Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"The Metropolitan Opera Cookbook" - Pasta with Tuna (Pennoni al Tonno)

Date I made this recipe: November 15, 2009

The Metropolitan Opera Cookbook – Foreword by Placido Domingo, Edited by Jules Bond
Published by: Stewart, Tabori & Chang
© 1988 – ISBN: 1-55670-039-3

Recipe: Pennoni al Tonno (Pasta with Tuna)
Well folks, yesterday I spent an entirely delightful day (of my own volition) listening to opera hopefuls vie for a spot in the Metropolitan Opera. You heard me, the Metropolitan Opera.

Some people would consider giving up an entire Saturday to sit and listen to people screech their way through a song in another language to be akin to death…or worse. Not me. Although I am not a big fan of the opera, I don’t hate it, either, and being an audience member during these tryouts is a lot of fun - far better, to be sure, than actually trying out.

Now you might wonder if I motored to the Big Apple to take in these auditions but the beautiful thing is that I didn’t need to. For the past 57 years, the Metropolitan Opera has held regional tryouts in St. Paul and for a good 15 of those years at least, my friend, Tall (real name, Carol) and I have been part of the audience cheering (never jeering) the hopefuls on to greatness.

Although I am a singer, I moved away from classical training to jazz early on and while I think jazz singers can do classical pieces, I don’t think classically-trained singers can do jazz, at least not to my ear. Don’t get me wrong, many have tried but with apologies to those classical singers who have (and there have been many), it just ain’t a happenin’. You either feel the rhythm of jazz or you don’t. Either you are Ella Fitzgerald or you’re not. I don’t make these rules.

But boy oh boy, when classical singers actually play inside their own sandbox, the results are phenomenal as we hear year after year after year. Every year in the regional audition round, 20 or so singers try to outsing each other for the chance to move on to the district auditions, also held in St. Paul in February and then the winners of that competition go to New York for the one, big chance to try to get into the Met in any which way they can. (Suffice it to say, most probably start in the chorus since we can’t all be Renee Fleming, now can we?)

So, there we were, all front and center (and I mean that) and one by one the singers came out and gave it their best shot. This year’s field was pretty darned good with only one soprano cracking a note and with many of the tenors sounding like young Pavarotti’s.

But folks, while I believe my analysis of the singers, having studied their techniques, is usually pretty decent, I would be lying if I told you that I was there for the singing alone. Because this is an opportunity for me and Tall to become hosts of our own little “What Not To Wear to An Opera Audition.” As I am fond of saying to anyone who will listen - “If you want to be a diva (or divo, if there is such a thing for me -- not to be confused with Devo, a popular ‘80’s band), you must dress like a diva.” So while other audience members are busy writing notes all over their programs about the contestants and their vocal abilities, I write fashion statements, to wit:

Contestant 1 – male tenor – nice suit but what is with the silver, glitzy tie? Day or nighttime, dude, you decide!
Contestant 2 – male bass- the guy I call “Mr. GQ” is back again this year. Three-piece suit is sharp but just like last year we need to see some shirt sleeves peeking out of the jacket. (This seems to be a problem for most men this year).
Contestant 3 – female mezzo soprano – “I’m thinking best dressed!” This outfit was fantastic—a 60’s-looking chiffon cocktail dress with long beads and fun shoes. Wish her voice would have lived up to the outfit—nice, but weak.
Contestant 4 – male bass-baritone – “Where’s the tie?” One does not go to an opera audition looking as though one rolled out of bed thinking “Hey, I know. I’ll just throw on a shirt and a suit and go to try out for the Met.” Maybe in other cities, buster, but not here.
Contestant 5 – female soprano – “Ummmm….no.” The dress was a de-zas-ter. Very formal on top, very casual on the bottom. She also broke the cardinal rule of color continuity and instead opted for a silver top, a burgundy middle and an even darker skirt in what looked like brown – shudder! The woman definitely needs a Tim Gunn (“Make it work”) in her life.
Contest 6 – male bass – “Again with missing tie? Didn’t your mothers teach you anything?” This outfit was a mess – gray pinstripe suit, missing tie, checkered shirt and…ohmygod – are those brown shoes?!!
Contestants 7 and 8 – Acceptable but boring. Wearing black is usually okay but not if one blends with the piano.
Contestant 9 – female soprano - That lace dress looks like something out of a Mad Men episode – matronly and totally from the 60’s. This is the year 2009, dear. Try to keep up.

