A Night at the Opera

Gourmet fare for tailgating – read more. . .

The Santa Fe Opera kicks off its 59th annual season this Friday, July 3, with Daughter of the Regiment, Italian composer Giacomo Puccini's Gallic romp set in the Swiss Tyrolean mountains in the early 19th century.

This is Santa Fe's biggest tailgating party of the year, as opening night opera-goers don their finest tuxedos and gowns—or denim and cowboy boots, depending on your flair for fashion—and pack up their vehicles with portable gourmet fare served on linen tablecloths with fine silver, crystal stemware, candelabras and the best bubbly available.

It's a longstanding tradition, this opera tailgate, with the dramatic backdrop of the Sangre de Cristos, the stunning sunsets and the conviviality of longtime friends congregating on the tarmac, serving food from the back of their SUVs, open-top convertibles and even in the beds of pick-up trucks, seated on hay bales.

So what's the best food to bring for this opening night soiree? Since the opera, set during the Napoleonic Wars, tells the tale of a young tomboy abandoned on a battlefield and raised by French soldiers, who grows up to fall in love with a French soldier, why not begin with the classic French cocktail, the Kir Royale? Susan's Fine Wine and Spirits is Santa Fe's best resource for these ingredients. They recommend New Mexico's Gruet Winery's award-winning, budget-friendly sparkling wines and offer a selection of five differnt cassis to satisfy your taste.

Kir Royale (Serves 2)

12 ounces champagne, chilled
1 ounce crème de cassis

Combine half of both ingredients in a champagne glass and serve.

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Daughter of the Regiment is set in the region of the Swiss Tyrol mountains, so rösti, a traditional Swiss dish of grated, deep-fried potato cakes served with smoked salmon, sour cream or braised cabbage makes the perfect entree. You can make it home and pack it up so it stays warm, or bring a small, battery-operated chafing tray so you can heat it up as you're tailgating.

Rösti (Serves 4–6; from Bon Appetit)

4 slices thick-cut smoked bacon (4 ounces), chopped
6 scallions, chopped, with dark green portions set aside
Olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled
1 teaspoon smoked salt or kosher salt plus more
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cook bacon in small skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until bacon starts to brown, about 5 minutes. Add white part of scallions to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until bacon is crisp and scallions are soft, about 4–5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon mixture to a paper towel-lined plate.

Pour bacon fat into small bowl. Add enough olive oil to bowl to measure 3 tablespoons total. Add butter.

Place 2 tablespoons of fat mixture in skillet. Pour 2 tablespoons into separate bowl and add bacon mixture. Reserve remaining 2 tablespoons in small bowl.

Coarsely grate potatoes into a large bowl. Working in batches, squeeze potatoes with your hands to release liquid and transfer to another large bowl. Add the reserved bacon mixture, 1 tablespoon salt, and pepper and toss to evenly distribute.

Heat reserved skillet over medium-low heat. Scrape potato mixture into hot skillet, pressing with a spatula into an even layer. Tent with foil and cook for 10 minutes, rotating skillet frequently to avoid hot spots. Remove foil and cook rösti until bottom is golden brown, about 5 minutes longer. Run a spatula around sides and underneath rösti. Invert a large plate over skillet. Using oven mitts, carefully flip rösti onto plate.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons fat in skillet. Slide rösti back in, browned side up. Tent with foil and cook for 5 minutes. Uncover and cook until browned on bottom and potatoes are cooked through, about 10 minutes. Carefully run spatula around sides and underneath rösti and slide onto a serving plate. Sprinkle with reserved scallions and season with more salt, if desired.

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A delicious French cherry clafoutis will bring a sweet ending note to your dinner before the curtain call of the 2015 season of the Santa Fe Opera.

Julie Child's Cherry Clafoutis (Serves 6–8)

1 ¼ cups milk
2/3 cup sugar, divided
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ cup flour
3 cups cherries, pitted
Powdered sugar, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a blender, combine milk, 1/3 cup sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt and flour, and blend.

Lightly butter 8-cup baking dish, and pour a 1/4-inch layer of the blended mixture over the bottom. Set remaining batter aside.

Place dish in oven for 7–10 minutes, until a film of batter sets in pan but the mixture is not baked through. Remove from oven, but leave oven on.

Scatter pitted cherries over the set batter in the pan, then sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Pour the remaining batter over the cherries and sugar.

Bake in preheated oven for 45–60 minutes, until clafoutis is puffed and brown and a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm.

Photo: Robert Godwin

Read more Opera tailgating how-to's by clicking this link.

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