THE MENU Stuffed Eggs with Pimento Mayonaise Herb-stuffed Roast Leg of Lamb Spring Vegetable Platter of String Beans in Cream Sauteed Mushrooms with Fresh Coriander Baked Red Potatoes with Mint Asparagus with Orange Butter Mandarin Mousse
THIS MEAL looks like spring, tastes like spring, is quintessential spring. The first course, a fresh pink, green and white composition, consists of spinach-stuffed eggs sitting on a lovely pink sauce, a mayonnaise brightly colored and flavored savory sweet with roasted red peppers. Next is a leg of lamb, in which slits are made and then stuffed with bits of mixed herbs and morsels of garlic. The lamb is marinated with plain or flavored olive oil and white wine before it is roasted to a juicy pinkness. Its accompaniment is simple, but not really -- a large platter of five different freshly cooked spring vegetables. Each is garnished with its own distinctive flavoring, reinforcing the impression of very separate dishes that are nonetheless compatible with each other and the lamb. Dessert is a mandarin mousse, made from a recipe I abandoned years ago when chocolate mousses began to be called "wicked" and became de rigeur at every dinner party. It is an anachronism whose time has come once again.
The first course is a refreshing variation of that tried, true, homely and delectable dish, oeufs a la mayonnaise. The spinach adds color, while the eggs are the perfect foil for the pimiento mayonnaise. One of the few joys of this dreary winter has been the constant availability of red bell peppers, whose flavor is so superior to pimientos in jars. It really is worth taking one's courage in hand to broil off the skins, easily done on top of the stove with a ridged steak pan or grill. Thanks to plastic wrap, both the eggs and the sauce can be made at least a day in advance.The plastic should be draped lightly over the eggs so as not to squash the stuffing, but sealed thoroughly around the plate. Otherwise air will make a crust on the stuffing. The thick blender mayonnaise is ideal for this recipe because the red peppers thin the sauce to a very pleasant consistency. The dish can then be assembled in minutes just before you sit down.
If every bit of fat and all the fell is trimmed from the lamb -- a simple operation if you have a good, sharp knife -- the meat will not suffer from the "high" taste or smell which so many find (justifiably) offensive. The lamb will yield many more servings if it is carved horizontally, that is, parallel to the bone, than if it is cut straight down to the bone. Moreover, horizontal carving avoids gristly slices. The herb stuffing is also more evident in the horizontal slices. I am not maniacal about food being super hot, but lamb benefits from being placed on a hot platter and served on heated dinner plates.
The vegetables can be prepared much more easily than might seem possible. If the potatoes are put on to boil when you sit down for the first course, they will be cooked by the time the lamb is carved. The fresh mint (available the other day at Magruder's, Straight from the Crate and Safeway) makes the potatoes even fresher, and, of course, is superior with the lamb. The redskinned potatoes add a nice color to the platter.
The asparagus can be deknobbed or peeled (a bore, but it pays handsome dividends in tenderness and elimination of sand) and tied into bundles a good day in advance. They are put on to cook while the first-course dishes are being cleared and will be ready when the lamb is carved. Nobody wants soggy asparagus, but I think it is a mistake to undercook them so that their flavor is pale and imprisoned. The grated orange rind in the butter is delicious with asparagus.
It is probably an unkindness to share this discovery, but removing the strings from each side of green bean pods with a potato peeler makes the most enormous difference, particularly in helping the beans to absorb the cream. If you don't try it, you won't have to learn that this tedious little job, which is best done when watching the news or something, is, in fact, worth the doing.
The mushrooms can be cooked a few hours in advance and reheated before serving, although they cook so quickly that it seems a pity not to do the whole operation at the iast minute. The fresh coriander (also sold as cilantro and Chinese parsley, and available widely) is a surprising and very good addition. Someone I know flutes mushrooms by removing strips of skin from the caps with a lemon stripper. For anyone with time for dumb but satisfying tasks, the technique is to start at the center of the cap and pull the stripper down to the edge of the mushroom. The result is very pretty.
The cherry tomatoes, which are critical for color, must be only heated through very quickly, no more than perhaps three minutes, for any real cooking will result in shriveled, collapsed balloons. The chives are elegant with tomatoes.
