food in the arts


puccini’s tosca/ OPERA/ MUSIC MAIN

THE SETTING OF TOSCA IN ROME opens up so many gastronomic possibilities! No Italian opera singer would discount the importance of food. 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.
Act 1 -The Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle
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 colourful marzipan, savoury 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 moulded 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.
Act 2 -Scarpia’s room at the Palazzo Farnese
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 flavoured 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.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper

Act 3 – The platform of the Castel S. Angelo
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Food on the Floor: Edible Imagery in Roman Dining Room Floor Mosaics

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