SOUPS AND STEWS and the other winter foods are fine, but all that substance needs to be tempered with a bit of grace.
This meal begins with a cheerful French smorgasbord that piques the appetite with its variety and then satisfies it. Assorted cold hors d'oeuvres are turned into individual crocks, bowls or serving plates and set around the table before each person, along with a basket of good French bread and a dish of butter. Guests are instructed to serve themselves and then move the dishes to the person on the right. Sometimes they listen.
Next is fresh beef tongue, braised to a buttery taste and served with a rich madeira sauce. If you don't tell, those whose feelings about tongue are delicate can be allowed to believe they are eating the most tender beef, which they are. The sole accompaniment is a Swiss potato cake cut into wedges. Its inside is soft and creamy but with character, its outside crisp and brown, its flavor as pure as grated potato cooked in butter can be. The meal ends with an apple charlotte, a dessert of sophistication despite the simplicity of its ingredients. When the dish is baked, the bread that lines the mold becomes a crispy brown case and the thick apple puree filling ends up slightly caramelized. The dessert is unmolded and bathed with an apricot-rum sauce. Served warm the charlotte is divine; cold it is ambrosial.
You need not serve a lot of any one hors d'oeuvre since variety in color, texture and flavor is the key, not quantity. The point is to have a bit of each. A food processor makes preparation practically effortless. It is very satisfying to include salads using ordinary, available and inexpensive winter vegetables, what with edible lettuce going as high as $1.69 a pound. However, these hors d'oeuvres have no season.
The combination of olive oil, rich Italian balsamic vinegar (available in specialty food stores and Italian markets) and a bit of pernod, pastis or any other unsweetened licorice-flavored liquor is wonderful with grated carrots because the blend is delicious and no one flavor is identifiable. To avoid the bother of cooking a tiny quantity of dried beans, I open a can but rinse the beans thoroughly under cold water and drain them before they are dressed. Magruder's seems to have bunches of fresh red radishes most of the time; they are immeasurably better than the packaged radishes. Herring in wine sauce and Greek calamata olives are available at supermarkets. Black radishes, which I have seen at Magruder's, the Bethesda Avenue Coop and sometimes at the Giant, have a shape and size similar to beets. They are extraordinary when combined with a bit of the rendered chicken, duck or goose fat which I constantly urge be stocked in every refrigerator.
The choice need not be limited to the recipes given here. Roasted and peeled green or red peppers can be cut into strips and served in only the liquid they give out, which is dressing enough. A julienne of celery is excellent with a mustardy mayonnaise and some parsley, and of course celery root remoulade is fabulous. Bits of cooked cauliflower, broccoli, string beans or any other leftover vegetable can be transformed with a lemony vinaigrette. A couple of slices of leftover roast or boiled beef can be cut into a julienne and mixed with chopped scallions, parsley and a little oil and vinegar. Sliced beets can be mixed with a vinaigrette and sprinkled with chopped hard-cooked egg. The possibilities are limitless.
Supermarkets sometimes have fresh tongue, but it is more often available at the Eastern Market and the French Market. Tongue, which is highly regarded by Europeans, suffers from a lack of beauty, particularly before it is peeled and trimmed. Overcoming any aversion to handling tongue can bring great rewards. Tongue must be peeled when it is hot. Holding the tongue steady on a board with a dish towel between it and your hand does wonders to prevent burning. The skin should zip off but I always find stubborn spots that need to be cut off. Once the bones are removed and the roots trimmed, it becomes quite a benign-looking piece of meat.
Some recipes for the heavenly Swiss potato cake called roesti require grated raw potatoes, while others ask for grated cooked potatoes. I have had consistent success with parboiled cold potatoes and commend them. They grate easily by hand -- a processor will mash them. Raw potatoes become discolored almost immediately, and however quickly I try to chop them it is not fast enough. Fully cooked potatoes disintegrate when grated, and produce a cake lacking in texture. Some recipes say to cook the cake in olive oil, others recommend olive oil and butter or lard. Some add grated onion, cheese or ham to the potatoes. I like my roesti straight, with butter, salt and pepper. My recipe makes a thick cake. To make thinner cakes, the quantity of potatoes could be divided between two pans, although I would not cut down on the amount of butter per pan. The grated potatoes are turned into a hot pan and then cooked over low heat. This, of course, takes longer than the quick-cook method over high heat and allows the cook to leave the kitchen to be with guests without worrying that the bottom will burn. I do realize that the Swiss have been making this dish long before our little miracle surfaces were invented, but there is nothing like a non-stick pan to avoid grief.
