THE MENU Scallop-stuffed artichokes with green mayonnaise Navarin printanier (Lamb stew with spring vegetables) Gateau milanaise with strawberries or chocolate-covered strawberries
NAVARIN PRINTANIER, a fancy way of saying lamb stew with spring vegetables, is full-bodied but light, pretty and perfect for an early June evening. Presented on a large, shallow serving platter, the meat and its fragrant sauce are surrounded by a lovely bouquet of carrots, potatoes, turnips, onions, peas and green beans that has been brightened by a sprinkling of mixed, fresh minced herbs. Such a dish would be soothing even if the temperature were 90 degrees and the air conditioning had broken down.
As with other stews, the navarin printanier is underrated, undervalued and largely ignored, the victim of pretensions about "company" as opposed to family food. Being a stew, it benefits from being made in advance and sitting overnight in its own juices, to be finished off a few minutes before it is served.
Moreover, since the cheaper cuts -- shoulder, short ribs, neck and breast -- are best (they don't dry out and become stringy with braising the way fancier chops or the leg do), this stew is also an economical dish. Try to include some of all (or as many as possible) of the four cuts, since each contributes something different in texture and flavor.
If you aren't sure you're mad about lamb, try it after you've trimmed off all the fat and fell (the papery tissue that surrounds much of the meat). The fat, not the lamb, is responsible for the heavy unpleasant flavor that I think of as "muttony." This is also the reason that the sauce must be degreased. The fell tends to toughen with cooking and imparts an undesirable texture.
Fresh herbs are especially good for the navarin, and to me, although not necessarily to others, indispensable.
The Farm Womens Market in Bethesda (Wednesday and Saturday mornings), the Farmer's Market in Alexandria (Saturday mornings) and the Washington Cathedral greenhouse still have good supplies of herbs, as do many nurseries, flower shops and even hardware stores.
Fresh herbs also add a lot to the green mayonnaise for the first course of scallop-stuffed artichokes. This dish, which is uncomplicated and as elegant as the lamb, can also be prepared the day before the dinner and put together just before you sit down.
Bay scallops, in all their sweetness, are on the market now and, if you shop around, surprisingly inexpensive (about $3.50 a pound at the Giant last week). They combine beautifully with artichokes, which are also in season and reasonably priced. Stuffing the artichoke gives an added bonus for the family, since the center tuft of tender leaves, which is removed, can be eaten the next day with leftover green sauce. The prickly tips should be cut off with scissors before cooking since they are very disagreeable to the touch. After the artichoke has been cooked, the choke is scooped out with a teaspoon.
The presentation is very attractive: The bottom two rows of artichoke leaves are pressed down to suggest a flower. The scallop-filled artichoke itself is then topped with a flower-like slice of lemon, an effect achieved with a stripper (a gadget used to remove strips of peel from citrus while leaving behind the white pith of the fruit). I make my strips (or stripes) from the top of the lemon to the bottom and then slice it. The stripper is also useful for making stripes down unpeeled cucumbers (when unwaxed ones can be found) and on zucchini. The lemon slice is then sprinkled with a bit of finely minced parsley. Additional green mayonnaise is served on the side as a dip for the artichoke leaves.
The thick processor mayonnaise is as simple to make as unscrewing the lid from a jar and much better. This recipe produces a dense mayonnaise that can then be thinned and simultaneously made more delicious with some of the reserved liquid in which the scallops have cooked. I mince the greenery in the processor, set the herbs aside and then make the mayonnaise. This way I avoid having to wash the bowl and blade an extra time.
Dessert involves strawberries, and why not, when local berries are coming onto the market and the California imports finally have developed some flavor. I am suggesting a choice. One is Dione Lucas' gateau milanaise, a sponge cake with the flavor and lightness of a genoise but that doesn't require beating egg yolks over heat or carefully folding flour into a fragile batter. Making a milanaise could not be simpler, particularly if you have an electric mixer on a stand. The strawberries (or raspberries, blueberries or sliced peaches) are combined with melted red currant jelly and a little madeira and lemon juice. The fruit becomes the filling and the topping, and the sides of the cake are frosted with whipped cream. The milanaise is also delicious as is, dusted only with confectioners' sugar.
