'Superstar' dishes

| Wednesday, February 20, 2008 | (1 comment(s))

Ted Neeley has fond memories of childhood family meals.

"My mother was the greatest non-recipe cook. Everything was homemade, and she made magnificent desserts," said Neeley, star of the hit stage production and popular film "Jesus Christ Superstar."

The actor/singer is reprising his role as Christ in the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice rock opera, continuing through Sunday, at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago. FYI: (312) 902-1400.

Neeley, a Texas native, grew up enjoying not only mouth-watering sweets but also plenty of barbecue and deep-fried fare. With some relatives hailing from New Orleans, he said, many dishes sometimes had a Creole flair.

Fish also was a staple on the family table.

"My dad was quite the fisherman, and we always had fresh fish," Neeley said.

Though he doesn't have much time to cook on the road, he'll occasionally step into the kitchen at home to create family meals with wife Leeyan and children Zackariah and Tessa.

"Whenever I get the chance to be home with my family, we like to cook together. My wife is a magnificent cook and we're very nutrition-conscious," he said.

Meals he and his family now enjoy fall predominantly in the healthful category. Salads, seafood dishes, pastas, grains and vegetables are high on his list of preferred fare.

"My family is on a semi-vegetarian diet," he said, adding he'll occasionally eat chicken in various dishes.

"I try to stay away from desserts," he said, laughing.

Neeley said his meals now are different from the fare he gobbled up as a kid.

But, he'll always admire his mother's culinary talents.

"I have tried so many times to go into the kitchen and do what my mother did. But I can't seem to do it as beautifully as she did," he said.

The actor, who "loves cuisine," said, when he's on tour, he enjoys visiting all types of restaurants.

Among favorites are Blue Moon Bistro in Toronto, Mark's in Houston, Texas, Casanova in Carmel, Calif., and Ritz Carlton restaurants in Denver, Cleveland and Washington, D.C.

Neeley also relishes sitting down and enjoying a meal with family and friends, because it promotes conversation and togetherness.

If he could choose some special dining companions for a once-in-a-lifetime meal, he said he'd love to chew the fat over dinner with Vincent Van Gogh, Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Golda Meir.

"I'd love for them all to talk to me about what in their lives inspired them to achieve what they've done," Neeley said.

And, speaking of monumental dinners, what would Neeley's last supper be?

"I'd love the opportunity to sit down with my parents, who are both gone now, and have my mom do what she did so well for all of us," he said.

If you're looking for a meatless meal to add to your Lenten season menu, try the following pasta dish from Neeley and his family.

Pasta with Spinach, Mushrooms, Garlic and More

Canola oil cooking spray

1 onion

2 garlic cloves

1 package mushrooms

1/4 to 1/2 cup white wine

Garlic powder with parsley, to taste

Lemon pepper, to taste

32 ounces chicken broth

32 ounces vegetable broth

2 cups water

Whole wheat pasta (penne)

1 bag fresh spinach

1 jar marinated artichoke hearts

1/2 cup grape tomatoes

Sun-dried tomatoes, as needed

Shredded Parmesan cheese, as needed

Fat-free feta cheese, as needed

1/2 cup, or to taste, fat-free Half and Half

* Spray deep skillet with canola or olive oil spray. Cook over medium heat for a few minutes.

* Add onion and fresh garlic and cook until transparent, about 3 minutes.

* Add mushrooms, wine and spices. Continue cooking until mixture softens, about 5 to 7 minutes.

*In the meantime, in a large pan, bring broth and water to a boil.

* Add pasta and continue to bring to a second boil.

* Cook pasta according to package directions.

* Add cut-up artichoke hearts, tomatoes, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes.

* Stir and cook through on low, until blended.

* Stir in Half and Half and Parmesan cheese.

* Blend together, add feta and drain pasta.

* Add pasta a little at a time to the vegetable mixture, stir to blend.

* Pour onto serving plates and sprinkle with fresh Parmesan cheese.

Serve with a mixed greens salad and French or garlic bread.