The trick to a successful apple charlotte is to reduce the apple pure'e so that it will keep its shape on a spoon, make a great plop when it is dropped from a spoon or even hold a spoon upright. The reduction goes quickly and smoothly when the apples are cooked in a very large saute' pan. The larger the cooking surface, the faster it goes. The pure'e needs constant stirring toward the end. Of all the apples now available none is better for this dish than Granny Smith. The trimmed bread crusts get turned into fresh bread crumbs via the food processor and are stored in the freezer. A six-cup charlotte mold is an excellent investment since it is useful for so many other dishes. With some shopping around, decent French tinned molds can be found at a good price. I am leery of leaks in the cheap ones with seams on the side. Assorted Cold Hors d'Oeuvres GRATED CARROTS WITH PERNOD 1/2 pound carrots, scraped and ends cut off 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar or 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar 1/2 teaspoon pernod or pastis Salt and pepper to taste
Put the carrots through the coarse grating disk of a food processor. Combine with remaining ingredients. WHITE BEAN SALAD 15-ounce can Great Northern beans 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar Salt and pepper to taste 2 tablespoons minced parsley
Turn the beans in a colander and run cold water over them. Drain and combine with remaining ingredients. CUCUMBER SALAD 1 large cucumber, peeled Salt and pepper to taste 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar 1 tablespoon chopped dill
Cut the cucumber into sections to fit food processor tube and scoop out the seeds with a small spoon. Slice the cucumbers and arrange the slices overlapping on a dish. Refrigerate. Just before serving, sprinkle on remaining ingredients.
HERRING CROCK 2 12-ounce jars herring in wine sauce 1 carrot, scaped and ends cut off 1 onion, peeled 16 small black olives 1/4 teapoon whole peppercorns
Strain the herring juices into a bowl and reserve. Discard the onions that were packed in the herring. Cut the carrot on the diagonal, using a corrugated-blade decorating knife, if you have one. Slice the onions thinly.
Pack the herring, carrot slices, onion slices, olives and peppercorns in layers in a pretty preserving jar or a glass bowl. Pour the reserved juices over all, cover and refrigerate overnight or longer.
GENOA SALAMI AND RED RADISHES 1/4 pound sliced genoa salami 1 bunch (preferably with leaves) red radishes
Arrange the salami in overlapping slices on a plate. Wash the radishes and cut off the root ends and all but 2 inches of the leaves. Slice the radishes in half, vertically, and arrange along both sides of the salami.
SICILIAN OLIVES 1-pound jar Greek calamata olives in oil Julienned zest of 1 lemon Juice of 1 lemon Julienned zest of 1 orange Juice of 1 orange 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with the side of a knife 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
Turn the olives out into a colander and rinse with cold water. Drain. Combine with remaining ingredients, return to the jar and refrigerate for 24 hours. Turn the jar when you think of it, to distribute the marinade.
GRATED BLACK RADISH WITH CHICKEN, DUCK OR GOOSE FAT 2 medium black radishes, peeled 2 tablespoons softened rendered chicken, duck or goose fat, or enough to coat the grated radish Salt to taste
Grate the radishes, using the coarse grate disk of a food processor. Combine with the rendered fat and salt.
FRESH BEEF TONGUE BRAISED IN MADEIRA 4-pound fresh beef tongue 2 tablespoons butter 1 tablespoon oil 1/2 cup chopped onions 1/2 cup chopped carrots 1/2 cup chopped celery 2 cloves garlic, peeled 6 sprigs parsley 1/2 teapoon dried thyme 1 bay leaf Freshly ground white pepper to taste 1 1/2 cups medium-sweet madeira wine 2 1/2 cups beef bouillon 1 tablespoon potato starch or arrowroot 2 tablespoons heavy cream 1 tablespoon dijon mustard 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice, or to taste Salt to taste
Place the tongue in a large pot of cold water, bring to a boil and simmer for 1 hour. Remove the tongue and, while it is hot, peel it, using a sharp knife. Trim and discard the roots and the bones.