If cake seems too much, chocolate-coated strawberries are a nice alternative. If you use supermarket chocolate, you will have to melt it with a little unflavored oil. More expensive "dipping" chocolates have a higher cocoa butter content and need no such addition. The best dipping chocolate I have tried is Carma, a Swiss brand, its highest quality being a semisweet bar called Bourbon-Vanilla. It is available from Albert Uster Imports in Gaithersburg, which sells a minimum of 18 ounces for $5.35. Area bakeries that buy it for their own needs may sell it retail, and La Cuisine in Alexandria sells 9 ounces for $5.50. Nine ounces will coat about 60 strawberries; I count from 4 to 5 strawberries per serving, depending on the size of the berries. Be sure to follow the suggestions for melting the chocolate; overheating can be ruinous. Scallop-stuffed artichokes with green mayonnaise (8 servings) For the artichokes: 8 artichokes 3/4 cup dry vermouth 1 finely minced small onion Sprig of parsley Bay leaf 1 pound bay scallops or 1 pound sea scallops, quartered 1 lemon For the mayonnaise: 3/4 cup minced parsley 1 cup minced spinach 1/4 cup minced chives 1/4 cup minced green onion, white and green parts 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, minced, or 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried 1 tablespoon minced fresh dill 2 1/4 cups mayonnaise (see recipe below)
Cut off the stems and tops of the artichokes, trim the prickly points off the leaves with scissors. Boil in salted water for 18 minutes, or until bottom tests tender with a sharply pointed thin knife. Turn into a colander and drain them, ends up. When they are cool, squeeze them gently to remove remaining water, place them on their bottoms and make a hollow by removing the tender inside leaves. Save these for the next day. The choke should now be exposed. Remove it with a spoon and refrigerate the artichokes, standing them upright on a dish.
Bring the vermouth, onion, sprig of parsley and bay leaf to a boil, add the scallops and simmer for 2 minutes, shaking the pan as they cook. Turn off the heat, cover the scallops and leave in pan for another 2 minutes. Drain them and reserve the cooking liquid. (The minced onion will remain with the scallops.) Cool the liquid and the scallops.
Add the minced parsley, spinach, chives, green onion, tarragon and dill to the mayonnaise. The mixture will be very thick. Thin it a bit with the reserved scallop liquid -- it should have the consistency of a thinnish commercial mayonnaise.
Add about 1 cup of the mayonnaise to the scallops and mix. The scallops should be well coated, so you may need to add more. Place the remaining mayonnaise in a small bowl. Fill each artichoke cavity with scallops.
Use a stripper, if you have one, to cut narrow strips of peel from the lemon, working from top to bottom. Slice the lemon thin -- the slices will be scalloped. Top each filled artichoke with a thin lemon slice and sprinkle a little finely minced parsley on it. Place artichokes on individual plates. Press down the bottom two rows of leaves to make a flower. Pass the extra green mayonnaise for the artichoke leaves.
Any leftover sauce can be used with the tender leaves the next day or mixed with some cooked minced chicken and celery for a lovely salad. THICK PROCESSOR MAYONNAISE (Makes 2 1/4 cups) 3 egg yolks 1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard 2 tablespoons lemon juice, more, if needed, to taste 1/2 teaspoon salt and white pepper, or to taste 1 cup peanut oil 1 cup olive oil
Process the yolks and seasonings for 2 minutes. Then, in a thin stream pour the peanut oil slowly through the processor tube.Then pour in the olive oil. Thin with scallop cooking liquid. NAVARIN PRINTANIER (Lamb Stew with Spring Vegetables) (8 servings) 3 1/2 pounds lamb stew meat (a good combination would be 2 pounds of shoulder, 1 pound short ribs and 1/2 pound neck meat), boned, trimmed of fat and fell and cut into 2-inch cubes Salt and pepper to taste 1 tablespoon sugar 3 tablespoons butter 2tablespoons peanut oil 1 large onion, studded with a clove 2 tablespoons flour 6 cups warm beef bouillon (homemade or canned), approximately 2 tablespoons tomato paste 2 cloves garlic, crushed Bouquet garni made up of a sprig each of fresh thyme, rosemary and parsley and a bay leaf 24 very small new potatoes, peeled and covered with cold water to keep them from turning dark 24 small white onions, about 1 inch in diameter, scalded and peeled 8 turnips, quartered lengthwise and ends rounded 8 carrots, quartered and ends rounded 4 or 5 medium-size tomatoes, scalded in hot water, cored, peeled and seeded 3/4 pound fresh green peas, shelled 1/2 pound fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces 2 tablespoons mixed fresh herbs -- parsley, thyme, rosemary or whatever you are growing
Salt and pepper the meat lightly and sprinkle the pieces with the sugar. (This helps the meat to brown evenly.) Heat the butter and oil in a large heavy-bottomed casserole that is large enough to hold the meat and all the vegetables. Add the onion and then the pieces of meat and brown them slowly and evenly. Do not add all the meat at once, and remove pieces to a bowl as they are browned.Return all the browned meat to the casserole, sprinkle it with flour and place it in a 450-degree oven for about 6 minutes until the flour is golden brown. Remove the casserole from the oven and lower the oven temperature to 340 degrees (350 degrees will cause it to boil rather than braise). Place the casserole over medium heat on top of the stove and stir in the warm bouillon. The meat should be just barely covered. Bring the liquid to a boil and add the tomato paste, garlic and the bouquet garni. Cover, return to the oven and cook for 1 hour.
