni is based on a favorite dish from a New York restaurant.
Charles Bruffy’s recipe for Carmine's Country Rigatoni is based on a favorite dish from a New York restaurant. The Kansas City Star

Charles Bruffy seeks harmony in both his meals and his music.

A multiple Grammy Award recipient, Bruffy began his musical career as a tenor soloist and has been chorus director for the Kansas City Symphony Chorus since 2008. In addition to conducting musical workshops and clinics across the United States, Bruffy is artistic director of the Kansas City and Phoenix chorales as well as director of music at Rolling Hills Presbyterian Church in Overland Park.

Bruffy sings the praises of a well-balanced bite of food and says inspiration in his own kitchen often comes from the restaurants he frequents when traveling.

Residence: Leawood

Special cooking interest: Making his food “sing.”

You are known for your passionate interpretations of choral standards and for championing new music. Would you say you also seek a fresh take on tried-and-true dishes? That is exactly what happened with this dish, which is an homage to Carmine’s original.

Every time I’m in New York, I love to eat at Carmine’s, which is a family-style restaurant in the city’s theater district on 44th Street. This is the dish I order, and on the few times I’ve ventured away from it, I always wished I had ordered it instead.

A friend found a cookbook with Carmine’s dishes in it, and that was the jumping-off point for this recipe. Instead of boiling the broccoli, I love the depth of flavor of roasting it. This dish also tastes even better the next day, and I love getting the perfect bite with all the components of the dish playing off each other: the roasted smokiness of the broccoli, the sweetness of the garlic, creaminess of the beans and saltiness of the prosciutto and cheese.

Wait! Are we talking about food or music here? Both music and food require listening, if you will. You have to take both in and really pay attention. Both have constraints, within a recipe or music, and you want the outcome to be a harmonious one.

There’s also room for individual expression in the whole of the work, too. I love taking a bite of this dish to, say, really experience that flavor burst from the fennel in the sausage and to pay attention to how that sensation will subside and yet flavor everything. The same can be true of music.

Do you enjoy entertaining guests for the applause at the end? Applause is wonderful. But with food and music, for me, it’s about feeling gratified and inspired. Both food and music should hit you in the gut — in a good way. I give myself permission to get swept up in the moment with music. The same is true with enjoying food. So many of us feel rushed, but even if you have only five minutes to eat, you should be mindful enough to revel in the deliciousness of it.

I love this return to sweater-weather food. For me, it’s all about connecting to a recipe. I like a challenge to re-create a dish I’ve eaten in a restaurant and to figure out what that one unusual ingredient is that makes it so memorable.

Do you think that music, like food, can also become better when it’s shared? There are two distinct parts to both music and food: the preparation and presentation of it, and the participation in the enjoyment of it. All components bring energy to this ephemeral moment of enjoyment, and both naturally bring people together.

Music is meant to warm you, as does food. There is a kind of connection that happens when sharing a delicious meal or listening to 170 voices lifted together. These beautiful experiences make my eyes roll to the back of my head in pure pleasure. In a balanced dish, you find that the garlic becomes something more when it’s prepared with other ingredients that complement it. In choral music, we similarly find that together, we exceed what we can each do individually.

Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a syndicated home column. To nominate a cook, email her at

Chorus onstage

The Kansas City Symphony and Chorus performs Mendelssohn’s “Scottish,” with Brahms and Wagner, Friday through Sunday at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets start at $23 at or 816-471-0400.

Carmine’s Country Rigatoni

Makes 8 servings

1 bunch broccoli, washed and broken into florets

1/2 cup olive oil, divided

1 teaspoon salt, divided

1/2 teaspoon pepper, divided

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1/2 onion, thinly sliced

1/2 pound mild Italian sausage, casings removed

2 cups chicken stock

1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed well

1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley leaves

2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil leaves

1/4 cup butter

1 (8-ounce) package rigatoni noodles

1 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese, divided

2 tablespoons chopped prosciutto ham

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional

On the stovetop, bring a pot full of water to a boil to cook pasta later. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Toss broccoli with 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper until evenly coated. Turn out onto a baking sheet and roast in oven for about 15 minutes, or until edges turn golden on broccoli. Remove from oven and set aside.

In a large sauté pan, warm 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat on stovetop. Add garlic and onion to pan and sauté for 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove garlic and onion from pan and set aside.

Add sausage to pan and brown over high heat until no longer pink. Deglaze bottom of pan by pouring in chicken stock and scraping up browned bits.

Stir beans, sautéed onion and garlic, parsley, basil and butter into sausage mixture. Turn heat down to medium-high and, stirring occasionally, allow mixture to bubble for about 7 to 10 minutes, or until it becomes slightly thickened.

Add pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente, according to package directions.

Turn heat down to low under sauté pan, and stir in 1/4 cup grated cheese and allow to simmer for 3 minutes. Stir in prosciutto ham and another 1/2 cup grated cheese, and simmer another 3 minutes. Add roasted broccoli to sauté pan and gently stir to coat.

Remove sauté pan from heat and toss contents with drained pasta. Season with remaining salt, pepper and red pepper flakes, if desired. Sprinkle remaining grated cheese over all and serve immediately.

Per serving, based on eight: 511 calories (58 percent from fat), 34 grams total fat (11 grams saturated), 54 milligrams cholesterol, 35.5 grams carbohydrates, 20.5 grams protein, 790.5 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.