THE MENU Iced or Hot Pimiento Soup Baked Ham with Mustards Grated Zucchini and Spinach in Cream Onion Rolls Italian Prune-Plum Tart
THIS EARLY fall meal begins with a full-bodied pimiento soup that is delicious in its simplicity. In addition, the soup uses red bell peppers, which are now at their peak. T Then the menu gets serious with baked ham and the kind of onion rolls that push nostalgia buttons for anyone who used to gorge on almost-identical ones at Ratner's late at night after Dixieland jazz concerts. Grated zucchini becomes substantial enough to stand up to the ham when it is reinforced with chopped spinach and cooked in cream. Dessert is a tart of Italian prune-plum quarters arranged in a pretty pattern on a thin marzipan-like base and glazed with red currant jelly.
The pimiento soup is thickish, a bit dense, no sissy. It can be served iced on a muggy September evening or hot if the weather behaves like New England. I made this soup for the first time just the other day because I constantly look for new ways to use red peppers when they are in season. The recipe sounded all right, if a little simple-minded. What I hadn't anticipated was its intensive -- and wonderful -- flavor. If roasting fresh peppers is just too much (but it really is so easy), you can buy roasted peppers in a can or jar for this recipe. I would think, however, that the amount of pure'e would have to be increased, since peppers you buy roasted are just not as flavorful as those you roast yourself. You don't want the tomato to numb the pimiento.
Half a ham will serve eight people amply, with plenty left for sandwiches, to have with eggs or for serious experimentation in more esoteric directions. And then finally there is the denuded bone, without which split pea soup isn't. I cook the split peas -- according to the directions for soup on the package -- along with the bone, any remaining scraps of meat and some diced carrots, celery, onion and potato. Salt, pepper and lots of thyme are the seasonings. The soup freezes well, and it is a joy to have a quart or two on hand for a Sunday night when even broiling a hamburger is too much.
I like Gwaltney's Pagan hams, which are better than most but not as good, I think, as they used to be. I buy the rump or butt end because there is more meat and it is easier to carve. A pair of kitchen scissors is useful for cutting through the rind when it is removed -- 40 minutes before the ham is cooked.
I do not glaze my hams anymore because my husband carves the meat in the kitchen and cuts off the fat and glaze before anyone can see it. The apricot glaze in the recipe here is a pretty presentation and is worth doing if you carve at the table, but I have never found that the glaze made one whit of difference in the taste of the meat.
The onion rolls, which provide the starch in this meal, are made glorious with the secret ingredients of unflavored malted milk and a fabulously oniony topping.
I am addicted to grated zucchini in cream and cook it often now that the food processor has saved my knuckles from the grater. By adding spinach to the zucchini, the dish gains an underbody that is needed for the ham. The zucchini and spinach can be made the day before and reheated just before serving, always a boon.
Ham is a wonderful excuse for serving different mustards. I like to put out Moutarde de Meaux, dijon and herb-flavored or horseradishy mustards. I have even been known to share a jar of wonderful creole mustard which a friend gave us.
The Italian prune-plum tart is a good way to use these lovely inexpensive fruits whose season is so short. If you have chosen ripe plums and if you have a wonderful widget that both pits and quarters the plums, this tart takes absolutely no time to put together. The thin layer of ground almonds, almond and vanilla flavoring, lemon peel and egg makes a kind of marzipan base. This and the red currant jelly glaze bring out the flavor and add a tartness and freshness. The tart is elegant with a cre me frai che-type concoction of whipped cream into which some sour cream has been beaten.
ICED OR HOT PIMIENTO SOUP (8 servings) 3 large red bell peppers plus 1/2 red or green bell pepper 8 cups tomato juice Pinch of sugar 2 tablespoons combined chopped fresh basil, thyme, oregano or parsley, alone or in any combination Salt and pepper to taste
Roast the 3 whole peppers under the broiler or over an open flame at the end of a long fork, until the skins are black and blistered. Let them sit in a plastic bag for about 10 minutes, or until they are cool enough to handle. Skin and seed them and process the flesh in a blender or food processor to a pure'e. You should leave about 1/2 cup of pure'e. Combine the pure'e with the tomato juice and a pinch of sugar and simmer for 5 minutes. Cool and refrigerate. If soup is to be hot, reheat. Whether hot or ice cold, just before serving, garnish with the remaining half raw red or green pepper, cut into a thin julienne, and the fresh chopped herbs. Taste for salt and pepper.
