THE MENU Chicken Broth With Stuffed Lettuce Pillows Marinated Leg of Lamb Stuffed Tomatoes Baked Onions Blueberry Cream Puff Ring
THIS MEAL is virtue itself, until dessert time. The delicious little forcemeat-stuffed lettuce pillows in the soup are reminiscent of the most delicate wontons but without the dough casing. The main course is meat and no potatoes. A leg of lamb is cooked in an aromatic marinade heavy with onion, garlic and herbs, just right for summer. This is served sliced thinly and arranged on a large platter, surrounded by cracklings made by the marinade's onions and a border of stuffed tomato halves alternated with onions baked like potatoes. Then the righteousness goes, with the cream puff ring filled with bourbon-flavored whipped cream and fresh blueberries and its accompanying blueberry sauce.
The soup has many merits. The forcemeat, which I have adapted rather freely from a Marcella Hazan recipe, substitues pork for the more expensive veal and loses nothing in quality. I made these the first time using Boston lettuce, as directed, but the leaves were too small and the texture too delicate to withstand the cooking time, or so it was for me. Then my husband suggested iceberg lettuce, which I tried reluctantly but with the hope that I would finally find something for which it is suitable, since it is not fit for eating raw. Success. It is necessary to cut out the coarse central rib from the parboiled leaves before stuffing them, as you would cabbage leaves, because they are not flexible and will break. The lettuce when it is cooked becomes pale green and gossamer, very pretty and professional looking and very easy to wrap.
The soup, which comes from a can, doesn't taste as though it does, because the lettuce pillows, which have cooked in it, give it flavor and body.
The lamb is simplicity itself, once the fat and fell (the transparent tissue that surrounds the meat) have been removed, a necessary step if you dislike the flavor they impart. I have left a trimmed leg in its marinade for as long as five or six days, refrigerated, naturally. Do, however, cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap, to keep the aromas where they belong.It is important to remove the meat from the refrigerator a few hours before it is put into the oven; otherwise the cooking time will be off.
My husand, who is such an excellent carver that he can get enough meat out of a five-pound leg to feed 12 people and still have some left over, is of the parallel carving, or French, school. That is, rather than cutting slices vertically down to the bone, as both we and the English tend to do, which only creates a gristly slice of meat, he slices thinly and horizontally across the meat. You need a good sharp knife to carve anything properly.
Now that home-grown tomatoes are available even at some supermarkets, they are worth buying and cooking. I don't think that dried basil and thymne do much for the tomatoes, so I would confine the flavoring to fresh parsley if you can't get some fresh herbs. These tomatoes are particularly complementary to the lamb, as are the onions, which are baked in their skins as though they were potatoes. The flavor is full but mild, and when the onions are baked tender it is nothing to slip off their skins. These are also excellent cold, as part of hors d'oeuvres varies, for example, but instead of butter you would use olive oil and a little lemon juice plus the chopped chives.
The cream puff ring is good now filled with blueberries (or peaches, since they are finally edible), particularly if you can find home-grown blueberries at such places as the Farm Women's Market in Bethesda. These smaller, more tart and more flavorful blueberries are superior to the fat cultivated New Jersey kind.
I made five different cream puff rings before I landed on the recipe here. Recipes that say that the paste does not need at least a few minutes of drying out (see recipe) are wrong, I can, to my sorrow, report, because without the drying the puff doesn't puff. My best results came from incorporating the eggs by hand, which involved a lot of beating with a wooden spoon, or, I say with joy, from using the food processor. For me, incorporating the eggs with an electric mixer was less successful. According to one friend, the fresher the eggs the better the result. My rather unconventional way of baking the puff worked very well twice in a row. The dough puffed nicely on the top shelf of the oven and then finished baking on the bottom shelf. The bourbon is a good foil for the blueberries. CHICKEN BROTH WITH STUFFED LETTUCE PILLOWS (8 servings) 1/2-pound piece of pork 1 whole chicken breast, boned and skinned 4 tablespoons butter Salt and pepper to taste 3 tablespoons minced onion 2 tablespoons minced celery 2 tablespoons minced carrot 1 tablespoon ricotta cheese 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese 1 teaspoon fresh majoram or 3/4 teaspoon dried 1 tablespoon minced parsley 1 egg yolk 2 large heads iceberg lettuce 9 cups fresh or canned chicken broth
Cut the pork and the chicken breast into 1-inch pieces, but keep them separate. Melt the butter in a 12-inch saute pan and brown the pork on all sides, with a little salt and pepper. Transfer the pieces to a bowl, using a slotted spoon. Then brown the chicken with a little salt and pepper. Add it to the pork. Add the onion to the pan and cook until it becomes pale gold in color. Then add the celery and carrot and cook for a few minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the contents of the pan to a second bowl. Chop the pork and chicken in a processor until very fine and add to the vegetables. Then add the ricotta, parmesan, majoram, parsley and egg yolk, and mix well. Fry a bit of the mixture to taste and correct seasonings.
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Core the heads of lettuce and discard any soiled outer leaves. Drop a head of lettuce into the water and remove to a colander after the water has come back to the boil. Repeat with the other head. Let the lettuce cool and then separate the leaves, stuffing them as you go. To do this, cut each lettuce leaf in half, cut out the central rib -- you will get two pillows from each leaf. On each of the half leaves, place about a teaspoon of the stuffing and roll up the leaf as you would for stuffed cabbage. Be sure to envelop the stuffing completely. Gently squeeze each stuffed leaf in your hand to keep it securely wrapped and set aside, seam down. Continue until the stuffing is used up. The pillows can be refrigerated, covered well with plastic wrap, for a day.