The mandarin mousse is a heady combination of chocolate and orange. The recipe does not use sugar, nor is whipped cream folded through the mixture, as is called for in many mousses. But it would be foolish to call this anything but rich. The mixture seems quite liquid when it is turned into it little pots or the serving dish. However, it becomes much more substantial, although it still remains airy, after sitting in the refrigerator for a few hours. The mousse can easily be made a day in advance. The little bit of whipped cream garnish softens the flavor and the grated orange rind is poleasant to the eye and the palate. STUFFED EGGS WITH PIMIENTO MAYONNAISE (8 servings) 8 large eggs 1/2 pound fresh spinach 2 tablespoons heavy cream 2 tablespoons cream cheese Salt and pepper to taste For the sauce: 4 medium-to-large red bell peppers or 6 ounces (drained weight) pimientos 2 egg yolks 1/2 teaspoon Hungarian paprika 4 teaspoons lemon juice Salt and white pepper to taste 2/3 cup mild olive oil 2/3 cup peanut oil
Hard-cook the eggs, cool quickly under cold water, shell and set aside. Remove the coarse stalks from the spinach leaves and wash throughly. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the spinach and blanch for 1 1/2 minutes. Turn the spinach into a colander and run cold water over it to stop the cooking. Squeeze the spinach very dry, a little at a time, and then blot with paper towels to remove as much water as possible. Place the spinach, cream, cream cheese, salt and pepper in a food processor and process until the spinach is chopped very fine. Cut the eggs in half and add the yolks to the processor bowl. Process until the mixture is smooth and holds together. Stuff the hollows of the whites with the mixture, using either a spoon or a nylon pastry bag fitted with a number 2 open star tube. Place on a platter, cover loosely with plastic but seal the plastic around the platter and refrigerate.
To make the sauce, broil the red peppers or hold them over a flame at the end of a long fork, turning constantly, until the skin turns black. Place the peppers in a plastic bag, and when they are cool rub off the skins and seed and core them. Or use pimientos from a jar, well drained.
Place the egg yolks, paprika, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a food processor bowl and process for two minutes, or until the eggs become thick. Slowly feed the olive oil through the tube while the motor is running, then the peanut oil. The mayonnaise will be very thick. Finally feed the roasted peppers or drained pimientos through the tube with the motor running and process until smooth. Turn the sauce into a bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
To serve, place two generous dollops of the sauce on small plates and set two egg halves, filled side up, on each plate. Pass the remaining sauce separately in a bowl. Serve with thinly sliced french bread. HERB-STUFFED ROAST LEG OF LAMB (8 servings) 6-pound leg of lamb 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 1/2 teaspoon dried savory 1 teaspoon minced fresh parsley 3 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into thin slivers 1/4 cup plain or flavored olive oil 1/2 cup dry white wine Pepper to taste 10 3/4-ounce can beef bouillon 10 3/4-ounce can chicken broth 3 tablespoons minced parsley for garnish
Trim the leg of lamb of all fat and the fell (the thin, transparent skin covering). Mix the thyme, savory and parsley. Using a sharp, pointed knife, make deep incisions in the lamb and stuff these with a bit of the herb mixture and then a sliver of garlic. Repeat until the herbs and garlic are used. Rub the lamb with the olive oil, pour the wine over it and grind some black pepper on it.Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for anywhere from several hours to two days, turning the lamb occasionally. Remove the lamb from the refrigerator an hour before it goes into the oven. Place it on a rack in a roasting pan and reserve the marinade. Place the lamb in a 450-degree oven for 20 minutes, baste with the marinade and reduce heat to 350 degrees. Baste every 15 minutes or so and roast the lamb for 1 1/2 hours in all, or until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees. Remove to carving board, cover loosely with a tent of foil and allow to rest for about 20 minutes.
To make gravy, pour off the grease from the roasting pan, add the beef bouillon and chicken broth, bring to the boil and deglaze the pan, scraping the brown bits up with a wooden spoon.
