HAVE YOU eer thumbed through a favorite cookbook and dreamed about inviting the author to your home for private lessons? Barbara Aledort of Chevy Chase did and made it come true.
After reading Paula Wolfert's "Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco" and "Mediterranean Cooking," Aledort because intrigued with the tastes and smells of the food described in Wolfert's books. One Sunday, after recipe skimming, she dialed Manhattan information and asked for Paula Wolfert's number. Aledort dialed the number, Paula Wolfert answered the call and, to Aledort's surprise, accepted the invitation to come to her kitchen.
Aledort first thought of the visit as a gift to herself for her birthday. But when she learned the costs involved changed her mind. Wolfer's fee was $250 per class plus travel expenses (very reasonable on the flying chef circuit). Then there was the cost of the ingredients to consider -- about $100 for the two lessons -- and such hidden costs as copying of recipes ( $20) and having a housekeeper before, during and after the lessons.
Several months later with 18 students enrolled for the weekend sessions, Paula Wolfert's classes began. The Aledort's kitchen with an enormous skylight, was a perfect setting for the weekend sessions.
Wolfert's easy manner and intelligence drew the students to her. She had none of the haughty manner one might expect of a famous cook.
It was probably this lack of pomposity which spurred the Moroccan government into encouraging Wolfert to write her first book. When she told a major governmental official there that she wanted to meet the great cooks of the country, he immediately introduced her to his mother. Having circled the country learning regional specialties from many more mothers, Wolfert wrote "Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco," published in 1973.
Now established as this country's doyenne of Moroccan cooking. Wolfert acts as a food and restaurant consultant, teaching around the country and working on a third book on the cooking of Southwest France.
For six hours over two days, she cooked and talked about the cuisine and the society of Morocco. On Saturday afternoon she taught the court food of Morocco and on Sunday her lesson centered on Berber cooking and couscous, of which there are 18 varieties in Morocco alone.
The Saturday session menu included fish stufed with dates, pickled lemons, carrot salad, tomato and green pepper salad, oranges with rosewater and the spectacular Bisteeya which Wolfert calls a "totally senual experience." She describes this dish from fez "an enormous flaky pigeon pie never less than 20 inches in diameter. Beneath a perfectly crisped pastry top covered with cinnamon and sugar are layers of shredded squab or chicken, two dozens eggs curdled in a lemony spiced onion sauce and sweetened almonds. The whole is enclosed in tissuethin pastry leaves called warka .
Mere description of the dish was not enough. She explained how the paperthin pastry -- too casually regarded as the same as Greek phyllo -- orginally came to Morocco via the Persians, who got it from China. Wolfert proved how closely the Moroccan warks resembles the Chinese spring roll made from flour and water and cooked on a grill as opposed to phyllo or even strudel which sometimes includes egg, is stretched and pulled and then baked.
As Wolfert tells it, this extraordinary dish is served as one of many hors d'oeuvres in Morocco and is so rich that one would only want a taste or two.At a special meal including Bisteya, roast lamb might be the main course.
Wolfert explained that spices arrived in Morocco from the trade routes. Among those essential to Moroccan cooking were fresh coriander, ground ginger and hot pepper which she passed around for students to sniff and taste. "There are back-of-the-mouth and front-of-the-mouth spices," she explained. "Moroccan cooking is at play on tastes -- hot, sweet, spicy and savory. The tastes interplay from the back and front parts of the mouth." a
Wine glass in left hand, the students dug into the delicacies Moroccan style -- right hand only, no forks allowed. Everything was eaten.
Was Wolfert's weekend successful? Barbara Aledort is already taking reservations for her return on Jan. 12 and 13 to teach a course on nouvelle cuisine. BISTEEYA (12 servings) 4 1/2 pounds chicken legs and thighs 1 cup fresh parsley, chopped and mixed with a few springs of fresh coriander 1 large onion, grated and squeezed dry 1/4 teaspoon turmeric Pulverized saffron 1 scant teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger 1 stick (3-inches) cinnamon 1/2 pound unsalted butter Sea salt 3 cups water 1 pound whole blanched almonds 1/4 cup salad oil Confectioner's sugar Ground cinnamon 1/4 cup lemon juice 10 eggs, well beaten 1/2 to 3/4 pound filo pastry leaves
Put the chicken legs and thighs in a large casserole with the herbs, onion, spices, half the butter, a little salt and the water. Bring to a boil and simmer 1 hour.
