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Opera & Food: A Perfect Duo

By Francine Segan

On Saturday, November 9, the Mahaiwe will show Puccini’s Tosca at 1 p.m. as part of its Met Live in HD series. Then, at 6 p.m., I will be giving a talk, “Opera Lover’s Cookbook,” based on my book of the same name, the focus of which will be the fascinating role of food in opera, using amusing film snippets of memorable dining and toasting moments for illustration. 

Some of the tantalizing trivia we’ll be sharing include the operatic origins of Melba Toast and Peaches Melba and why Rossini added special “sorbet arias” to his operas and drew little wine bottles onto his opera notes. You’ll learn why great composers like Verdi not only didn’t mind, but actually encouraged, gambling during performances of his operas. The talk concludes with a tasting of opera-inspired foods. 

To put you in the Tosca mood, you might like to prepare Saltimbocca, a recipe from Rome, the setting of Puccini’s opera. For dessert, you can prepare these delicious Linzertorte Music Bars.

Tosca’s Saltimbocca
From: Opera Lover’s Cookbook (Stewart, Tabori & Chang), by Francine Segan
Serves 4 to 6

Saltimbocca got its name because it is so good it practically “jumps into the mouth.” It’s such a Roman favorite that it was probably on Puccini’s mind when he wrote Scarpia’s supper scene. 

Saltimbocca is one of those classic recipes that should be in every home cook’s repertoire. Thin slices of veal sautéed in wine are accented with sage and pancetta, which packs lots of flavor using relatively few ingredients.

3 very thin veal or chicken cutlets, about 6 ounces each
Freshly milled pepper
6 slices pancetta
6 large sage leaves, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup white wine

Season the cutlets with pepper and cut them in half lengthwise. Dredge each section in flour. Use a toothpick to secure one slice of pancetta and one sage leaf to each cutlet section.

In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat until it begins to foam. Add the cutlets, pancetta side down, and cook until the pancetta is golden, about 2 minutes. Turn and cook the other side for about 1 minute. Add the wine and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes.

Remove the toothpicks and place the cutlets on a serving platter topped with the sauce. Garnish with additional fresh sage leaves.

Linzertorte Music Bars  
Makes 18 bars
From: Opera Lover’s Cookbook (Stewart, Tabori & Chang), by Francine Segan

These wonderful raspberry bars are an updated version of Mozart’s favorite dessert—Linzertorte. Originally created in the late 1600s in Linz, Austria, these yummy bars are impressive yet easy to make. The rich, nutty dough comes together quickly in the food processor and the jam filling is store-bought. Cookie cutters come in music notes or instrument shapes; an amusing choice that hits the perfect note.

3/4 cup almonds
3/4 cup hazelnuts
1/4 cup sugar, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Zest of 1 lemon
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
3/4 cup, 1 1/2 sticks, unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup best quality raspberry or red currant preserves
Confectioners’ sugar, optional

In a food processor, combine the almonds and hazelnuts and process until finely ground. Heat the ground nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat until lightly toasted. Allow to cool, and return them to the processor. Add the sugar, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, allspice cloves and zest and pulse until well combined.

Slowly add the flour, pulsing until incorporated. Add 2 of the eggs and the butter, pulsing until well combined. Beat the remaining egg in a bowl and reserve. The dough will be crumbly.

Refrigerate the dough, covered with plastic, for at least 4 hours or place in the freezer for 1 hour, until very firm.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 10-inch square baking pan. 

Press 3/4 of the dough onto the prepared pan. Spread evenly with the jam, extending the jam to the edges of the pan.

Press the remaining dough 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured surface and, using an assortment of small sized cookie cutters, cut out as many topping shapes as possible. Re-roll scraps and cut out more symbols.

Arrange the topping shapes in about 18 2-inch serving sized clusters over the jam and carefully brush them with egg. Sprinkle the shapes with granulated sugar and bake for about 35 minutes, or until light golden. Cool in pan on a rack and cut into about 18 sections.

Top with confectioners’ sugar, if using.

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Posted by Scott Baldinger on 11/02/13 at 10:19 AM • Permalink