New Year's Menu: Pasticcio at the Opera and in the Kitchen

Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 05:26 PM

Pasticcio di Maccheroni Pasticcio di Maccheroni (Flickr/Moreno Maggi Photography)

In anticipation of the world premiere of The Enchanted Island, the new pasticcio (pastiche) at the Metropolitan Opera, a question emerges: just what is a pasticcio?

In a fine article for The New York Times my friend and colleague Cori Ellison refers to an operatic pastiche being something of a recipe and mentions the Greek dish pastitsio. In Italy, pasticcio has several meanings. It could be used in the operatic sense but it also suggests a big mess or something that has been bungled. But the primary definition is of a wonderful savory pie filled with meat, pasta, vegetables and mushrooms. It is an ideal dish to serve for a holiday meal.

Lucia Valentini-Terrani (1946-1998) was a marvelous and vibrant mezzo-soprano from Padua. She died much too young of leukemia at the same Seattle hospital where José Carreras had been successfully treated some years before. Valentini-Terrani was outstanding in Rossini’s heroic roles such as Malcolm as well as his charming young women such as Angelina and Isabella in the comedies. She also excelled in Handel, Vivaldi and Verdi

Lucia (right) was a delight to know, and an excellent cook too. She gave me this festive pasticcio recipe from her home town for my book, The Authentic Pasta Book (1984) whose original title was better: Pasta Diva.

Pasticcio di Maccheroni Padovano

serves 6


1 ounce dried funghi porcini, soaked in tepid water

1 stick unsalted butter

2 ounces prosciutto crudo, minced

1/2 onion, minced

1 small carrot, finely minced

1 stalk celery, finely minced

3 meaty squabs (0r 2-1/2 pounds chicken if squab is not available), cleaned and quartered

Salt and pepper to taste

3/4 cup Marsala wine

1/4 cup beef broth

12 ounces penne pasta

4 ounces prosciutto cotto (boiled ham), cut in slivers

A few slices of truffle (black or white, as available)

1 large egg, beaten

1-1/2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


Pie Crust

3 cups unbleached flour

6 ounces (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter

3 large pinches of salt

2 level tablespoons sugar

1 large egg

1 egg yolk


Besciamella (sauce)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup whole milk

A pinch of ground nutmeg

Two hours before cooking, soak the funghi. Then combine the flour, butter, salt, sugar and beaten egg for the pie crust to make a dough. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Bring a large pot (at least 6 quarts) of cold water to a boil. When it reaches a boil, add a pinch of salt. When it returns to a boil, cook the penne until nearly al dente. Drain well (do not rinse!) and set aside.

To make the pie filling, melt 1/2 stick butter in a large pan or casserole and add minced prosciutto, onion, carrot and celery. Sauté briefly and then add the pieces of squab and a little salt and pepper. Cook slowly and carefully, turning the pieces to make sure they cook evenly. When the squab sections are golden brown, pour the Marsala over them and continue cooking until most of the wine evaporates. Then add a little tepid water, enough to barely cover the bottom of the pan. Cover and cook very gently for 30 minutes or a little more, until the squab is cooked and the pan juices are rather condensed. Turn off the heat.

While the squabs are cooking, perform the following tasks: Remove the funghi porcini from the soaking water and squeeze them dry. Strain the water they soaked in and set aside. Sauté the funghi in a little butter and set aside.  When they are cool, chop into bite-sized pieces. 

Make the besciamella: Heat the milk until almost boiling. In the meantime, gently melt the butter in another pot. When it becomes foamy (make sure it does not turn color), add the flour and nutmeg. Stir so that the combination is completely free of lumps. Pour in the hot milk a little at a time, stirring all the while with a wooden spoon. Continue cooking for 8-10 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. The result should be velvety and uniform. Remove from heat and cover.

Preheat oven to 375˚F (190˚C).

When the squabs are cooked, remove from the pan and cool until comfortable to handle. Remove the meat from the bones and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Add the broth, strained funghi water, salt and pepper to the ingredients in the pan, and then add the cooked penne, squab pieces, slivered prosciutto cotto, funghi, truffle slices, the remaining 2 ounces of butter, beaten egg, the Parmigiano-Reggiano and, finally, the besciamella. Gently combine the ingredients, cover, and set aside.