Remove the casserole from the oven, discard the bouquet garni and, using a slotted spoon, transfer the pieces of meat to a bowl. Pick out and discard any bones. Let the sauce stand for a few minutes so that the fat rises to the surface. Tilt the casserole and degrease the sauce with a spoon. Blot off any remaining fat with a paper towel, passing it rapidly over the surface. Strain the sauce into another bowl.
Wash and dry the casserole and return the meat to it. Pour in the strained sauce. Drain the water from the potatoes. Add them, the onions, turnips, carrots and tomatoes to the casserole and baste them with sauce. Push the vegetables between the meat. Bring to the simmer on top of the stove, cover and return to the oven for 1 hour, or until the lamb and the vegetables are tender when pierced with a sharply pointed knife. Test the meat and vegetables after 30 minutes. Remove the casserole from the oven, tilt it and degrease once more, using a spoon. Set aside with the lid askew if serving in an hour or two. Otherwise, cool and refrigerate.
Drop the peas and beans into a large pot of boiling salted water and boil uncovered for 5 minutes. Immediately turn into a colander and run cold water over them for several minutes to stop the cooking. Put aside (or refrigerate) until the stew is to be finished.
Just before serving, bring the casserole to the simmer, add the peas and beans and baste with the sauce. Cover and simmer about 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
Place the pieces of meat in the center of a large, heated deep platter, surround with the vegetables, alternating colors, and pour the sauce over all. Sprinkle the vegetables with the minced fresh herbs and serve with warm french bread. GATEAU MILANAISE (8 to 10 servings) 2 whole eggs 2 eggs, separated 1 cup superfine sugar 3/8 cup (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour 3/8 cup (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) potato starch (also called potato flour) Grated rind of 1 lemon Pinch of salt Fruit Filling and Topping: 10-ounce jar red currant jelly 2 tablespoons madeira or sherry 1 teaspoon lemon juice 2 pints strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries, or 4 cups sliced peaches or other similar fruit 3/4 cup whipping cream 1 tablespoon sugar Few drops of vanilla extract
Butter and flour an 8- or 9-inch springform pan. Preheat over to 350 degrees. Combine 2 eggs, 2 egg yolks, sugar, flour and potato starch in a mixing bowl and beat on high speed continuously for 15 minutes. Then beat in the grated lemon rind. Using clean, dry beaters and bowl, beat 2 egg whites with pinch of salt to soft peaks. Fold the whites into the yolk and flour mixture -- the batter should be smooth, with no egg white lumps showing. Turn into pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes.
Turn the cake, pan and all, onto a cake rack. When the cake is cool, remove from pan.
To prepare the fruit filling and topping, melt the jelly along with the madeira or sherry and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Mix 2 cups of the fruit with 1/3 cup of the melted jelly mixture.
Slice the cake into two horizontal layers and place the bottom layer, cut side up, on a plate. Spread this with the fruit and jelly filling and then place the top layer over it. Brush the top and sides of the cake with some of the melted jelly mixture. Then dip the remaining fruit in the mixture and arrange it on top of the cake in a pretty pattern. Spoon whatever melted jelly mixture remains over the fruit.
Whip the cream, flavor it with the sugar and vanilla and frost the sides of the cake. Refrigerate until served. CHOCOLATE-COATED STRAWBERRIES (8 servings) 35 to 40 strawberries (about a pint and a half, depending on the size of the berries) 6 ounces semisweet "dipping" (high cocoa-butter content) chocolate or 6 ounces semisweet chocolate and 5 teaspoons peanut oil or other tasteless cooking oil
Brush the strawberries with a pastry brush to clean them, but do not wash or hull them.
Place a few inches of water in the bottom of a double boiler and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Put the chocolate, broken up into pieces, and the oil (if you aren't using dipping chocolate) into the top of the boiler and cover it. Let it sit, away from heat, for 2 minutes. Stir with a wooden spoon. All the chocolate pieces should be melted. If they are not, cover and wait another minute. Do not let even a drop of water fall into the chocolate.
If you have a yogurt or cheese thermometer, check the temperature of the chocolate before dipping -- it should be no hotter than 90 degrees. (The ideal temperature is 86 degrees.) Pick up a strawberry by its stem, dip it two-thirds of the way into the chocolate, and set it, stem side down, on a waxed paper-covered cake rack, using the grid spaces to hold the berries upright. Continue until all the berries are coated (you will need two racks for 40 berries) and refrigerate for 30 minutes to set the chocolate. Just before serving, arrange 4 or 5 strawberries on their sides (so some of the red shows) on a grape leaf or other pretty leaf on each dessert dish.
Note: Any leftover chocolate can be kept in a jar, refrigerated, and melted over low heat and used again. Or it can be mixed into a bark with toasted almonds and eaten as a candy bar.