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Food to Accompany the Opera
Dining with Tosca

Recipes below: Salad Puntarelle and
Spaghetti with Young Sheep Cheese and Black Pepper

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THE SETTING OF TOSCA IN ROME opens up so many gastronomic possibilities! No Italian opera singer would discount the importance of food in Italian opera. In the case of Tosca, it's fun to speculate about what the characters were actually eating.

The Lunch Basket
Tosca's lover, Cavaradossi, had a basket lunch brought to him by the church sacristan. Probably this lunch was not very different from what is eaten in Rome today. It would have had a loaf of bread - probably white, as Cavaradossi was a nobleman (peasants ate dark bread, the well-to-do ate white); a local sheep cheese, like the Cacio di Roma or Sini Fulvi Pastore that we can find today. No doubt there would have been a farm-cured salami and a jug of wine - possibly a white from Orvieto.

Scarpia's Dinner
Now to what Scarpia was eating on that fateful night. As the police chief of Rome, he would have eaten in the style of Roman nobility. Since it was evening, his dinner was a lighter version of the main meal of the day eaten at mid-afternoon.

As today, food was status for people like Scarpia. His dinner earlier in the day would probably have begun with a tray of artfully arranged small appetizers like prosciutto wrapped in colorful marzipan, savory tartlets of nuts and greens, and small fritters of sweetbreads or, perhaps, oysters. A soup would follow this course - possibly a capon broth with tiny ravioli floating in it, their filling consisting of breast of capon, cheese, cinnamon, nutmeg, marrow, and herbs. Then there would be either a roasted whole fish stuffed with truffles or, perhaps, hare cooked in a pungent sweet/sour sauce of black pepper, sugar, vinegar, nuts, fruits, and red wine. Once this dish was removed, the servants would present a large silver platter with a whole baby lamb roasted and turned on a spit over an open fire until glazed to a mahogany brown. The tender meat would have been laced with strips of prosciutto and basted with wine and herbs. For dessert, Scarpia probably had trays of tiny cookies and fanciful marzipan and, perhaps, an elaborate molded frozen dessert layering cake and iced cream. When Tosca enters I've always imagined that Scarpia was just finishing the dessert. That Spanish wine referred to might have been a sweet one - possibly a dark golden and rich Oloroso Sherry.

Modern Menu and Suggested Wines
For a modern menu from Rome to celebrate Tosca, try the classic Roman Salad Puntarelle followed by a rustic Roman pasta dish, Spaghetti a Cacio e Pepe (spaghetti with sheep cheese and black pepper). If you like, a butterflied leg of lamb flavored with garlic, olive oil, and fresh rosemary cooked on the grill or under the broiler could follow the pasta. Dessert should be a fresh fruit tart and a Marsala for sipping. For the wines, this is a red wine meal if there ever was one, but to begin with pour an aperitif of iced Frascati, the tart simple white loved by Romans. With the pasta, drink a Fiorano Rosso, Velletri Rosso, or Bombino Nero.

Roman Salad Puntarelle
Copyright 1998 by Lynne Rossetto Kasper
Serves 4 to 6 as antipasto

1 large head escarole
2 heads Belgian endive
Ice water
2 salted anchovies, or 3 oil-packed filets
1 large clove garlic
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1. Use about half of the escarole, only the pale inner leaves trimmed of their dark green tops (reserve the tops for other dishes). Cut into long thin strips. Repeat with the Belgian endive. Place greens in ice water and refrigerate for 2 hours. Drain and spin until totally dry.
  2. Bone salted anchovies by opening up like a book, lifting out the spine and bones in one piece. Trim away tail and any fins, then rinse under cold running water. For oil-packed anchovies, simply rinse.
  3. With a mortar and pestle or using the handle of a knife and a small bowl, mash garlic and anchovies to a paste. Blend in vinegar and let stand 5 minutes.
  4. Toss the anchovy mixture with the greens, adding olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Spaghetti with Young Sheep Cheese and Black Pepper
Copyright 1998 by Lynne Rossetto Kasper
Serves 4 to 6

One-half pound young sheep cheese such as Cacio di Roma, Sini Fulvi Pastore, Pecorino Toscana or domestic Fontinella, shredded
Freshly ground black pepper
6 quarts boiling salted water
1 pound imported Italian spaghetti
  1. Have the cheese and pepper handy. Warm a deep serving bowl and soup bowls in a low oven.
  2. Cook the pasta until barely tender in the boiling salted water. Drain immediately in a colander only long enough to rid the pasta of most of its water.
  3. Turn the pasta into the warmed serving bowl and toss with the cheese, pepper, and salt to taste. Serve immediately.

Some Roman cooks like to rub the hot serving bowl with a split clove of garlic before adding the pasta.

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