Take the pie dough and divide it into two pieces, one slightly bigger than the other. Roll the two pieces of dough out into circles to fit a 10-inch pie dish. Butter the dish and line it with the larger crust. Now add the penne-squab mixture and distribute the ingredients evenly on the pie crust. Carefully cover this with the smaller pie crust and join the two crusts at the seam, pressing firmly with your thumb to flute the edges. Brush the top of the crust with  beaten egg yolk. This will give the crust more luster.

Bake the pie in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Serve very hot.

An ideal wine pairing is a noble red such as Amarone, which is produced in the region where this dish is from. If unavailable, try a Barbaresco or Brunello. If you prefer something sparkling, a dry Prosecco from nearby Treviso would be perfect.

Wishing you a festive New Year’s celebration and a 2012 filled with music and love.

Photo: A promo image for The Enchanted Island at the Met, featuring David Daniels and Joyce DiDonato. (Nick Heavican/Met Opera)


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Comments [9]

Fred Plotkin from New York

To Terry: As it happens, I dealt indirectly with your question about what is a good opera to take a child to in my post about Christmas at the Opera ( I think that Hansel and Gretel has wonderful music but can be disturbing to some children. I think a good opera for kids is Il Barbiere di Siviglia, which the Met has coming up. The music is infectious, the story explicable to someone who will watch the stage and not read titles (don't even put them on...let the child watch the action and listen). Here's what you should do: get a CD (even a highlights CD) and play some of it (the overture, Figaro's entrance aria, Rosina's Una Voce Poco Fa) for the girl ahead of time. Tell her the story in general terms ahead of time. If you wish, have a look at my book "Opera 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera" which has a whole chapter devoted to this opera. Before the performance, tell her the story of act one. Your young charge will hear people laughing and think that she is in a fun place. She will respond to the music. At the intermission, take out a piece of chocolate to share and talk about what you saw. Then tell her the story of act two. If she dozes off during the performance (act one is 95 minutes and can feel long) let her sleep. The key thing about one's first opera is that it be a positive experience, so that a child will say "I like opera" and want to go to more operas. Another tip: if you go to the coat check room in Founders Hall before the show, you can borrow a cushion so that the girl will sit higher in her seat and better be able to see and be involved in the performance. Please let me know how it went. Have fun! Fred

Jan. 01 2012 03:44 PM
Terry from New York

This is off topic; it's a question. There is a child I mentor and I'd like to take her to the opera or put one on the television for her to watch. It seems that the opera chosen for children is "The Magic Flute." I'd rather show her something else. Do you have any suggestions?

(My mother took me to Tosca when I was seven years old and I loved it, but this girl has had virtually no exposure to classical music, so I want to find something appropriate for her -- something that isn't "The Magic Flute."

Jan. 01 2012 01:43 PM
The Marschallin from New York, NY

The Marschallin being from Nice, where "quel pastiss!" means what a mess, worried a lot about the Met's Pasticcio (but not about Fred's recipe!)She will not attempt the recipe (too much of everything, including time) but she will taste the Met's Live in HD!
Bonne Annee, Fred!

Dec. 31 2011 05:56 PM
Stefano de Peppo from Brooklyn

Ciao Fred! Yummy quel pasticcio!

Dec. 31 2011 09:13 AM

Happy New Year Fred!
Thank you for all of the interesting posts of last year and looking forward to what 2012 brings-Although- now I will never be able to listen to NORMA without thinking of maccheroni.

Dec. 30 2011 12:19 PM
concetta nardone from Elmont, NY

Thank you Fred, I will be cooking this up in the New Year.
Felice Anno Nuovo.

Dec. 30 2011 11:16 AM
William V. Madison from New York City

Wonderful! I'll bet that 'Enchanted Island' would be even more fun with a treat like this to look forward to after the show -- and what a beautiful way to remember Valentini-Terrani.

Dec. 30 2011 07:07 AM
Antonio Balenzano from Siena, Italy

Grande Fred, che bel pasticcio!!
Un buon anno da tutti noi!

Dec. 30 2011 03:10 AM
Scott Rose from Manhattan

Felice anno nuovo!

Dec. 29 2011 06:31 PM

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