Thursday, September 6, 2012

Salade Aïda –– famous names on the menu

A few months ago, for an entry I wrote about Giuseppe Verdi and the unique musical and culinary culture of Parma Italy, I introduced readers to my good friend August Ventura and his intriguing documentary film project on the subject.

I recently saw some footage and the Promotional Reel (see it HERE) he has put together and it promises to be a feast for the eyes, ears and spirit.  He is raising money to complete his film in time for next year's Verdi bicentennial, so if any of you opera lovers wish to become "Opera Angels" consider making a fully tax-deductible donation to a great cause at the website HERE


While doing the research I was entranced with Verdi’s enviable dining adventures in the wonderful book, Dining with Verdi [Mondadori].  The maestro was such a legend that Escoffier burned through quite a few recipes to honor him with lots of things “a la Verdi” or dishes named after his operas or characters in his operas.  I’ve made a few of these dishes and loved them, and why not? Most of the “a la Verdi” dishes involved goodly amounts of truffles and foie gras!  Something tells me Verdi lived pretty high on the "maiale" and when he showed up at Mr. Escoffier’s restaurants, all the stops were pulled out to impress and delight him.  I am still anticipating my date with the Sole Verdi  –– pasta and lobster meat with truffles and a glazed mornay sauce on the sole.  Wouldn’t that keep the wolf away from the door on a champagne and candlelight night?

Still, the dish that got the special post-it was Salade Aïda made with chicory, tomatoes, sliced artichokes, small peppers and slices of egg white with grated egg yolk and a bit of mostarda, yes, mostarda.  I love bitter greens like radicchio so I’ve always enjoyed its cousin chicory (they are members of the same endive  family) and the sweet and hot mostarda addition was genius (mostarda being a sweet syrupy mustard-infused fruit that is usually served with cheese or salted meat). The Verdi cookbook is the only place I’ve seen Salade Aida prepared this way.  Otherwise the salad is lovely but not inspirational.  It’s the mostarda that hits it out of the ballpark.  This would be a great salad to have with grilled meat or fish –– and it’s gorgeous to boot with those jewels of translucent mostarda.

The tag, Salade Verdi, got me to thinking, why is a dish named after an historical figure or an artist or an artistic creation?  This has been on my mind since my 5-Star food group toyed with the idea of writing about dishes named after famous people.  

What’s Aida about Salade Aïda?

The opera was quite a stunner, that came in riding a popular wave of interest in the style of the ancient Pharaohs (a style I admit to loving myself –– especially the turn of the 19th century interpretations).  What I didn’t know was that Aïda was commissioned by the culturally ambitious Isma’il Pasha, the Khedive (viceroy) of Egypt and opened at the Khedive Opera House in Cairo in 1871.  It must have been remarkable to see the glorious past of ancient Egypt come alive in its birthplace.

Although it was a hit in Egypt, it was enormously successful when it opened in Europe and still brings raves nearly 150 years later.

Let’s face it, the story of Aïda is epic. The great military leader Radames  falls in love with an Ethiopean princess named Aïda.  She is brought to Egypt as a slave after her father's armies are defeated by Radames. Because it is opera, things get terribly out of hand thanks to a jealous queen who wants Radames for herself. After a lot of beautifully scored melodrama, Radames orchestrates Aïda’s escape to safety by sacrificing himself, but she will not go –– she sacrifices her freedom to join her beloved and the lovers get buried alive while singing a heavenly grand duet or two.

Opera lovers, forgive me my Aïda plot synopsis (go HERE for a more thorough version).  As August reminds me the opera is so much more when he says "the over-arching themes of personal liberty and and nations seeking freedom from tyrants and foreign colonizing powers -- so important to Verdi -- rings true today in our age of the Arab Spring.  As for Aïda's theme of love transcending all boundaries - social, political, ethnic, you name it - I hope that one never dies."

Production Designed by Chaperon for original production

The Egyptian set for the original production was by Philippe Marie Chaperon (1823- 1907). 

The closest thing I can come to the connection for the inspiration for the salad is the remarkably researched and detailed set and costume design for the production.  Mr. Carter was still decades away from his 1920’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1870, but the designs give the full flavor of what was to come when those secret doors were opened. 

Crown of Egyptian-inspired jewelry for a scene from the opera Aida, 
Music Department of the National Library in Paris.
Egyptomania exhibition catalog, p. 435

The bejeweled headdress above (thanks to Egiptologia for the scholarship and the photos) would definitely inspire a bejeweled salad like mine.

The costumes were also rich with gold and deeply encrusted with rich plates of color.  The salad is like that, isn’t it?

Costumes for Aïda, Original Cairo Production

Costumes for Aïda were by Auguste Mariette-Bey (who did extensive research into the style of the period for the premiere production and was a fascinating figure).

The fashion for naming has faded with time.  I can’t conceive of "Pasta Gaga" or "Agneau Lloyd Webber"(thanks for that pun August), can you?  It just doesn’t have the same evocative power as "Sole Verdi" or "Salade Aïda".  

Perhaps that says a lot about our times.  We have "Trump Burgers".

