Rossini on Food
Symphony of Tastes
Had Rossini not been the composer he was, History, no doubt, would
have ranked him one of the greatest gastronomes of the 19th Century.
Alessandro Falassi reports.
"Drama, drama, drama! An
Italian meal is like an opera," once wrote the well-known gastronome,
Waverley Root, refering to the clashing plates and clinking glasses
ringing out notes rather like a composer might have placed them. For him,
Gioacchino Rossini was the greatest example of a man "who could have
become a celebrated gourmet if only his musical genius had not eclipsed
his gastronomic talents." Biographies of Rossini, half fact and half
legend, abound in gastronomical anecdotes.
When Rossini was a young boy,
biographers recall, he enjoyed the taste of the wine served at Mass.
Elsewhere, it is recorded that the young musician raced through his
account of the opening night of the Barber of Seville, to plunge into a
detailed and lengthy description of a new recipe for a salad which,
naturally, became Salad alla Rossini. In his biography of the Maestro,
Stendhal wrote that the aria of Tancredi, "Di Tanti Palpiti,"
known thoughout Europe, was not only the most popular opera aria of its
time, but was familiarly refered to as the "rice aria" because
Rossini composed it while waiting for his risotto to cook one day in
Similarly, Rossini is supposed
to have dashed off the aria, "Nacqui all'Affanno e al Pianto,"
in Cinderella, in little more than a quarter of an hour on the corner of a
table in a tavern in Rome, while surrounded by friends drinking and making
During the years the Maestro
spent in Paris, he became the most acclaimed musician of his time.
Biographers tell of his friendship with Antonin Carême, the culinary
genius of the century, who spoke of Rossini as "the only one who has
truly understood me." For many years, the two men exchanged tokens of
their respect for the other's art. "I would go to America, Maestro,
but only if you accompany me", Rossini would say. Carême would
send a game pâté to Rossini in Bologna, and Rossini would
respond by writing a short aria for Carême. In Paris, Rossini never
missed an opportunity to savour turkey stuffed with truffles, which,
according to the testimony of Brillat-Savarin, was the rage at the time.
Once, Rossini won a bet which
entitled him to a turkey stuffed with truffles. The bet was not honoured,
and in response to the continual requests of the Maestro, the loser
excused himself by claiming that the season was poor and first quality
truffles were just not to be found. "Nonsense, nonsense",
blurted Rossini, "those are just false rumours circulated by turkeys
that don't want to be stuffed!"
According to another anecdote,
Rossini claims to have wept only three times in his life: the first time
over the fiasco of his first opera, the second when he heard Niccolò
Paganini play the violin, and finally, when the picnic lunch, a turkey
stuffed with truffles, fell overboard on a day's outing on a boat.
The invention of the famous
Tournedos Rossini has become a legend. It is said to have occurred at the
Café Anglais in Paris. The story goes that Rossini insisted upon
overseeing the preparation of his meal and obliged the chef to prepare it
in front of him in the dining-room next to his table. When the chef
finally objected to this constant interference, the Maestro replied, "Et
alors, tournez le dos." or "So, turn your back." And that
is how this savoury dish got its name!
There are other versions as to
how the Tournedos got its name, but it is true that Rossini gave his to
many gastronomic preparations. Great chefs dedicated many dishes to him,
such as Poached Eggs alla Rossini, Chicken alla Rossini, and Fillet of
Sole alla Rossini. Dedicated to Figaro, his immortal personage, was a type
of extra- fine pastries or "pasticcini". Dedicated to his opera,
William Tell, was a tart served on the occasion of the opera's 1829 Paris
opening night; naturally, it was an apple tart decorated with an apple
transpierced by a sugar arrow alongside a sugar crossbow.
The famous book of recipes
written by Escoffier, which has become a culinary bible of modern cuisine,
contains so many recipes dedicated to the Maestro that they could complete
an entire menu. Many of the recipes have passed into the high spheres of
French cuisine, and from there into world-class international cuisine.
Tradition says that the Maestro also created several recipes, including
Beef Marrow Risotto, which is still prepared in his native Marches, and
the famous Cannelloni alla Rossini, stuffed with truffles and foie gras.
