THE MENU Cream of Scallop Soup Roast Loin of Pork Roasted Parsnips Pureed Broccoli Pear Charlotte With Pear Sauce
WHEN GUESTS sit down to this immodest meal -- an outW rageous showoff -- it's a waste of time to try to convince them that the cook hasn't spent 12 straight days in the kitchen after secretly matriculating from the Cordon Bleu and withdrawing the last of the family fortune from the bank. Even though it's true. This meal requires little time or special skills or money. The ingredients cost a mere $4 per person, or a cheeseburger at a decent pub.
The secret is using "fancy" foods bought at good prices. The most obvious, bay scallops, miraculousy continue to be fresh, succulent and cheap at around $4 a pound. My own version of cream of scallop soup is delicate and refined. It takes 10 minutes to prepare and, except for the final enrichment, can be made in advance.
The boneless pork tenderloin roast for the main course can be a sensational buy even though the price per pound of meat is hardly in the chicken category. I stock up on up on these long, thin roasts when they are on sale at a good market and buy only pale gray-pink, finely textured pork. A three-pound roast can be cut into enough elegant-looking but substantial slices to serve eight amply and still leave sufficient for lunch for two the following day.
The pork is accompanied by the much-maligned parsnip. It is at its sweetest now that the ground has frozen and thawed enough for it to be dug. When your guests ask you to identify the deliciousness they are eating, perhaps they will discover, as I once did, that I hated parsnips only until I tasted them. The broccoli pure'e adds color to the plate and just the right intensity of flavor to complement the pork but not overwhelm the parsnips.
Dessert is an ostentatious, shameless thing, a charlotte made with fresh pears which are endowed with the flavor they lack at this season by poaching them in syrup from canned pears. The pear sauce that accompanies the charlotte uses the canned pears, so nothing is wasted.
The small amount of imported Madras curry powder brings out the flavor of the scallops more than it imposes itself on the soup. Curry will lose its raw taste if it is cooked for a minute or so in butter or oil (stir constantly) before other ingredients are added. The soup must not be allowed to boil once the egg yolk enrichment is added (at the last minute). A trick is to begin with hot soup and turn the heat off a minute after the enrichment is whisked in. Jean Anderson's very good "Grass Roots Cookbook" has an interesting note on storing fish soups uncovered, which apparently inhibits a reaction that makes them curdle. I cannot find an explanation of why, but it works.
The "heart-of-loin" pork roasts at the Chevy Chase Supermarket are often on sale. They are neatly tied long, thin pieces of meat generally of excellent quality, especially if the reddish pork is left behind in the case.
Normally a marinade is discarded before the meat goes into the oven. I found that this lemony, herbed marinade is most agreeable when cooked along with the meat. The pork needs almost no attention once it goes into the oven.
Parsnips are perfectly wonderful when they are peeled, cut into chunks, lightly parboiled and roasted. They can be prepared ahead through the parboiling step, and then roasted in the same pan as the meat or separately, which I prefer. They are very good cooked in chicken, duck or goose fat, although butter is fine. The broccoli pure'e is best if the moisture has been squeezed and blotted out after the broccoli is cooked and before it is pure'ed. The broccoli can be pure'ed in advance and reheated in the top of a double boiler over simmering water.
The pear charlotte is made in the useful six-cup charlotte mold, which is lined with ladyfingers and filled with a custard folded together with whipped cream. Pears have been abysmal lately -- hard, tasteless, mealy and refusing to ripen, instead turning brown throughout. So I experimented with anjou pears, which are less mealy now than the boscs. I chose only those with a hint of perfume, the most you can hope for, and a blush of color. These I poached in the syrup from canned pears and further reinforced the flavor with a few drops of pure French pear essence and eau de vie de poire. The fresh pears picked up a lot of flavor from the syrup and were better than the one unperfumed pear I used as a control. The additional flavorings were helpful because the custard and cream dilute flavor.
Custards curdle when they boil, which everyone knows. But I got into trouble when, in an unjustifield rush of confidence, I tried to end-gain by trying to hurry the thickening process. Saving the curdled mess seemed worth a try, although I wasn't hopeful. I brought out the chinois, a conical, very finely meshed sieve (any super-fine strainer should work), and forced the curdled custard through. Miraculously the result was a silky, velvety perfection. I offer this to give hope to those who should know better but who do dumb things anyhow.