Meanwhile, brown the almonds lightly in oil. Drain. Crush them in a food processor. Add 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar and 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon. Grind until almonds are small bits. Add 4 tablespoons butter and turn machine on/off once.Set aside.
Remove chicken and cinnamon stick and any loose bones from the casserole and set aside.
Reduce the remaining liquid to 1 3/4 cups by rapid boiling. Lower the heat to a simmer and add the lemon juice.
Pour the beaten eggs into the simmering sauce and stir constantly until the eggs cook and congeal. They should become curdy but not too dry. Transfer the eggs to a deep dish and let cool. Salt to taste. Shred the poultry into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Discard bones.
Clarify the remaining butter. Brush a 12 or 14-inch cake, pizza or paella pan with a little butter. Cover the pan with a leaf of pastry. Drape several more pastry leaves one at a time into the pan, dribbling only a little of the butter between layers. Half of each of the leaves should extend beyond the pan sides; the other half should cover the bottom of the pan. Arrange the leaves in such a way that the entire bottom is -covered.
Place chunks of chicken around the edges of the pastry-lined pan, then work toward the center. Cover with the egg mixture, drained of excess juices, then sprinkle with the almond sugar mixture.
Cover the layers with all but two of the remaining pastry leaves, brushing lightly with btter. Fold the extended pastry leaves over the top of the pie to cover and enclose it. Place the remaining two leaves over the top, lightly butter each and tucking them neatly around the edges. Pour any remaining butter around the edge.
Bake for 10 minutes in a 425 degree oven. Shake the pan to loosen the pie and run a spatula around the edges. Pour off the excess butter. Invert on a large sheet, return to the pan and continue baking for another 10 minutes.
Remove, dust the top with confectioners' sugar and run crisscrossing lines of cinnamon over the top. Serve very hot. BAKED FISH WITH STUFFED DATES (6 servings) 1 sea or striped bass (about 4 pounds), cleaned, scaled, gutted and split $1 tablespoon salt Freshly ground pepper 2 1/2 tablespoons granulated rice (cream of rice) 1/2 cup whole blanched almonds (about 5 ounces) 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger 2 to 3 teaspoons sugar 6 tablespoons unsalted butter 1 pound pitted dates 2 tablespoons chopped onion 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Clean fish under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels. Rub with salt and pepper.
Cook granulated rice in 3/4 cup of water with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Boil 30 seconds, beating well. Turn off the heat and allow it to stand covered, a few minutes.
Uncover and allow it to cool.
Grind the almonds and mix them with the cooked rice mixture, reserving 2 tablespoons of ground almonds for later use. Add 1/2 teaspoon of the ground ginger; 2 to 3 teaspoons sugar; 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper and 1 tablespoon of the butter to the almond rice mixture. Blend well.
Sandwich each date with the above mixture. Stuff into fish.
Butter an overproof dish and place the stuffed fish on its side. Pour 1/2 cup water around and season with salt and pepper and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger. Add the onion and any remaining stuffed fruti and dot the dish with the remaining 5 tablespoons of butter.
Bake 30 minutes in a 425 degree oven on the middle shelf of the oven, basting a few times.
Remove the fish from the oven, then raise the oven heat to its highest setting.Pull out the stuffed fruit from the fish's cavity and place it around the fish. Sprinkle both fish and fruit with ground cinnamon and the remaining 2 tablespoons ground almonds.Set the baking dish on the highest rack of the oven and bake the fish until golden brown and crusty (about 15 minutes). Serve at once. ORANGE SALAD WITH ROSEWATER (6 servings) 6 navel oranges, peeled and sliced 1 1/2 teaspoons rosewater 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Arrange orange sections in a pattern of overlapping circles. In the serving dish. Then sprinkle with perfumed water, sugar and cinnamon. Chill.