Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Taste of Music.

Today, December 22nd …

The composer Giacomo Puccini was born on this day in 1858. Every Christmas he had panettone baked and sent to friends. One year he quarreled with Toscanini and tried to cancel the order, but it was too late and the cake had already been delivered. He sent a telegram to Toscanini saying “Panettone sent by mistake”, to which the reply came “Panettone eaten by mistake.”

The first opera (Euridice) for which the music has survived was written in 1600 for the wedding of Henry IV of France and Marie de Medici at the Pitti Palace in Florence. Classical dishes and fine dining have kept their association with opera ever since.

There was a vogue in the nineteenth century for naming dishes in honour of celebrities and special events, and opera provided plenty. Should you be so inclined, a complete meal could be made on the theme of Aida (salad, turbot, bombe), or Tosca, or Carmen, for example.

Strangely, there does not seem to be a dish named in honour of Puccini himself, although there is a recipe for “Oeufs poche Manon”. Rossini (a passionate gourmand) wins in the composer stakes with, among others, Tournedos, an Escalope de foie gras, and a dish of partridge breast. Verdi has a chicken breast dish, and another was created for Berlioz for the opening night of “Benvenuto Cellini” in 1838. Performers are not left out: we have Peach Melba and Melba toast, “Chicken Tetrazzini” (for Luisa) and “Coupe Adelina Patti”. There are many more!

Puccini was was born in Lucca, in Tuscany, the home of magnificent beans and superb olive oil. His heritage shows in this letter written to his publisher, Giulio Ricordi in 1895:

“ … you will receive some beans; they are oustanding, and this is how you cook them: put them into a pan of cold water (you must get the quantity right, not too much and not too little) and simmer them for two hours over a low flame so that when they are cooked there are only two or three spoonfuls of broth left - that's why you must be careful about the quantity of water.N.B. When you put them in the water add four or five sage leaves, two or three whole bulbs of garlic, salt and pepper and when they (the beans) are half done add a bit of oil to boil with it.

Tomorrow: Keeping cool over the Christmas Ham.

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