THE MENU Cucumber and Chervil Soup Saute'ed Scallops with Toast Triangles Fall Salad Cheeses and Crackers Palm Beach Brownies Vanilla Ice Cream
Tiny bay scallops continue to be plentiful, inexpensive, achingly fresh and T succulent. I could not resist them for the main course of this meal. However, the recipe I love best poses a problem. The scallops so prepared do not want to be complemented by a vegetable or rice or any accompaniment other than toast (which is best) or decent bread. So the scallops are served alone in their splendor; the result is a slightly strange four-course meal, but one that works.
It starts with a delicate cucumber soup flavored with chervil, which is perfect hot on a chilly night and wonderful cold on a warm night. Then come the scallops, mildly garlicky, buttery, lemony and barely cooked, and toast triangles to take up the juices. The composed salad that follows combines contrasting pale and sharp flavors, textures and colors. This is accompanied by crackers and cheeses, perhaps wedges of fresh gorgonzola, St. Andre, beaumont and a chevre, as we have had, or whatever is wanted.
The lovely aura of lightness and sophistication that has been so painstakingly achieved is dashed when the ultimate brownie appears for dessert. These are hard-crusted, soft-centered, chewy, fudgy brownies cut into small squares, since a little is a lot. To create an illusion of virtue and to defuse accusations that guests are being overfed, the vanilla ice cream is scooped into tiny balls that are piled into a glass bowl and passed after the brownies.
The soup recipe is an old favorite which I have refined and made more delicious than the original. Dried chervil does nice things for cucumbers. It can be found expensively among better bottled herbs in supermarkets and cheaply at co-ops that sell herbs in bulk. The soup can be made in advance, but the cream and grated raw cucumber and chive garnish should be added only when the soup is being reheated (if it is to be hot) or just before serving (if it is to be cold). The large-holed drum of the little Mouli grater is efficient with the raw cucumber, although any other grater is fine. It is important to trim off enough of the ends of the cucumbers to get rid of the bitterness that concentrates there. I keep an extra (light wood as opposed to dark) peppermill in the kitchen for white peppercorns, which don't make black speckles in light foods.
I had been concerned about having to disappear to cook the scallops and make the toast in the middle of the festivities, but this was a needless worry. With a little organization, both were prepared in under eight minutes. It helped that all the ingredients had been lined up in advance. The butter, salt, pepper and paprika were already combined in the frying pan. The garlic had been put through the press and placed under plastic wrap in my smallest glass bowl. The lemon juice and the other half of the butter sat in another container and the chopped parsley was in its bowl. The scallops had been washed, dried and refrigerated. The serving dish was warming in a low oven. And the bread had been trimmed of its crusts (which the processor makes into fresh bread crumbs and the freezer keeps fresh) and returned to its plastic bag. The actual cooking was negligible.
The salad can also be prepared a few hours earlier and refrigerated. The dressing, naturally, goes on only at the very last. Peeling bell peppers is a bore but I continue to do this (with a swivel-bladed potato peeler) because it makes enough difference to justify the bother. I use red leaf lettuce for lunch and try to remember to stick to green for dinner because candlelight or other dim lights can make the red appear to be rotten brown. I use the imported herbes de Provence that come in a lovely unglazed brown pot.
Maida Heatter's instructions for lining the baking pan with foil for her brownies seemed to involve more fussing than necessary. Instead, I greased the pan heavily with soft butter and swirled bread crumbs in the pan to coat it thoroughly. Then I turned the pan upside down to get rid of the excess crumbs. I followed her instructions to the letter otherwise, including not letting the chocolate get any hotter than necessary to melt it. The brownies didn't stick and, miracles of miracles, the pan was easy to clean. The very small ice-cream scoop is an indulgence, but a nice one. These scoops, which are made in Italy, are available in good cookware shops throughout the area.
CUCUMBER AND CHERVIL SOUP (8 servings) 2 small yellow onions, chopped 4 tablespoons butter 6 to 7 long thin cucumbers, peeled and ends trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices (about 9 cups) 1 cup water 4 cups chicken broth 3 tablespoons dried chervil Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste 1 cup milk 1 long thin cucumber, peeled, ends trimmed, sliced lengthwise and seeded (for serving) 2 tablespoons minced chives 1 cup heavy cream
Use a saucepan large enough to hold the sliced cucumbers. In this cook the onions in the butter over low heat until they are soft and transparent, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the cucumbers along with the cup of water, cover and cook over low heat for 20 minutes. The cucumbers will be soft but not mushy.
