A Critic's Notebook: A dish fit for the Met

Ambrogio Maestri's risotto whets opera-goers' appetites


  • Ken Howard/The Metropolitan Opera
  • DELICIOUS DISH: When he's not whipping up a mean risotto, baritone Ambrogio Maestri is performing the lead role in the Metropolitan Opera's new production of "Falstaff." Atlanta audiences can see him do both when the Met re-broadcasts last Saturday's Live in HD performance to movie theaters tonight, Wednesday, December 18.

Audience members always leave a Met performance with plenty to talk about, from the world-class voices and incredible music to the elaborate sets and beautiful costumes. But this Saturday's Live in HD broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera's Falstaff to movie theaters saw a totally new and unprecedented topic become a part of the post-show discussion: That risotto.

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During intermission, the live-broadcast's host typically takes movie audiences backstage for behind-the-scenes interviews with performers, designers, directors and other artists. The fantastic segments reveal a side of the Met that the audience at Lincoln Center doesn't get to see, and they often have the fun, homespun, anything-can-happen charm of old-school live TV. There have been great interviews with Met stars and newcomers, still breathless and exhilarated from performing on stage, plus fascinating segments on how horses move in and out of the Met, how Lucia gets her wedding dress covered in blood in short order for the end of Lammermoor, and how that machine for The Ring was supposed to work.

This Saturday's broadcast saw one of my favorite segments yet. The sets for the current production of Falstaff, which director Robert Carsen has innovatively updated to 1950s Britain, include a detailed (and apparently functioning) kitchen for Ford's house in Act Two. During intermission, baritone Ambrogio Maestri took a break from singing the lead role to prepare an amazing-looking risotto on set!

Maestri is an epicurean home cook who grew up in his family's restaurant in Northern Italy. The Falstaffian bon vivant speaks little English but spoke to host Renée Fleming through his lovely wife, who translated his instructions for the dish. The Met's website provides the recipe in full, and I've also included it below. The segment was one of the series' most charming: when Fleming asked if she might try a bite, there was some misunderstanding with the translation, and Maestri thought he was being asked to try it, which he enthusiastically assented to.

The Met's fantastic, don't-miss production of Falstaff will be broadcast again for an encore screening tonight, Wednesday, December 18, at 6:30 p.m. to area theaters. (And clearly, there'll be no question of what to have for dinner after the show!) James Levine conducts, and powerhouse baritone Maestri leads a splendid ensemble cast including Stephanie Blythe, Lisette Oropesa and Angela Meade. Check the Met's website for more information or to purchase tickets.

Ambrogio Maestri's Risotto del Salsiccia e Funghi
32 ounces beef or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 Italian sausages, casings removed and chopped
12 ounces arborio or carnaroli rice
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in warm water
4 ounces grated parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons softened butter
Salt to taste

1. In a medium pot, warm the stock to a gentle simmer and set aside over a low flame.

2. In a separate pot, heat the olive oil over a medium flame and add the onion. Cook until translucent, about five minutes, then add the sausage to brown.

3. Add the rice to the onion and sausage mixture and stir to coat. Allow the rice to toast for one or two minutes, until it is golden.

4. Add the stock slowly, a couple ladlefuls at a time, and stir until the liquid absorbs. Continue to add stock in increments and stir for about 20 to 25 minutes, until the rice has become swollen and al dente to the taste.

5. Add the saffron with a small splash of stock and stir to incorporate. Dice the mushrooms and stir into the finished risotto along with half of the parmesan. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately with a small pat of butter and a generous sprinkling of parmesan.

Click here to watch a video of Ambrogio Maestri preparing his risotto