An Operatic Feast
A vintage cookbook of menus inspired by performances at the Santa Fe Opera
It's opera season in Santa Fe, and what better time to stumble across a vintage treasure while winnowing down my cookbook collection —"Cooking with the Santa Fe Opera”, by the Santa Fe Opera Guild, (Sunstone Press; 1983). The collection of recipes, menus and culinary ideas was put together by the members of Santa Fe Opera Guild Board of Directors with input from New Mexico Opera Guild members as well as Santa Fe Opera performers, technicians and staff.
Recipes like Yakitori (“Madame Butterfly”), Game Hens with Rosemary and Garlic (“La Grande Duchesse Garolstein”) and Baklava Damascus (“The Rake's Progress”) are paired with an opera that's been performed in Santa Fe over the decades. In addition to menus, each chapter also includes information about each opera's debut as well as a detailed synopsis.
“Madame Butterfly” was, in fact, the first performance at the Santa Fe Opera, in 1957. Thus, the book opens with a menu of Cio Cio San's Delicacies, accompanied by info about 1904 the debut date of Puccini's famous opera. The menus include recipes for Yakitori, Chai-Su, Sashimi and Mochi Cakes. Verdi's “La Traviata” features an Italian menu composed of Chicken Tetrazzini, Veal Scaloppine and Rigatoni alla Frank (seriously!). Traveling along the Rhine,, a chapter on Strauss's “Die Liebe der Danae” offers a German menu of Bratwurst in Beer and Pork Chops & Sauerkrat, Cabbage Casserole, Dumpling Floats and Beer Bread. The very British menu for Britten's “Owen Wingrave” includes Scotch Eggs, Steak & Kidney Pie, Bubble & Squeak, Yorkshire Pudding and Trifle.
Thumbing through the book, I came across an opera I'd never heard of with text by Gertrude Stein, “The Mother of Us All,” about the life of the women's rights activist Susan B. Anthony which premiered in New York in 1947 and was first performed in Santa Fe in 1976. The menu for this opera reflects Anthony's New England and Quaker background, with Mock Beef Wellington, Crab Cheddar Chowder and Grasshopper Pie.
The book concludes with a chapter of regional recipes devoted to Backstage at the Santa Fe Opera, including Tamale Pie, New Mexican Grits, Chile Rellenos Casserole and Natillas. This chapter “represents those recipes which are served most often by Santa Fe hostesses known for their high standards of entertaining and for their abilities to utilize local ingredients,” the editors wrote in their introduction. How interesting that back in the early '80s, there was a focus on locally sourced foods!
“Cooking with the Santa Fe Opera” is a perfect fit for Santa Fe opera lovers, who have long gathered to feast before the performance in tailgates held in the opera parking lot, surrounded by gorgeous mountain and sunset views. Dressed in tuxedos and gowns, or jeans and cowboy boots, people bring impressive spreads of gourmet fare to be enjoyed on linen tablecloths with fine silver and candlesticks or on fold-out chairs perched in the back of pick-up trucks.
Food, in fact, has long been associated with the opera. Chefs once created dishes that honored famous singers, including Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba, who was in London performing at Covent Garden when, dining at the Savoy Hotel, French chef Georges-Auguste Escoffier created a Peach Melba, a dessert combining“Melba” toast, peaches, vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce and garnished with chopped pistachios.
Other opera stars with immortal dishes named in their honor include Italian soprano Luisa Tetrazzini, of the turkey and noodle casserole and Italian tenor Enrico Caruso who loved chicken livers so much that several dishes were invented and named after him.
Operas themselves prominently feature food and drink, from drinking choruses and songs to Rossini's “L'Italiana in Algeri,” in which the heroine stuffs her captor with spaghetti to distract him so she can escape. Perhaps the best known opera tradition related to food is the European “souper,” a feast that takes place after the performance with the musicians and audience members. The meal includes boiled shrimp with , smoked fish, risotto or pasta with truffles and cheese, boiled beef and cakes, all accompanied by lots of sparkling wine and beer. Opera fans will recognize the souper from the second act of Strauss's “Die Fledeermaus, where party guests dine, dance, drink and sing the praises of champagne.
Here are a few recipes from “Cooking with the Santa Fe Opera” to get you in the mood for the Santa Fe Opera's Summer Season, with performances of “Carmen,” “Don Pasquale,” “Fidelio,” “The Impresario & Le Rossignol” and “Dr. Sun Yat-sen.” It's a perfect menu for a tailgate pre-performance dinner in the parking lot of the Santa Fe Opera.
Gazpacho (Villa-Lobos's “For Love of Yerma;” Serves 6)
1 green pepper
2-3 garlic cloves
2 pieces fresh bread
Salt, to taste
½ cup vinegar
Dash of olive oil
1 small cucumber, peeled
In blender, mix tomatoes, ½ green pepper, garlic, bread, salt, vinegar and olive oil. Chop remaining ½ green pepper, shallots and cucumber and stir into mixture. Chill. Serve with croutons.
Shrimp in Tarragon Cream (From Offenbach's “La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein; Serves 8)
2 pounds raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 tablespoons butter
2 shallots, minced
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
¼ cup cognac
½ teaspoon tarragon
½ cup whipping cream
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
¼ teaspoon paprika
Melt butter and add shallots, stirring over medium heat until transparent. Stir in shrimp and continue to stir until they turn pink. Heat and flame cognac in small pan and pour over shrimp, shaking the shrimp in the pan until the flame goes out. Stir in tarragon, cream, tomatoes, salt, pepper and paprika.
Place mixture into shallow baking dish and broil for about 5 minutes, until lightly browned and serve.
Linguine with Clam Sauce (Verdi's “La Traviata”; Serves 4)
½ cup butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 6-ounce cans minced clams
¼ cup fresh parsley, minced
¼ teaspoon basil
¼ teaspoon pepper
16 ounces linguine, cooked and drained
Salt, to taste
Drain clams, reserving liquid, and set aside. Melt butter in medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add garlic and saute until golden. Stir in parsley, oregano, basil, pepper and reserved clam juice. Cook over high heat until mixtures comes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Add clams and cook until heated. Serve over linguine.
Dried Figs Stuffed with Chocolate & Almonds (Villa-Lobos's “For Love of Yerma;” Yields 12)
12 large dried figs
½ ounce semisweet chocolate, finely gated
¼ cup plus 12 blanched almonds
1 teaspoon ground cloves
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Toast almonds on cookie sheet for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Set 12 almonds aside and crush the rest in a blender.
Cut stems off figs. Make a half-inch depression in the stem end of each fig, using a small spoon. Mix crushed almonds, cloves and chocolate and fill each fig with 1 teaspoon of mixture. Pinch figs closed. Arrange, stem side up. On ungreased cookie sheet and bake on middle rack for 5 minutes. Turns figs over and bake an additional 5 minutes.
Press a toasted almond gently but firmly into opening of each gif and serve. Excellent with sherry or port.