Carve the lamb horizontally (parallel to the bone) into thin slices and arrange these on a hot serving platter. Moisten the meat with a little gravy and sprinkle the parsley on it. Pass remaining sauce in a bowl. ASPARAGUS WITH ORANGE BUTTER 24 medium-thin asparagus (about 2 pounds)
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
Salt and pepper to taste
Peel the asparagus with a potato peeler, working from just below the head to the base, or nip off each knob on the stalk below the head, using a small, sharp paring knife. Trim the bottoms to make evensized spears. Tie the spears into three bundles of eight, using soft, thick (butcher's) twine (available in hardware stores). Place water in a saute pan large enough to hold the spears and bring to a boil. Add the bundles of asparagus and cook for 4 minutes. Then, using tongs, turn the bundles over on their other side and cook for another 4 minutes. Test with a fork. They should be more soft than resistant. If necessary, continue to cook until they are done. Remove the bundles, again using tongs, to a clean dish towel and cut the strings. Let the asparagus drain well on the towel. Meanwhile, melt the butter with the orange rind and salt and pepper to taste. Turn the asparagus onto a section of the platter and pour the orange butter over the spears. STRING BEANS IN CREAM
2 pounds string beans
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut off ends of the beans and, using a potato peeler, remove the strings from each side of the pods. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the beans and cook for 4 minutes after the water returns to the boil. Turn into a colander, refresh under cold water to stop the cooking, drain well and pat dry on a clean towel. Wrap the beans in a paper towel and refrigerate for up to a day. Just before serving, place the cream and butter in a saucepan and boil for several minutes to reduce the cream and thicken it. Then add the beans and cook, shaking the pan, for another 3 minutes, or until the beans have absorbed most of the cream. Season with salt and pepper and turn onto a section of a large serving platter. SAUTEED MUSHROOMS WITH FRESH CORIANDER
24 large mushrooms, about 2 inches in diameter
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon peanut oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Few drops lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced fresh coriander (also called cilantro and Chinese parsley)
Trim off the mushroom stems even with the caps and freeze the stems for later use for stock or a duxelles. Clean the mushrooms by wiping them with a damp paper towel. Heat the butter and oil in a saute pan or frying pan large enough to hold the mushrooms in one layer and place them in the pan, cut side down. Season with salt and pepper and saute over medium heat for 4 minutes. Turn them over and saute for another minute. The mushrooms can be cooked a few hours in advance to this point. Just before serving, turn the mushrooms so that the cut side is down once again. Sprinkle a little lemon juice over them and cook for another minute or two over medium high heat, or until they are hot. Turn them onto a section of the platter, cut side down, pour any butter and juices remaining in the pan over them and sprinkle with the chopped coriander. BOILED RED POTATOES WITH MINT
12 small red potatoes, about 3 or 4 inches in diameter
Salt for the water
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Wash the potatoes and place them whole in a pot of cold water to cover. Bring the water to the boil, add salt to taste and cook for 18 minutes or until the potatoes are done. Turn them into a colander, then cut the potatoes in half. Place the halves on a section of the platter, drizzle the butter over them and sprinkle with the mint. CHERRY TOMATOES WITH CHIVES
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons chopped chives
Wash the cherry tomatoes and discard the stems. Heat the butter in a saute pan large enough to hold the tomatoes in one layer, add the tomatoes and cook, shaking the pan, for 3 minutes, or until the tomatoes are just heated through. Turn onto a section of the platter and sprinkle with chives. MANDARIN MOUSSE (8 servings)
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate preferably Belgian or Swiss
6 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons Cointreau, triple sec or Grand Marnier
6 eggs, separated
1/2 cup heavy cream
Grated rind of 1 brightly colored orange
Place the chocolate and orange juice in the top of a double boiler and set over hot water until melted. Remove from heat, stir a few times, add the orange liqueur and stir again. Set aside.
Beat the egg yolks with an electric beater for about 5 minutes, or until they are very thick and pale yellow. Beat the chocolate mixture into the yolks. With clean beaters, beat the egg whites until they are stiff but not dry. Fold the whites into the chocolate mixture. Turn the mousse into a 6-cup serving dish or into 8 to 10 individual pots de creme or custard cups and refrigerate for at least 6 hours. Just before serving, beat the cream until quite stiff. Place a dollop of whipped cream on top of each individual mousse and sprinkle some of the orange rind over it.Or turn the cream into a bowl, sprinkle on the orange rind and pass separately.