Archive for the ‘Plats du Jour’ Category


Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

        Something like this torta, I like to fantasize, was on the bill of fare at the simple restaurant run by my probable great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather near Mt. Etna in the seventeenth century.  Now, aha, I know why I’m a foodie: intensive genealogical detective work has revealed that my father’s family is not restricted to the likes of German-speaking linguisticians, concert pianists and daydreaming dry goods impresarios who let their less bookish wives run the store, not to mention cousin Otto who coined the term nuclear fission (gastronomical puns on which I will resist).  No, we were Sicilian vintners — and it was only an operatic chain of events, including the bubbling over of Etna in 1669 like a very angry cappuccino, that sent the Campofiori family to Germany and their reinvention as Blumenfelds, in, naturally enough, the wine wholesaling business.  Well, there were circus jongleurs too, busy at the old Deutschland fairs. The “show business” gene at work! The move northward was facilitated by a vacationing German painter (cast him as a tenor) who conveniently fell in love with the papa vintner’s daughter.

        Well, this torta is an excellent party dish, and, especially if you have a good pastry maker on your staff, not all that much work. Making up a batch of pesto in advance will, of course, lighten the load.  Excess pesto can look forward to a fine career as pasta sauce, piscatorial accoutrement and facilitator of trendy two-toned mashed potatoes.


First — and this can be done considerably ahead — make a 10-inch pie or tart shell using the same initial procedures as forTarte à l’Oignon only with 1/2 cup of butter, 1-1/2 cups of flour and 1/3 cup of water, plus the pinch of salt.

Chill the shell for half an hour, line it with waxed paper and fill the cavity with rice or dry beans to weight it down.  Bake it in a hot oven for 15 minutes, then remove the waxed paper and rice or beans and brush the bottom of the shell with 1 lightly beaten egg white or some milk.   Bake the shell for 10 or 15 minutes more, until golden; let it cool.

Meanwhile halve 5 or 6 medium-sized Roma tomatoes lengthwise and remove the seeds to make hollows. Brush the tomatoes with olive oil, sprinkle them with pepper and bake cut side up at 325° for 20 minutes — longer if they’re especially big.  Then put the tomatoes cut side down on a rack to drain for 20 minutes.

Now, put in a bowl 1 cup of ricotta, 1/2 cup of sour cream, 1/2 cup of minced Italian parsley, 2 whole eggs, 2 egg yolks, 2 teaspoons of chopped fresh basil, pepper and salt; beat together until smooth.

Fill the pie shell with this mixture and place the cupped tomato halves thereon. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Finally, spoon pesto (see pasta chapter) into the tomato hollows, let the tart cool to lukewarm, and serve.

(3-4 servings).


Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

        A dense green terrine that’s especially good as a leftover with cold roast, or as gt12_window_display_genoa.jpg part of an antipasto misto, sans sauce, served at room temperature. It’s a staple of our Christmas Eve dinners, but placed, alas, in rather a stepchild position. The eager diner has already consumed one or two helpings of Leek and Potato Soup and three or four of Cracked Crab Remoulade and is distracted by thoughts of the homemade stollen and six kinds of Christmas cookies to follow. No wonder I’m partial to it in its second, and sometimes third day states, when the competition is much less stiff.

        Pacing oneself through our Eve-time orgy requires the same sort of long-distance planning a conductor like the iron-fisted Fritz Reiner called into play when he architected the hour and fifteen minutes of the first act of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Signalling his orchestra with that unflappable pencilette of a beat, he would save his fullest climax for when the lovers unwrapped the sto . . . no, that’s not it, I mean for when the potion released these medieval bickerers into the ecstasy of their irrepressible amorous feelings.

        Our recipe, I hasten to report, had its origins in Lillian Langseth-Christensen’s airily imperial Old Vienna Cookbook, our copy of which bears the telltale chocolate-colored spots of many a holiday afternooon dangerously propped near a hard-pressed oven.


Thaw (but don’t cook) 3 packages of frozen cutleaf spinach and 1 package of asparagus spears and drain in a colander. Then soften 1/2 cup of butter and add 6 egg yolks and beat until light and creamy; squeeze the liquid from the thawed vegetables and add them to the butter/egg component, adding about 1/3 cup of washed and chopped mushrooms.

Now cut the crusts off 8 or 9 slices of French bread and crumble the bread into enough cream to moisten it; squeeze out the excess cream and add the bread to the vegetable mixture. Add 1/3 cup of dried bread crumbs, about 3 tablespoons of finely chopped parsley, 3 or so tablespoons of grated dry jack or parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

In a separate bowl beat 6 egg whites with a pinch of salt until very stiff; fold them gently into the vegetable mixture. Now it’s time to generously butter a pudding mold and its cover; pour the egg/veg mixture into the mold and cover it tightly. (At this point said mixture can stand.)

The last procedure is: put the mold on a rack in a kettle with enough boiling water to reach up its sides and steam the pudding for 1-1/2 hours, then unmold it onto a platter. Serve this pudding with Sauce Mousseline: beat 1 cup of cream until stiff, fold in 1 can of Aunt Penny’s Hollandaise sauce and heat in a double boiler.

(Makes about 10 servings).

8 hour minimum — RED BEAN CHILI MAISON

Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

        Herewith our silky and slightly eccentric chili. Chili, of course, is very personal. Laurie Colwin writes about a Nebraskan aficionado who always puts cinnamon and turmeric in his pot, a not unenticing proposition — this, I guess, is sort of a Greek Indian chili, and news to the average gastronome in Delphi or Delhi. Now chili in a hot dog bun I would vote against, but in a tortilla, absolutely no problem; and phyllo might do very nicely, too.  Think upon these notions, remembering that chili is one of cooking’s great themes, waiting like an innocent ditty for an army of kitchen composers to vary it as they will.  To the pots!


Soak 1-1/2 cups of dried kidney beans in 4-1/2 cups of water for 6 hours, then bring them to a boil and simmer covered until soft, about 1-1/2 hours, checking the water level after a half hour.

Meanwhile in a large pan soften 1 chopped onion in a little bacon fat, adding 2 pressed garlic cloves after a couple of minutes. Now add 1 14-ounce can of puréed tomatoes; 3 tablespoons of chili powder; briefly sautéed cumin, paprika and oregano, perhaps 1/3 teaspoon each; 2/3 cup of red wine and a good splash of red wine vinegar. Simmer all these ingredients for several minutes before adding the beans with some of their liquid and cooking your chili slowly, covered, for 1/2 hour, adding liquid if skillet-drought occurs.

A little before serving, add 1/3 cup of grated dry jack or parmesan cheese, some chopped cilantro, a dozen strips of orange peel (this dish is almost turning into a beany Niçoise daube!) and adjust the seasoning — which means: is it hot enough? Also spoon up dishes of yogurt and chutney, they’re excellent accompaniments. And remember: chili gains from being cooked several hours ahead.