Nineteenth century Paris caricaturists frequently depicted Rossini with
the silver pastry-tube or syringe he used to prepare favorite dishes
served to guests during his musical-gastronomical evenings at his house in
the Chaussée d'Antin or at his villa in Passy.
Many savoury gastronomical and
culinary references can be found in Rossini's musical compositions, where
he often contrasted the abundance of the rich with the hunger of the poor.
In Cinderella, Don Magnifico dreams of gastronomic grandeur as he
anticipates the fruits of the marriage between the prince and his
daughter. He sings:
|"Sarò zeppo e contornato
||"I will have lots
|di memorie e petizioni
||of memories and petitions
|di galline e di storioni
||of hens and sturgeons
|di bottiglie di broccati
||of bottles and brocades
|di candele e marinati
||of candles and marinades
|di ciambelle e pasticcetti
||of buns and cakes
|di canditi e di confetti
||of candied fruits and sweets
|di piastroni, di dobloni
||of slabs and doubloons
|di vaniglia e di caffé."
||of vanilla and coffee."
Gastronomical quotations and
feasting frequently appear in Rossini's operas, from L'Italiana in Algeri
to La Cambiale di Matrimonio, from Il viaggio a Reims to Ciro in
Babilonia, to little known unpublished operas left by the Maestro such as
Péchés de Vieillesse (sins of old age), in which there is a
collection of piano pieces collectively called "Hors d'oeuvre"
(radishes, gherkins, anchovies, butter), and four dry fruit desserts
(figs, raisins, almonds, hazelnuts), and even a small German cake.
Rossini was a gastronome of
many tastes. He appreciated the original cuisine of his native Marches,
Italian cuisine, French cuisine, and international cuisine. From each one,
he chose what suited his discriminating cosmopolitan taste: he would
receive olives from Ascoli, Italian truffles, panettone from Milan,
stracchini from Lombardy, zampones from Modena, mortadella and cappelli
del prete from Italy, ham from Seville, Stilton cheeses from England,
nougat from Marseille, and finally, royal sardines, which his friends
would compete among themselves to send him.
Rossini's taste for wine was
also very wide-ranging. His wine cellar contained everything, from his
personally bottled wine from the Canary Islands to bottles of Bordeaux,
from the Johannesburg white wine that Metternich would send him to Malaga,
to bottles of rare Madeira, from bottles of Marsala to Port from the Royal
Household that the King of Portugal, who was a fanatic admirer, sent him.
It is said that in 1864 his friend, Rothschild, sent him grapes from his
vineyard. Rossini responded with amiable irony, that he thanked him, but
that he did not care too much for "wine shaped like pills,"
quoted Brillat-Savarin. Rothschild took the hint and sent him a barrel of
his best Chateau Laffitte. During a well-known improvised toast, Rossini
is reported to have born tribute to the Malvasia he would drink with
dessert, by calling it "angelic harmony" and "shimmering
Rossini's spirit in the world
of gastronomy remains alive and vivacious as ever. Pesaro, his native
city, honours him each summer with an excellent festival. For the
occasion, the leading restaurants, "Lo Scudiero" and "Luigi's"
offer Rossinian dishes adjusted to our contemporary tastes.
Nowadays, one finds Rossini's
cuisine in every corner of the world. In Salonika you might order Soup
alla Rossini, made of mashed vegetables perfumed with dill. In Barcelona,
Cannelloni alla Rossini has returned to Spain after being elaborated in
Argentina. At "San Domenico's" in New York, you will find the
latest version of Tournedos alla Rossini, made with roe-deer meat posed on
a delicate corn canapé. In "The Pazzia" of Los Angeles,
the Fillet of Sole alla Rossini harmonizes with the new Californian
cuisine. At the legendary "Raffles" of Singapore, where the
Singapore Sling was invented, they propose a remarkable Pheasant Suprême
alla Rossini. In Tokyo, the "New Otani" offers an Asian
Tournedos and the "Porto" serves a Risotto alla Rossini executed
in strict Italian style. The Maestro has also left his mark on the new
mass cuisine, where the new and daring Rossini Pizza with eggs and
mayonnaise originated in Pesaro, but now there is a Californian version of
it with seven different toppings. You will find the pizza at "Rossini's"
in Los Angeles. Gastronomes still turn to the cuisine that carries the
name of the Maestro.
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