Heat the butter and oil in a heavy pot just large enough to hold the tongue. (Use an enamel on iron casserole with a lid if you have one.) Add the chopped vegetables and cook them over low heat for about 12 minutes. Place the tongue in the pot along with the seasonings, the wine and the bouillon. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove, cover and place in a 325-degree oven for 2 hours. Turn the tongue every half hour. When a fork pierces the tongue easily, remove the meat to another dish and cover it with a tent of foil to keep it warm. Strain the braising stock into a saucepan, degrease the stock and boil it down over high heat to 2 cups. Make a paste of the starch and cream and beat this into the stock. Cook for another 5 minutes. Beat in the mustard and stir the sauce but do not let it boil once the mustard has been added. Add half the lemon juice and taste. Add more if desired. Add salt to taste.
Slice the tongue and arrange it in overlapping slices on a hot platter. Drizzle some of the sauce down the middle of the tongue and serve the remaining sauce separately. BROWNED POTATO CAKE (Roesti Potatoes)
3 pounds boiling potatoes (about 8 medium potatoes)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 stick ( 1/4 pound) plus 2 tablespoons butter, divided into two pieces
Parboil the potatoes for 8 minutes, drain and refrigerate for several hours. Peel the potatoes and grate them, using the coarse-grating holes of a hand grater. The potatoes should be firm enough not to disintegrate. Add salt and pepper and mix them through the potatoes. Melt half the butter in an 8-inch, non-stick frying pan over high heat and swirl the butter around the sides of the pan. Add the potatoes, press down on them with a wide spatula, lower the heat and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the bottom and sides are crisp and browned. Place a plate on the pan and, holding both, firmly flip them over. The browned side of the cake will be on top. Raise the heat and melt the remaining butter in the pan. When it is hot slip the cake into the pan. Lower the heat and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the bottom is brown. Invert the cake on a serving dish and cut into eight wedges.
APPLE CHARLOTTE 1/2 pound unsalted butter, melted and cooled 1 loaf very thinly sliced good-qualitycommercial bread, crusts trimmed 5 to 6 pounds (about 14) Granny Smith apples 1 stick ( 1/4 pound) unsalted butter 1 tablespoon lemon juice Grated rind of 1/2 lemon 3/4 cup granulated sugar, or more to taste 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract Pinch of salt
For the sauce: 1 cup apricot jam 1/2 cup dark rum
Use a pastry brush dipped in the melted butter to coat the sides and bottom of a 6-cup charlotte mold. Cut three slices of the bread on the diagonal and trim them so that they cover the bottom of the mold. Then dip the trimmed pieces in the melted butter and set them on the bottom. If necessary, fill in any holes with bits of bread dipped in butter. Cut another 10 slices of bread in half, into rectangles. Dip these in the butter and stand them upright, along the side of the mold, overlapping them by half an inch. Use more bread if necessary, remaining bread and butter for the top of the mold.
Peel and core the apples and slice them thinly. Place the apples and the remaining ingredients in a large saute' pan, frying pan or a wide-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and cook for 20 minutes, or until the apples are tender. Uncover the pan, turn up heat and, stirring, cook the apples for about 15 minutes. The liquid must evaporate and the pure'e must be thick enough to hold its shape in a spoon, plop heavily from the spoon and almost hold the spoon upright.
Turn the pure'e into the mold. Cut enough of the remaining slices of bread in half to cover the top of the apples. Dip the bread in the butter and fill in the top to make a lid. Pour any remaining butter over the bread. Do not be concerned if the bread rises slightly above the mold. It will shrink as it cooks.
Place the mold in a roasting pan or a cake pan to catch the drippings. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the top and sides are browned. If the top is browning too quickly around the edges, make a doughnut of foil and drop it lightly around the inside circumference of the mold. Remove from oven, cool for 30 minutes and unmold by placing a platter on top and, holding the plate and mold, turning them over. Allow the mold to remain in place until just before serving.
Make the sauce. Heat the apricot jam, force it through a sieve and return it to the saucepan. Add the rum and reheat briefly.
Serve the charlotte while it is still warm, with the sauce spooned over it. Or serve cold. The charlotte can be refrigerated, inverted and with the mold in place. Bring to room temperature, remove mold and serve with warm sauce.