The charlotte is best made two days in advance, which gives the cook plenty of time to make and rectify mistakes. Purists insist that ladyfingers be homemade, but I buy them unless I am having a fit of ambition.
CREAM OF SCALLOP SOUP (8 servings) 1 pound fresh scallops 5 cups chicken broth 1 cup dry white wine 4 tablespoons butter 1 tablespoon curry powder (preferably Madras) 2 cups heavy cream 3 egg yolks Paprika, optional
Wash the scallops under cold water and drain them. Combine the chicken broth and white wine in a stainless steel or enameled pot and bring to a boil. Add the scallops, simmer for 2 minutes, and remove the scallops with a slotted spoon. Melt the butter with the curry powder in a frying pan and cook the two for a minute. Then add the scallops and saute' for 4 minutes. Turn the scallops, with any butter that remains in the pan, into a food processor with the steel blade. Start the motor and slowly feed the cream through the tube. Blend until reduced to a smooth pure'e. Then whisk the pure'e into the broth. If the soup is to be eaten later, refrigerate it but do not cover the pot. Before serving, bring the soup to a boil. Beat the egg yolks in a bowl and then whisk about 1 1/2 cups of the boiling hot soup into it in a thin stream. Then whisk the egg-soup mixture into the remaining soup. Stir briskly for a minute and turn off the heat. The soup must not be allowed to boil once the egg enrichment has been added. Serve in hot bowls, garnished, if desired, with a sprinkling of decent Hungarian paprika.
ROAST LOIN OF PORK (8 servings) 3-pound boneless pork tenderloin 1/4 cup peanut oil Juice of 1 lemon 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme Pinch of leaf sage Pinch of dried oregano 1 bay leaf 3 cloves garlic, unpeeled and lightly crushed with the side of a knife 1 cup water 1 cup beef bouillon 1 cup chicken broth
Pat the pork dry with paper towels and place it in a roasting pan. Mix the oil, lemon juice, thyme, sage, oregano and bay leaf and pour it over the pork. Turn the pork to moisten it all over with the marinade, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or for several hours. Turn the pork every once in a while.
An hour before the pork is to be cooked, remove it from the refrigerator. Place the pork, with its marinade, in a 450-degree oven for a total of 20 minutes, turning it once during this time. Then reduce the heat to 350 degrees, add the garlic cloves to the pan and pour the water into the pan. Roast for 1 1/2 hours longer. Turn the pork halfway through. Remove the meat to a carving board and place a tent of foil over it. The meat should rest for about 15 minutes. Discard the garlic. Pour the beef bouillon and chicken broth into the roasting pan and bring to a boil. Stir with a wooden spoon and scrape up the brown bits. Reduce the sauce until it has a good flavor. To serve, remove the strings from the roast, slice the meat thinly and march it down a serving platter. Spoon a little sauce over the meat and serve the remainder separately.
ROASTED PARSNIPS 3 pounds parsnips 4 tablespoons rendered chicken, duck or goose fat, or butter Salt and pepper to taste
Peel the parsnips with a potato peeler and cut them into large chunks. Discard any woody centers. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, add the parsnips and cook for 4 minutes. Drain them in a colander. Melt the fat or butter in a roasting pan large enough to hold the parsnips comfortably in one layer, add the parsnips and roll the chunks around to coat them with fat. Put the parsnips into a 350-degree oven 45 minutes before they are to be served. Shake the pan every 10 minutes or so to brown the parsnips on all sides. For the last 15 minutes of cooking (after the pork has been removed from the oven to rest before carving), increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. At the last minute, remove the parsnips from the oven and arrange around the sliced meat. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
PUREED BROCCOLI 3 pounds broccoli 6 tablespoons butter 4 tablespoons minced shallots 4 tablespoons heavy cream (optional) Pinch of nutmeg Salt and pepper to taste
Cut off the flowerets from the broccoli and set aside. Trim the tough ends off the stalks, peel the stalks and cut them into 1-inch pieces. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pieces of stalk and cook for 8 minutes. And the flowerets and cook for 4 minutes more. The broccoli should be soft but not mushy. Drain the broccoli well and then squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Then blot the broccoli on paper towels.