This soup can also be made with roasted peppers in a can or jar. Adapted from Elizabeth David's "A Book of Mediterranean Food"
BAKED HAM (8 servings) 1/2 whole ham, preferably the butt end, weighing 4 or 5 pounds 1 cup apricot jam 1 teaspoon dry mustard Whole cloves (optional) Assorted mustards for serving
Remove the plastic wrap from the ham as well as the paper label that says "water added." Put the ham, fat side up, in a roasting pan, to which you have added about 1/4 inch of water. Bake at 325 degrees, 18 minutes per pound.
Make the glaze (using it is optional) by melting the apricot jam and the dry mustard over a low flame. Sieve it to make a pure'e and set aside. About 40 minutes before the ham is completely cooked, remove it from the oven. Cut off the rind and score the fat in diamond shapes. If desired, stud the points of the diamonds with whole cloves. Spoon the apricot-mustard glaze over the fat. Return to the oven for another 40 minutes, or until the glaze is set. If you don't want to use the glaze, remove rind, score fat and return ham to the oven for the remaining cooking time. Allow the ham to rest for 30 minutes to an hour before carving.
GRATED ZUCCHINI AND SPINACH IN CREAM (8 servings) 2 1/2 pounds small, young zucchini 2 1/2 teaspoons salt 2 packages frozen whole leaf spinach, partially defrosted 6 tablespoons butter 3 tablespoons chopped shallots or scallions 1 1/2 cups heavy cream Salt and pepper to taste
Soak the zucchini for about 20 minutes in cold water. Then wash them under cold running water, and if they still feel gritty scrub them gently with a brush. Trim off the ends. Dry the zucchini and put them through the coarse grating blade of a food processor. Turn the grated zucchini into a colander over a bowl, mix in the salt and let drain while you prepare the spinach.
Partially defrost the spinach and chop it with a knife. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a saucepan and stir in the chopped spinach. Cover and cook over low heat for a couple of minutes. Then uncover, raise the heat and cook for another few minutes, stirring, until all the moisture has evaporated. Set aside.
Squeeze a handful of zucchini, taste a bit, and if it is too salty, rinse it under cold running water. Squeeze the zucchini dry by handfuls and place on a dish towel to absorb any excess liquid. Melt the butter in a large (11- or 12-inch) stainless steel, enameled or no-stick frying pan. Stir in the shallots or scallions and cook for a minute. Then raise heat to moderately high and add the zucchini. Toss and turn for about 4 minutes, then add the spinach. Cook for another few minutes and add the cream. Simmer for several minutes until the cream has been absorbed and thickened. Season to taste. This can be prepared in advance and reheated before serving. Adapted from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume II" by Julia Child and Simone Beck
ONION ROLLS (Makes 32) 1 package yeast 2 cups warm water 1/4 cup unflavored instant malted milk powder 2 tablespoons sugar 1 tablespoon salt 6 cups unsifted flour
Onion topping: 1/2 cup dehydrated minced onions, soaked in water and then squeezed dry 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 egg white
Glaze: 1 egg 1 teaspoon water
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the malted milk powder and sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the salt and flour and stir. You may need more flour to make a fairly stiff dough. Knead, either by hand or in a heavy-duty mixer with a dough hook, for 10 minutes. Place the kneaded dough in an ungreased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk.
Punch the dough down and divide it into 32 pieces. Shape each piece into a ball and let rise on a greased baking sheet, about an hour, until doubled in bulk.
Combine the onion topping ingredients and set aside. When the rolls have risen, brush the tops with glaze made from the egg beaten with the teaspoon of water. Top the rolls with onion topping. Bake them in a 450-degree oven for about 15 minutes, or until brown. From "Bagels, Bagels, Bagels" by Sue Anderson Gross
ITALIAN PRUNE-PLUM TART (8 servings) 3/4 cup blanched almonds 1/3 cup sugar 1 large egg 2 tablespoons softened butter 1/4 teaspoon almond extract 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind 10-inch tart shell, unbaked 24 Italian prune-plums, pitted and quartered 1 cup red currant jelly 2 tablespoons port or medium-sweet madeira Whipped cream mixed with sour cream for serving (optional)
Combine the almonds and sugar in a food processor and blend for 30 seconds, or until smooth. Do not grind to a paste. Add the egg, butter, almond and vanilla extracts and lemon rind and blend for another 20 seconds.
Spread the mixture evenly over the unbaked tart shell. Arrange the plums in a decorative pattern over the mixture. Place the tart on a baking sheet and bake in the center of the oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Remove and let cool.
Heat the currant jelly with the port or madeira until melted. Spoon this mixture over the entire tart and let it cool to room temperature. Serve alone or with whipped cream into which you have mixed a little sour cream.