Salade Aïda for 3-4 

1 bunch chicory
1 small green pepper, sliced  (a Hungarian banana pepper will work)
a handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced
1 heirloom tomato, sliced
2 large artichoke hearts (raw or cooked - sliced paper-thin if raw)
2 hardboiled eggs.
1 cup of mostarda (you can buy it HERE or there’s a recipe for it HERE that looks good although I have not made it, or do it old school with the recipe at the end of the post)


½ c olive oil
¼ c white wine vinegar
1 t  Dijon mustard
s &p to taste

Take the dressing ingredients and combine in a jar.  Shake to blend and reserve.

Tear up the chicory into serving size pieces.  Toss into a bowl with the sliced green pepper, the tomatoes and artichoke hearts and mostarda.

Toss the salad with the dressing and plate.  Lay sliced egg white over the salad and grate the yolk over the salad and serve. 

From  Lancelot de Casteau’s  1604 Ouverture de Cuisine:

"To make Cremone mustard.

Take half a pound of orange peels candied in sugar, half a pound of quince preserved in sugar or marmalade, & chop them all well together very small: then take half a pint of mustard well thick, then take melted sugar with rose water, & put therein some turnsole, & let it boil together to give good red color, & let it boil like syrup, & mix therein that which you have chopped, & mix the mustard with, put enough syrup, & serve in little plates three or four spoons for setting at the table with roasts."

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Thanks to Gollum for hosting foodie friday!!


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Deana:
We fully intend to obtain tickets for Verona for next year's bicentennial celebrations. We are certain that this will be an occasion never to be forgotten. As we have never yet seen Aida, this will be the opera of our choice and we think that we shall try to be there for the 1913 staged production.

Your Salade Aida sounds just the sort of food for the interval. The hot summer night [we hope]will be suited perfectly by this dish and surely the music will make it the most delicious salad ever to pass our lips. As for the 'mostarda', well, we have never heard of it let alone tasted it but we are sure that it will add the necessary dramatic impact. Perfect!

La Table De Nana said...

It must be delicious w/ that sweet/spicy ingredient..I never heard of it ..even while in Italy! I'll ask my Italian friends if they have heard of it~

Laura@Silkroadgourmet said...

Wonderful Salad recipe!

Sweet and spicy or tart at the same time. Very spicy if you follow the French recipe. . .

Did you know that the candied fruit was a substitute for traditional grape must? Apparently this was how the French (or at least de Casteau) produced the wonderful Italian condiment. I don't know why they would do this, as grape must was well known to them.

Fruits cooked in must are ancient and mention of them goes back to Byzantium. Not sure if the Romans also did this (but I'll check). Cool if they used oenogarum, no?

For those that don't love the burn of mustard they can always make a
cogna instead of a mostarda.

Anyway, had some mostarda when we were last in Italy (in Florence) and brought a few jars back - maybe a meat and cheese plate dinner is a good idea soon. . .

Thanks for posting on one of my favorite condiments!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I have never seen a production of Aida but it does sound very dramatic-especially the ending! I love mostarda and mustard fruit and it is such an unusual addition to a salad recipe :)

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

I have never seen a live opera and probably never will now but I did enjoy your post.
As for the salad it sounds delicious with flavours I would never have dreamt of, the mostarda sounds amazing. Have a good Sunday Diane

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

Another truly unique recipe with a unique (and unknown to me) ingredient. I think I would much prefer this salad over Pasta Gaga :)

David Martin said...

Well you know I'm a big opera fan, so this post would obviously delight. But Deana, this line from you post surely is the best of the year. "Sole Verdi –– pasta and lobster meat with truffles and a glazed mornay sauce on the sole. Wouldn’t that keep the wolf away from the door on a champagne and candlelight night?" LOVE IT!

Ken Albala said...

I don't know, you've never tasted Merman Ribeyes inspired by Annie Get Your Gun, or "I Enjoy Being Chop Suey" named for the Flower Drum Song? Or Moreno Mofongo from West Side Story? VERY spicy!

Sippity Sup said...

The depth of your knowledge and the sophistication of your palate always entice me on my visits. Thanks GREG

Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

1. This salad looks great!
2. I can totally see the connection to costumes in Aida. :)

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

You will NOT believe this, but when my eyes opened this morning at 3:30am, it was YOU that came to mind. I thought, "I HAVE NOT VISITED DEANA YET! I WONDER HOW SHE IS?" And then I come to my computer, and THERE YOU ARE!!!!

As always, I have learned something else intriguing and wonderful, chez toi. I think it is genius when a writer connects two ideas together that most of us would not even think about joining. But in your field of expertise, you not only know recipes, but you KNOW the history. The element of surprise that most readers are not aware of but good writers use, is always an ingredient in your posts my dear. And now I am hungry for some LOBSTER!!!

Thank you kindly for always coming to visit me; I love Chopin, the mood that his music sets and just trying to write.

Have a splendid day my beautiful one! Anita

Barbara said...

Saw Aïda when I was in school, and yes, the tale is indeed epic. How can you go wrong with love and jealousy? All in song?
I've never heard of mostarda...but then I always learn something new when I visit you. It's a beautiful salad, Deana, simple with a kick.
(Trump burgers? Tell me it isn't true!)

Frank Fariello said...

Aida is a real visual (as well as audial) treat, it's true! Live elephants on stage!

This sounds like a lovely salad—I would never have thought of adding mostarda to a salad in a million years, but somehow it sounds right here. Definitely one to try soon.

And, yes, I have to agree, the naming of dishes seems to have gone the way of the dodo. Someone will have to revive it—as soon as we start have celebrities worth naming dishes after again.