Gioachino Rossini was born in 1792, just a few months after Mozart’s death, in Pesaro. HIs father was the town’s horn player and his mother was a singer. He entered Bologna Conservatory in 1806 and by 1813, when he was 21, he had written 10 operas, all of which had been staged in northern Italy. in 1813, he wrote Tancredi, his first important opera seria. He was the first composer to write opera without recitative, so creating an uninterrupted flow of music. He went on to write for theatres in Milan, Venice, Rome, and Naples and in 1824 he moved to Paris, where he wrote five further operas, culminating in William Tell. His most famous opera is doubtless The Barber of Seville which he wrote in 1816, and, it is said in 13 days.
It was at the age of just 38 that Rossini went into voluntary retirement so that he could devote himself to his hobby, the buona tavola, and by the time he died in 1868 in Paris, he left several recipes which he had created. Many cooks however dedicated their own creations to him, with the result that today there are more than a hundred dishes bearing the tag alla Rossini.
While living in Paris, Rossini assembled menus of not only French delicacies but a combination of these with Italian specialties that he arranged to have dispatched to his residence from his homeland on a regular basis. It seems that he had a particular weakness for Marsala, but he regularly received supplies of risotto rice, truffles, and sun-ripened tomatoes.
One of his signature recipes is for Maccheroni siringati, piped macaroni. This owes its names to the laborious method of preparation, which involves introducing a stuffing made of fois gras, creamed York ham, and truffles into cooked into pasta tubes using a tiny silver syringe.
There are countless anecdotes concerning Rossini and gourmet. For example, in a letter written to the soprano Maria Colbran following the scintillating premiere of the Barber of Seville, instead of enthusing over the opera’s performance, he wrote a new recipe for truffles he had discovered: “Take oil from Provence, English mustard, French vinegar, a little lemon juice, pepper, and salt, mix everything together well, and add a few truffles cut into small pieces, the wonderful smell of which will transport the connoisseur into a state of ecstasy”. It appears that Maria liked it because she later became Rossini’s wife! And the apostolic secretary, a cardinal whose acquaintance Rossini had just made, insisted on blessing this recipe for sensual pleasure!!
So the next time you hear that wonderful music from the Barber of Seville, think of Rossini and gourmet and seek out one of those many dishes – perhaps Fillet alla Rossini is a good one to start with!!