A Culinary Duet: 'The Opera Lover's Cookbook' For centuries, an evening of dinner and the opera has been a popular combination. Food historian Francine Segan celebrates this combination with a new book of recipes inspired by beloved arias, overtures and composers.
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A Culinary Duet: 'The Opera Lover's Cookbook'

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A Culinary Duet: 'The Opera Lover's Cookbook'

A Culinary Duet: 'The Opera Lover's Cookbook'

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Let's see. In The Opera Lover's Cookbook you can find recipes for Faust Potion, Falstaff's Fig, and Prostitute Penne, also Nabucco, and Isolde's Marzipan Kisses. Francine Segan is the culinary historian and food writer behind this extravagant production - a glossy rich volume of meals inspired by the operatic greats. For this week's food moment we went to her apartment on Park Avenue where she explained how, growing up in Brooklyn, she came by her love of food and opera, naturally.

Ms. FRANCINE SEGAN (Culinary Historian): I'm Italian American and my grandmother, who was the matriarch of the family, always played opera in the background. It was one of those very typical Italian American families where on Sunday my grandmother would prepare food for all her children and all her children's children. I mean the Sunday food thing was like a five-day-a-week sort of event. It started Tuesday, she'd prepare for the Sunday; this was every week. And she'd be playing music and so that was a big start and I think a big reason why I kind of always associated opera and food, although Italians kind of associate food with everything.

LYDEN: Well, the Met has opened its fall season with Madame Butterfly and Anthony Minghella's production, and we are going to ask you to cook for us from your cookbook some of your Puccini inspired recipes.

Ms. SEGAN: It's going to be my pleasure.

LYDEN: Okay. Let's cook.

Ms. SEGAN: Okay. And in fact the coincidence is, I'm going to see it tonight. Jacki, would you - would you like an apron...


Ms. SEGAN: ...or would you like, like a smock?

LYDEN: Either one.

Ms. SEGAN: Okay.

LYDEN: I mean just something.

Ms. SEGAN: So this recipe that we're going to make is a pasta dish for Il Trittico, Puccini's three one act operas, and it's got three main ingredients and that's it - apricots, oranges and almonds.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. SEGAN: And it will be cooked before the pasta boils - the sauce will be pre-cooked. So what I'm going to do - it's so quick - is I'm going to show you one of my tricks.

LYDEN: Okay.

Ms. SEGAN: What I like to do is divide up the water. So I put some water in a tea kettle.

LYDEN: Okay. Which of course goes very quickly.

Ms. SEGAN: And then just some water in the pot. And then by the time that's boiling, my sauce will be ready. Now, what I'm doing is putting on gloves, because I'm going to see the opera tonight and I don't want to smell of onions. And these are wonderful little surgical gloves...

LYDEN: Okay.

Ms. SEGAN: ...that I get in a big, big box - 1,000 for like $8. So just take a nice purple onion and I'm slicing it and we're going to sauté it in a frying pan with a little bit of butter and a drop of oil.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. SEGAN: Il Trittico is three one act operas which are loosely tied together. I saw a connection. Just like with this dish, the base is an onion and you sort of get teary with an onion, and the base of all those three-one act plays has a sadness, has a depth. And so it kind of just made me remember this dish. The three main ingredients, the kind of starting out with the onions, the teariness, but yet sweet and wonderful at the end.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. SEGAN: And then the other two main ingredients, really simple, are just some apricots...

LYDEN: I love apricots.

Ms. SEGAN: ...and you can use dried or you can use fresh if they're in season. So we've got some wonderful red onion, which adds a nice color to this dish. You're going to see the beautiful red onion and then the pretty oranges of the apricots and of the candied orange peel. And then all we do is just bring this to a nice caramelized sort of mushiness.

LYDEN: Now you're cutting up candied orange peel.

Ms. SEGAN: I'm cutting candied orange peel to add a little bit of crunchy sweetness. Then I want to keep with the flavors of the orange and so I want to add just a little Cointreau, which is an orange liqueur.

(Soundbite of sizzling)

Ms. SEGAN: That's fine if it catches fire. It just means that the - because you'll burn off the alcohol like this just right now.

LYDEN: And you - I can say you added your Cointreau with quite a flourish. And there's probably...

Ms. SEGAN: Oh, I think I'd like even more.

LYDEN: ...a half a cup of that...

Ms. SEGAN: A half a cup of Cointreau.

LYDEN: ...I would say.

Ms. SEGAN: And now we'll add a little bit of fresh orange juice and your sauce is done.

(Soundbite of music)


Ms. SEGAN: Then I'll turn it off. The pasta is ready. Now what we do is just drain it and then toss it with that simple, simple sauce, and then the fun is just a last little few things that we top it with. We're going to put nice almonds and then we'll put shaved parmesan, which I'm just using a vegetable peeler, and then I just need that nutmeg grater, if you don't mind. And we put a little bit of freshly grated nutmeg, which just falls down like just lovely light snow. Since we - we might as well give a little, just a little bit of zest. Now we're done.

LYDEN: That is beautiful.

Ms. SEGAN: That's our Il Trittico pasta. Well, we better eat while it's hot. Bon appetit.

LYDEN: Mmm. Mmm. This is heavenly.

(Soundbite of music)

LYDEN: Grazie, grazie, grazie so much for having us here today.

Ms. SEGAN: Thank you for coming and enjoying.

LYDEN: Francine Segan, author of Opera Lover's Cookbook.

(Soundbite of music)

LYDEN: Getting inspired? It's good. The recipe is at npr.org. And join us tomorrow as we get behind the scenes of the Metropolitan Opera's latest production of Madame Butterfly. And that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Ciao. I'm Jacki Lyden.

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