Heat half the butter in a small frying pan, add the shallots and cook over low heat until the shallots are soft and transparent. Do not let them brown. Turn the shallots and their butter into a food processor bowl. Add the broccoli in batches into a food processor bowl. Add the broccoli in batches and process until it is reduced to a pure'e. Turn the pure'e into a saucepan, heat through and beat in the remaining butter. Then beat in the cream, if desired. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper. If you wish to make this in advance, reheat it by placing the pure'e in the top of a double boiler and setting it over simmering water.
PEAR CHARLOTTE 20-ounce can bartlett pear halves 3 fresh pears, firm and with some perfume 1 1/2 tablespoons (envelopes) unflavored gelatin 2 cups milk 1 cup sugar, divided in half 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract 5 egg yolks 2 packages ladyfingers 1 cup cold heavy cream 3 to 4 drops pear essence, optional 3 to 4 teaspoons eau de vie de poire, or more to taste
Place a metal bowl in the freezer to chill it well for whipping the cream.
Drain the canned pears and place all the juices in a saucepan. Set the canned pears aside for the sauce. Peel and core the fresh pears and cut them into a half-inch dice. Poach the pears in the canned pear syrup until they are just tender. Don't let them get mushy. Drain, reserving the syrup, and set aside to cool.
Place half a cup of the poaching syrup in a bowl, sprinkle the gelatin on it and set aside to soften. Save any remaining poaching syrup for the sauce. If the gelatin absorbs all the syrup and is not completely moistened, add a tablespoon or two of cold water.
Combine the milk with half a cup of the sugar and the vanilla. Bring to a boil and set aside. Beat the eggs yolks with the remaining half cup of sugar for 3 to 4 minutes, or until thick and pale. Beating constantly and vigorously with a wire whisk, slowly add the milk to the eggs. Return the mixture to a saucepan, place over low heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon for about 6 minutes or until the custard coats the spoon. Do not let the custard boil. To test whether it is thick enough, run a finger down the middle of the spoon and then hold the spoon vertically. If the custard does not run over the line made by your finger, it is thick enough. Pour the custard into a bowl and add the softened gelatin. Stir until the gelatin is dissolved. Set the bowl aside and stir the custard occasionally as it cools.
Lightly butter a 6-cup charlotte mold and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper or waxed paper. Cut about 8 of the ladyfingers in half on the diagonal, lengthwise. Arrange the cut pieces, rounded side down, on the bottom of the mold, with the points meeting at the center, so they form a flower design. Then line the sides of the mold with more ladyfingers, rounded side out. If they do not come to the top of the mold, cut as many vertical strips as necessary and press these around the top to make a border. If the ladyfingers come above the top of the mold, trim them with a pair of scissors.
Remove the metal bowl from the freezer and pour the cold cream into it. Beat until stiff. Stir the poached diced pears into the cooled custard along with the pear essence, if you have it, and the eau de vie de poire. Fold in the whipped cream and turn the mixture into the lined mold. Cover with a piece of waxed paper and refrigerate for at least several hours and preferably a day or two. To serve, dip the mold briefly in hot water, run a knife between the side of the mold and the ladyfingers, place a round serving dish on top of the mold and turn them both over together. Lift off the mold and discard the parchment paper round. To serve, spoon some sauce over the charlotte and serve remaining sauce separately.
PEAR SAUCE (Makes about 4 cups) The reserved canned pears 2 drops pear essence, optional 1/2 cup sugar 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice 2 1/2 tablespoons cold water, plus 2 more tablespoons cold water 1 tablespoon eau de vie de poire Any remaining poaching syrup
Place the canned pears and the essence, if you have it, in the container of a food processor and blend until it is pure'ed. Leave the pears in the container.
Combine the sugar, lemon juice and 2 1/2 tablespoons of the cold water in a heavy saucepan, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat. Cook the mixture from 6 to 10 minutes, shaking the pan frequently so the caramel will color evenly, until it has become a nice dark mahogany color. Remove from heat, quickly add the 2 tablespoons of cold water and stand back. When the hissing subsides, shake the pan to incorporate the water with the caramel. Turn the processor motor on and slowly add the caramel through the feed tube. Then add the eau de vie de poire and any remaining poaching syrup. When thoroughly blended, turn into a bowl and refrigerate.