Saturday, February 17, 2007

Sing for Your Supper:

Lincoln Center is a cultural crossroads in New York City – ballet, theater, symphony, dance, and of course some of the greatest opera stages and singers in the world.

I meet up with my friend Lee Sloan – a Grande Dame of the New York food and wine scene – at the Barnes and Noble on Broadway and 66th. The neighborhood is covered in a blanket of snow, and Lee is wrapped from head to foot to protect against the sub-zero temperatures. Lee is patron of the arts and a class act all the way. Who better to join me for an homage to world-class opera and food?

We ascend to an upper floor where food historian Francine Segan has taken center stage to discuss her new Opera Lover’s Cookbook, a lush tome dedicated to great composers, librettos, arias and fine dining. Segan is a witty and elegant lady who has a passion for food and the arts. She has written several fascinating cook books on Shakespeare’s Kitchen, The Philosopher’s Kitchen and Movie Menus.

At the podium is one of Segan’s opera-inspired dishes – a Verdi Penne Pasta. Lee and I each take a helping and play one of our favorite parlor games, “Guess the Ingredient.” Is it caramelized onion? Is it orange zest? In fact, it is fig! The pasta is tossed with wine-soaked figs that are deliciously sweet and contrast nicely with salty prosciutto from Verdi’s birthplace of Parma in Italy.

Segan says the opera lover and the gourmet each share a similar ardor for the good things in life and food and opera is a natural pairing. She serves us a buffet of scrumptious trivia. In times past, snacking was encouraged at the opera, to the point where silk gloves were customized with buttons allowing women to easily remove their hand to pick up food. Sorbet was a popular refreshment and sorbet areas were common at the opera. Opera singers have been immortalized through food. The famous Thanksgiving leftover dish, Turkey Tetrazzini, was named for Italian soprano Louisa Tetrazzini, and Melba Toast and Peach Melba were created by the renown chef Escoffier to honor singer Nellie Melba. Mozart was born in Austria, the dessert capital of the world, and there are many famous references to food in his operas including a sensual pasta scene in Don Giovanni. Many instantly-recognized opera arias are actually “toasting arias” and much bubbly is consumed at a party scene during the “Champagne Aria’ in Don Giovanni.

Segan even offers recommendations for opera scores to cook by, inspired by her grandmother, who thought the beat of Rossini was particularly good for whisking mayonnaise. So pull out your wire whisk and pop on that CD of Barber of Seville. It’s sure to inspire a great performance in the kitchen!

© 2007 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

Patricia Scarpin said...


I saw this book this morning! What a coincidence!

I didn't get to go through it but I was so curious because of the beautiful dessert on the cover.