Place the stuffed leaves side by side in a large pot and pack them tightly, leaving no space between them. Make as many layers as necessary. On the top layer of stuffed lettuce, place a plate or pot lid small enough to fit inside the pan. This is to keep them put while they cook.
Pour in enough broth to cover the plate or lid by about 2 inches. Cover the soup pot, bring the broth to a gentle simmer and cook for 30 minutes from the time it starts to simmer. In a separate saucepan, heat the remaining broth. To serve, divide the little pillows among the soup plates, being careful to place them seam side down. Ladle the broth over them and serve. Inspired by Marcella Hazan's "More Classic Italian Cooking" MARINATED LEG OF LAMB (8 servings) 5 1/2 to 6-pound leg of lamb 2/3 cup olive oil 3 tablespoons lemon juice 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried 1 teaspoon dried oregano 3 bay leaves, coarsely crumbled 1 cup thinly sliced onions 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Peel the leg of lamb of all its fell and as much fat as possible. Mix the remaining ingredients in a roasting pan, put the lamb in and turn it over. Rub the lamb with the marinade, cover it with some of the onions, wrap the pan tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a day or two. Turn the lamb occasionally.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Scrap eht onions from the lamb but do not remove them from the roasting pan. Sear the meat for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees. Cook the lamb for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the lamb and let it sit for 10 minutes to settle its juices. Then carve, cutting parallel to the bone. Arrange some of the browned onions from the marinade around the lamb. STUFFED TOMATOES (8 servings) 8 medium-large, firm, ripe tomatoes Salt to taste 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 tablespoons minced parsley 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs 1/2 cup olive oil Extra olive oil for the baking dish
Trim the stem ends of the tomatoes and slice in half. Press out the seeds and juice, sprinkle each half with salt and let sit upside down on paper towels while you prepare the stuffing.
Combine the remaining ingredients (except the extra oil for the dish) and mix lightly. Fill the small cavities in the tomatoes.
Lightly grease a shallow baking dish just large enough to hold the tomato halves in 1 layer and put the tomatoes in it. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour, basting the tomatoes with the pan juices and a little more olive oil if desired. The tomatoes are done when they are lightly browned. BAKED ONIONS (8 servings) 8 medium-large onions 4 teaspoons butter, melted Salt and pepper to taste 3 tablespoons chopped chives
Choose, if possible, onions that have no dirt showing under the skins. Do not peel the onions. Place them in a shallow baking dish just large enough to hold them and bake in a 350-degree oven for 2 hours, or until they are easily pierced with a sharp, thin knife. Slip off the skins, pour the melted butter over them, add salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with chives. m BLUEBERRY CREAM PUFF RING (8 servings) for the cream puff ring: 1 cup water 6 tablespoons unsalted butter 1 teaspoon salt 1 scant teaspoon sugar 1 cup all-purpose flour 4 large eggs 1 egg yolk and a few drops of water For the filling: 1 pint blueberries 1/4 cup bourbon 2 cups heavy cream Sugar and b ourbon to taste Confectioners' sugar For the sauce: 1 pint blueberries 2 tablespoons water 1/4 cup sugar, or more to taste 2 tablespoons bourbon
To make the cream puff ring, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Put 2 baking sheets together, 1 on top of the other (this keeps the bottom of the pastry from burning) and cover the top sheet with foil. (If you wet the sheet, the foil will stick to it.) Now butter the foil and place the rim of an 8-inch cakd pan down on it to mark out a circle. Set aside.
Combine the water, butter, salt and sugar in a heavy enamel pan and, stirring with a wooden spoon, bring slowly to a full boil. Romove from heat, add all the flour at once and beat, off heat, with a wooden spoon, until the mixture forms a ball. Return to heat, mash the mixture down onto the bottom of the pan and then with the wooden spoon kneading bread. The point is to dry out the paste. Continue, for about 3 minutes or until a sandy-looking film of paste forms on the bottom of the pan. Romove from heat, turn the paste into a food processor with the steel blade, start the motor and quickly add, one after the other, the eggs. Process about 15 seconds more after last egg is added.
Run the prepared baking dish under cold water. With a spoon, drop gobs of the paste on the marked circle. Then wet your fingers with cold water and even out the circle. Gently press down any peaks.
Beat the egg yolk with a few drops of cold water, and with a pastry brush, brush some of this only on the top of the ring. Do not let any egg run down the sides. (Leftover glaze can be frozen and used another time.) Place in the top third of the preheated 400-degree oven for 30 minutes, but check after 15 minutes, to see if it looks cooked. Do not open the oven door during the first 15 minutes. When the dough looks cooked, remove to the bottom third for another 15 minutes. When the ring is nicely puffed and browned, take a long thin knife and make serveral holes around the middle of the outer edge. This lets the steam out and dries it nicely. Return to the oven, turn off the heat and let the ring sit for another 15 minutes. Remove it and cool it on a cake rack. Split it in half crosswise and remove any doughly stuff that may be left in the shells.
To make the filling, steep the blueberries in the bourbon for at least 2 hours, shaking the bowl once in a while to make sure all the berries get their share. Whip the cream, sweeten to taste and flavor with some more bourbon.
To make the sauce, place the blueberries, water and sugar in an enameled or stainless steel saucepan, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Put through a sieve or a food mill. If needed add more sugar and bring the sauce to a simmer once more. Flavor with bourbon and regrigerate until served.
An hour or two before serving, heat the oven to 400 degrees, turn it off and put the shells in for 15 minutes. This crisps them into the bottom serving, pipe half the whipped cream into the bottom half. Drain the blueberries, reserving the liquid, and lay them over the cream. Cover with the remaining whipped cream, flavored with the remaining liquid. Cover with the top half and dust with confectioners' sugar. Serve with blueberry sauce.