And on and on we went. More shirts with no ties, more gray suits with brown shoes and so on and so forth. And then we came to the day’s over-all fashion victim winner and the runner up – Miss “Big Nooooo” and Miss “What the hell were you thinking?!”

The runner-up, Miss “What the hell were you thinking?!” was very attractive but her selection of accessories for her satiny bridesmaid dress (I’m thinking J Crew bridal) ruined the look. She had on silver hoop earrings that didn’t match the look of the dress, a necklace that also didn’t match the look and a watch. Yes, a watch. Because….she needed to count the minutes until the audition was over? As the registrar of my law school used to say (quite often, I might add): “People, people, people” (followed by some admonishment such as “turn in your papers by 5 p.m. and I mean it!”) A watch with a bridesmaid dress is tacky and that is all there is to it.

As to Miss “Big Nooooo,” she hands down won the award for Worst Dressed Diva by wearing a black top that was way too small for her ample chest, with a matching skirt and a…it pains me to say this…glittery silver scarf/belt/”what the hell is that?” tied around her hips. Good golly, Miss Molly! A person garners our vote for this award when Tall and I turn to each other and on cue say “No.” That’s it, that’s all it takes to win that awards and by the way, she didn’t even need to open her mouth to capture that crown. We are so fair it is ridiculous.

But despite that fact that the two fashion victims landed on my version of “Mr. Blackwell’s Worst Dressed List,” they landed on the opera judge’s Best Singer List along with a tenor who just blew the roof off the dump. I am still singing his final number. Now, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t ding him ever so slightly for the boring tie he wore. The color was appropriate (yellow to compliment a brown suit) but I would have liked to have seen a splash or two of color, perhaps a little red like the red in the tomato sauce from today’s recipe.

Today’s recipe, Pennoni al Tonno (pasta with tuna) is from The Metropolitan Opera Cookbook. (Patience is a virtue when it comes to reading this blog, no?) I love that I just happened to have this book on hand for today’s tryouts. This recipe is one of Luciano Pavarotti’s submissions and gee, while the man could sing like nobody’s beeswax, this recipe came close to being a culinary Big No. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t all that good, either. In fact, for the first time ever since I started this blog, Andy and I ate our portions and never said a word about the recipe, good, bad or indifferent.

I think this recipe could have been better had we left out the anchovies or used slightly less than called for (or even used anchovy paste) and we probably could have waited for the pasta to cool a bit more before adding the cheese since all it did was create a gloppy mess in the pan. (“But other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?”)

So to recap: the singing at the tryouts were great (well, except for the two fashion-victim finalists whose voices we did not like), the fashion boo-boos were minimal compared to previous years and Pavarotti may have been a great opera singer but he needed some work on the culinary side. I think I’ll get going on my “What Not To Eat After An Opera Audition” notes straight away! (And Clinton and Stacey of TLC’s What Not To Wear call me!)

Pennoni al Tonno (Pasta with Tuna) – Serves 6
2 tablespoons corn oil (or olive oil)
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
3 (6 1/2 – ounce) cans imported tuna (Italian or Spanish), packed in oil
1 (2-ounce) can anchovies, cut small
½ (6-ounce) can tomato paste (Note: using tomato paste in a tube is far easier)
1 (12-ounce) can tomato juice
Garlic salt to taste
1 ½ cups grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound pennoni or other pasta, cooked until al dente (Note: pennoni is very similar to penne and that is what I used)

In a saucepan, heat oil and sauté onion until transparent. Add then tuna and anchovies, and stir for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the tomato paste, tomato juice, and garlic salt. Stir well and simmer for 15 minutes. Add sauce to cooked pasta, mix well, and sprinkle on grated cheese. Serve immediately.


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