Pure'e in a processor or blender in two or more batches and return to a large, clean saucepan. Add the chicken broth, chervil, salt, pepper and cream and bring to a simmer. Taste for seasoning and season more highly if the soup is to be served cold. Cool and refrigerate if the soup is to be cold or if it is made in advance.
Just before serving, grate the peeled and seeded cucumber in a processor or in a Mouli grater using the coarse grate drum or grate over the large holes of a food grater. Stir the grated cucumber and the minced chives into the soup along with the cream. If the soup is to be served hot, reheat but do not boil.
SAUTEED SCALLOPS (8 servings) 2 1/2 pounds bay or sea scallops 10 tablespoons butter 1 1/4 teaspoons salt 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper Rounded 1/2 teaspoon Hungarian paprika 3 cloves garlic, mashed 4 tablespoons minced parsley 5 tablespoons lemon juice
Wash the scallops and dry them thoroughly on paper towels. Cut sea scallops into thirds or quarters. Heat half the butter in a large frying pan with the salt, pepper, paprika and garlic. Add enough scallops to cover the bottom of the pan and cook quickly over high heat, stirring, until golden, about 3 or 4 minutes in all. Transfer the scallops to a heated platter, using a slotted spoon. Repeat until all the scallops are cooked. Add the remaining butter, lemon juice and parsley to the frying pan, heat until the butter melts. Scrape up any browned bits that cling to the bottom of the pan and pour this sauce over the scallops. Serve with crustless unbuttered toast triangles.
FALL SALAD (8 servings) 1 small head red or green leaf lettuce 1 small head boston lettuce 6 to 8 leaves of chicory 1/2 red bell pepper 4 to 5 raw mushrooms 1/4 cup thin slivers of red onion 2 ounces marinated mushrooms (from the jar) 3 ounces marinated artichoke hearts (from the jar), halved lengthwise 12 to 16 black nicoise olives Pinch of herbes de Provence 2 tablespoons chopped parsley 1/2 cup olive oil 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 1 teaspoon dijon mustard Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Wash and dry the greens, tear them into pieces and discard the coarse ribs of the leaf lettuce. Arrange on the bottom of a low, flat-bottomed bowl. Using a potato peeler, peel the skin off the red pepper. It's worth the trouble. Cut the pepper into slivers and arrange around the outside edge on the greens. Clean the mushrooms, cut off the stems and freeze for the next stockpot. Slice the caps thin and arrange in a mound in the center. Arrange the red onions on the fresh mushrooms and place the marinated mushrooms around them. Then add a circle of the marinated artichoke hearts and finally of the olives. Sprinkle the herbes de Provence and chopped parsley over all. Whisk the remaining ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Add the dressing at the table just before serving and toss.
PALM BEACH BROWNIES (Makes about 32 small brownies) Approximately 1/2 cup bread crumbs plus enough butter for heavily greasing pan 8 ounces (8 squares) unsweetened chocolate 2 sticks unsalted butter 5 eggs (graded large or extra large) 1 tablespoon vanilla extract 1 teaspoon almond extract 1/4 teaspoon salt 2 1/2 tablespoons dry instant powdered coffee, espresso or regular 3 3/4 cups granulated sugar 1 2/3 cups sifted all-purpose flour 2 cups ( 1/2 pound) walnuts, chopped very coarsely
Adjust the rack one-third up from the bottom of the oven and preheat oven to 425 degrees. Heavily butter a 9-by-13-by-2-inch pan and line it with bread crumbs. Make sure every bit of the pan is covered with both butter and bread crumbs.
Melt the chocolate and the butter either in the top of a large double boiler over hot water on moderate heat or in a heavy saucepan over very low heat. Don't let the chocolate get any hotter than necessary to melt it. Stir occasionally until melted. Remove from heat and set aside.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the vanilla, almond extract, salt, dry instant coffee and sugar at high speed for 10 minutes. On low speed add the chocolate mixture and beat only until mixed. Then add the flour and again beat only until mixed. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the nuts. Turn into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.
Bake for 35 minutes, reversing the pan front to back as necessary during baking to insure even baking. At the end of 35 minutes the cake will have a thick, crisp crust on the top, but if you insert a toothpick into the middle it will come out wet and covered with chocolate. Nevertheless it is done. Do not bake it any more.
Remove the cake from the oven and let it stand on a rack at room temperature until cool. Refrigerate overnight. To cut the brownies, remove the cake from the refrigerator and let it stand at room temperature for about an hour. Cut the brownies in the pan with a serrated knife into 2- to 2 1/4-inch squares. Arrange 16 of them on a serving platter and cover with plastic wrap. Wrap the remaining brownies individually in plastic wrap or waxed paper. Or package them in an airtight container with waxed paper between the layers. Do not let them dry out.
From "Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts"