Rossini Tournedos Background and Recipe

                                         Tournedos Rossini                                                     Gioachino Rossini in 1820 - International Museum and Library of Music, Bologna

                                         Tournedos Rossini                                                     Gioachino Rossini in 1820 - International Museum and Library of Music, Bologna

Gioachino Rossini   Composer & Gourmand (1792 - 1868)

The famous recipe for 'Tournedos Rossini' belongs to the Italian composer Gioachino Rossini.  

Had Rossini not been the composer he was, history no doubt would have recorded and ranked him one of the greatest gastronomes of the 19th century.

His musical works captured the hearts of music lovers, among his best known works, The Barber of Seville, Cinderella and William Tell. Until his retirement in 1829 Rossini had been arguably at the time, the most popular opera composer in history.

His father, a horn player and inspector of slaughterhouses, was imprisoned in 1799 for his well known sympathies towards the French Revolution and welcoming of Napoleons troops when they arrived in northern Italy. His mother took him to Bologna where she made a living as a lead singer. Apprenticed early to a blacksmith he sang well enough himself to solo in church as a 10 year old, by 12 he composed 6 sonatas in three days revealing the signs of his operatic tendencies.

Biographers recall, he enjoyed the taste of the wine served at Mass, it is also well recorded that the young musician raced through his account of the opening night of the Barber of Seville, to plunge into a detailed and lengthy description of a new recipe for a salad which, naturally, became Salad alla Rossini. In his biography of the Maestro, Stendhal wrote that the aria of Tancredi, "Di Tanti Palpiti," known throughout Europe, was not only the most popular opera aria of its time, but was familiarly referred to as the "rice aria" because Rossini composed it while waiting for his risotto to cook one day in Venice.

Similarly, Rossini is supposed to have dashed off the aria, "Nacqui all'Affanno e al Pianto," in Cinderella, in little more than a quarter of an hour on the corner of a table in a tavern in Rome while surrounded by drinking friends.

During the years he spent in Paris, he became the most acclaimed musician of his time. Biographers tell of his friendship with Antonin Carême, the culinary genius of the century, who spoke of Rossini as "the only one who has truly understood me." For many years, they exchanged tokens of their respect for the other's art. "I would go to America, Maestro, but only if you accompany me", Rossini would say. Carême would send a game pâté to Rossini in Bologna, and Rossini would respond by writing a short aria for Carême. In Paris, Rossini never missed an opportunity to savour turkey stuffed with truffles, which, according to the testimony of Brillat-Savarin, was all the rage at the time. Once, Rossini won a bet which entitled him to a turkey stuffed with truffles. The bet was not honoured, in response to the continual requests, the loser excused himself by claiming that the season was poor and first quality truffles were just not to be found. "Nonsense, nonsense", blurted Rossini, "those are just false rumours circulated by turkeys that don't want to be stuffed!"

Rossini claims to have wept only three times in his life: the first time over the fiasco of his first opera, the second when he heard Niccolò Paganini play the violin, and finally, when the picnic lunch, a turkey stuffed with truffles, fell overboard on a day's outing on a boat.

The invention of the famous Tournedos Rossini has become a legend. Said to have occurred at the Café Anglais in Paris. The story goes that Rossini insisted upon overseeing the preparation of his meal and obliged the chef to prepare it in front of him in the dining-room next to his table. When the chef finally objected to this constant interference, the Maestro replied, "Et alors, tournez le dos." or "So, turn your back." And that is how this exquisite dish got its name!

There are other versions as to how Rossini Tournedos got its name, it is certainly true that Rossini gave his name to many gastronomic preparations. Great chefs have also dedicated many dishes to him, such as Poached Eggs alla Rossini, Chicken alla Rossini, and Fillet of Sole alla Rossini. Dedicated to Figaro, his immortal personage, was a type of extra- fine pastries or "pasticcini". Dedicated to his opera, William Tell, was a tart served for the occasion of the opera's 1829 Paris opening night; naturally, it was an apple tart decorated with an apple transpierced by a sugar arrow alongside a sugar crossbow.

The famous book of recipes written by Escoffier, which has become a culinary bible of modern cuisine, contains so many recipes dedicated to Rossini they could complete an entire menu. Many of the recipes have passed into the high spheres of French cuisine, and from there into world-class international cuisine. Tradition says that Rossini also created several recipes, including Beef Marrow Risotto, which is still prepared in his native Marches, and the famous Cannelloni alla Rossini, stuffed with truffles and foie gras. Nineteenth century Paris caricaturists frequently depicted Rossini with the silver pastry-tube or syringe he used to prepare favorite dishes served to guests during his musical-gastronomical evenings at his house in the Chaussée d'Antin or his villa in Passy.

Many savoury gastronomical and culinary references can be found in Rossini's musical compositions, where he often contrasted the abundance of the rich with the hunger of the poor. In Cinderella, Don Magnifico dreams of gastronomic grandeur as he anticipates the fruits of the marriage between the prince and his daughter.

The ingredients for this recipe are by definition ‘luxury’ and perfect to celebrate any festive or special occasion.

Tournedos Rossini

INGREDIENTS:   (serves 4)

4 beef fillets

4 slices of bread

150 g truffles butter

4 slices of foie gras

2 tblsp extra virgin olive oil

60 g white truffles

salt & pepper to taste 


3 tlbsp Madeira

1 tbsp cornflower (alternatively use arrowroot for a smoother finish)

1.5 cups chicken stock



Slice the bread into circles (cutting off crusts to slightly larger diameter of beef fillets)

Fry bread in 50g butter on both sides – remove from pan and keep warm

Saute the foie gras into 50g of butter – remove from pan and keep warm

In the same pan add 2 tblsp oil and remaining truffle butter, cook the beef fillets on high heat – 2 minutes each side so they are fairly rare, salt and place on the sliced bread (pepateli croutons)

Add slices of white truffles to the cooking juices to soften, then place the sliced truffle onto each fillet, cover with foil to retain heat

In the same pan add 2 tblsp of Madeira, add stock and bring to boil then simmer for 2 mins

Thicken sauce with cornflower (or arrowroot) dissolved in the last spoonful of Madeira

Reduce sauce if necessary to desired consistency  

Add salt to taste

Arrange on  serving plate by layer, i.e., the bread as base, fillet, decorate with the slices of truffle, foie gras and truffle mix, pour the sauce over the top

Serve and enjoy


Additional notes –

Suggested wine to accompany - A full bodied red - an Italian Nebbioli from Barola or Sicilian, Nero d Avalo, available in Australia at selective wine outlets

Truffle butter can be made by adding 3-4 finely sliced pieces of truffle to just melted butter

Thin slicers can be purchased from specialty kitchen shops for extra finely slicing truffles

If unavailable black truffles may be used in place of white truffles -  choose fresh in season when possible