SFOpera - A Puccini Family Recipe

A Puccini Family Recipe

A Puccini Family Recipe.pdf

Cooking for friends such as composer Pietro Mascagni was one of Giacomo Puccini’s greatest pleasures. His modest origins and financial struggles in his youth turned him into a clever chef who could conjure tasty dishes from the humblest of ingredients: pasta with eels and herring with radish are counted among some of his most original creations. A passionate hunter, Puccini also enjoyed cooking the birds that he hunted near his Torre del Lago home at Lake Massaciuccoli.

There was one recipe that he guarded with utmost secrecy, a unique way to cook folaghe (coot). Sometimes mistaken for ducks or geese, folaghe are small birds with predominantly black plumage. They are now a protected species in most of Italy, but during Puccini’s time they were common in the area of Lake Massaciuccoli. The composer would not disclose his recipe to anybody. Finally, from a private collection in Milan—a letter by Puccini dated December 9, 1903—details emerged of his culinary creation.

Puccini’s version differs from the typical way of cooking folaghe. With its intense flavors, this dish has been received enthusiastically for generations—so much so that nowadays, Tuscan restaurants serve tagliatelle or risotto with Puccini-style coot.


(If coot is not readily available, substitute duck or Cornish game hen.)

First, carefully remove the coot’s skin. Marinate the meat in cool water and vinegar for one to two hours. Rinse, then cut the meat in quarters.

Warm a pot on the stove and place the meat quarters in the pot with a bit of olive oil, carrots, plenty of onion, some basil, marjoram, mentuccia (lesser calamint), bay leaf, salt, and green or red bell pepper. Cover the pot and let the meat simmer on low heat for approximately an hour.

Remove the lid and sear the meat until slightly browned. Then, add a cup of water mixed with a little wine. When the water is absorbed, add some chicken broth and cover the pot again. Let it cook on low heat for 30 more minutes, while adding some flour to thicken the sauce. Once the meat is ready, the sauce can be strained and used as a spread on crostini.

Marina Romani is a music and film researcher and performer, trained in Western classical voice and Afro-Caribbean music. She has a doctoral degree from UC Berkeley.

The Secret Life of Food