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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 7, No. 2

Tournedos Rossini

by Lucie Renaud / October 1, 2001

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La Scena musicale, the musical table, reveals the big and small stories behind some of the legendary culinary creations associated with classical music.Try them at home!

More than any other composer Giacchino Rossini—who was born on a February 29th and died on a Friday the 13th!–represents the perfect harmony between music and culinary delights. If his musical talents had not been so great, Rossini would probably have dedicated his life to high cuisine. All of the Italian composers biographies which sometimes border on legend more than on true history, mention a gargantuan quantity of culinary anecdotes. They say that when young Rossini was an altar boy he really developed a liking for mass wine. Other sources mention how, on the night of the première of the Barber of Seville, the composer cut short the post-concert congratulations to plunge into a fiery description of a salad which naturally became an ensalada alla Rossini. Stendhal says in his biography that the “Di tanti palpti” aria from the opera Tancreda became known throughout Europe as the “Rice aria” because Rossini is said to have composed it while waiting for a portion of risotto in a Venice restaurant. The aria “Nacqui all’affanno et al pianto” from the opera Cinderella, was composed in similar circumstances in Rome. By the end of his life, he also composed some little known piano pieces entitled Radishes, Anchovy, Pickles, Butter, Dry Figs, Almonds Raisins and Hazelnuts. Respighi later orchestrated some of them for his ballet La boutique fantasque.

During the years Rossini spent in Paris, he became not only the most famous musician of his day but also a friend of Antonin Carême, a celebrated chef at the time, who mentioned that Rossini was the only being who really understood him. Carême would send Rossini a pâté to Bologna and the latter in return would write arias for him. The composer’s favourite dish, very popular, at the time, seems to have been turkey stuffed with truffles. Legend has it that Rossini shed tears only three times in his life: the first time after the fiasco of his first opera; the second when he heard Niccolo Paganini play the violin and the third when a picnic basket containing turkey stuffed with truffles unfortunately fell overboard during a boat trip.

A great lover of fine foods and rare wines, (his wine cellar was legendary), he had his regular table at the Tour d’Argent, Bonfinger’s, the Café des Anglais, Lucas et Marguerite and the Maison Dorée whose chef Casimir Moisson is said to have dedicated his now legendary creation of tournedos to the composer. When patronizing these select places Rossini would shake the hands of the maître d, the wine waiter and the waiter. He would then go to the kitchen to shake the chef’s hand before finally sitting down at his table. Other than this Tournedos recipe, a number of other culinary creations were named after Rossini: poached eggs, chicken, fillet of sole, and cannelloni were thus covered in Rossini sauce ( a mix of foie gras, truffles and demi-glace sauce). The pasticcini, little cakes, were inspired by the famous Figaro, and an apple pie was served, at the creation in 1829 of William Tell, topped, of course, with a sugar apple pierced by an arrow. Why not complete your kingly banquet with such a dessert?

The recipe (for 4 people)

  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 4 slices of foie gras (duck or goose) approximately 80g each
  • 4 slices of white bread, without the crust, toasted,
  • of the same size as the meat
  • 4 beef tournedos
  • 1 table spoon of olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • 1/2 cup of brown demi-glace sauce
    (your own recipe or see below)
  • 2 sliced truffles (for those who can afford it)
    or mushrooms of your choice
  • In a hot frying pan mix the butter and the oil; season the tournedos with salt and
    pepper and fry rapidly to seal.
  • In another stickfree pan, rapidly fry the slices of duck liver, and place on
    absorbent paper.
  • Braise the truffles (if you use them) in a little butter with a spoonful of Madeira wine.
    Add the brown sauce and let simmer for approximately three minutes. Keep hot.
  • Brown Sauce: In the pan, deglaze the meat with three drops of Port, two of brandy two
    of Madeira and three ounces of veal stock. Allow to reduce.
  • Prepare the plates by placing the tournedos with the slice of fois gras and the truffles
    on top, on a slice of bread. Cover everything in sauce. Serve immediately.
  • [Translated by Alexandre Lebedeff]

    Version française...

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