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Seviche

Whole Loins of Lamb

Fresh Vegetable Garnish

Fresh Peach Tart

THIS FESTIVE meal starts with a refreshing seviche made with bay scallops or any firm, white-fleshed fish "cooked" overnight in fresh lime juice and seasoned with avocado, tomato, scallion, a bit of jalapen o pepper, fresh cilantro and other spices. The seviche is a fine palate-jogger for the simple but very special main course. Whole loins of lamb are first roasted, then broiled and carved into elegant chops and served surrounded with bouquets of fresh vegetables. The meal ends with the first peaches of the season in a luscious tart that announces the real advent of summer.

Only the freshest scallops or fish will do for the seviche. If fish is used, the fillets must be thoroughly skinned and checked over for bones before they are cut up. I use small scallops, especially as they continue to be so plentiful and reasonable.

Astonishingly, limes, at half the price of lemons these days, are a great bargain. Cilantro (also sold as Chinese parsley or fresh coriander) is often available at Safeway, at the Bethesda Avenue Coop and at Straight from the Crate. It is always, or almost always, to be found at Hispanic stores--and at every kind of Asian store since it is an essential ingredient for all cuisines from the Indian subcontinent through Southeast Asia to Korea and Japan. Tomatoes remain tasteless and will until the local crop comes in, so this recipe calls for the more flavorful cherry tomatoes, borrowing from one of the pints used as an accompaniment to the lamb.

As impressive a main course as whole loins of lamb are, I would never serve them for dinner parties until I figured out a way to cook them that didn't keep me in the kitchen for a half hour before they came to the table. I now pre-roast the loins in a very hot oven and then let them rest while the first course is being eaten. Just before the lamb is to be served, the loins are seared under a hot broiler and carved into charming little chops whose insides are perfection-pink, not red, and whose outsides are beautifully browned.

A loin of lamb weighs around 1 3/4 pounds and yields eight decent chops. Two loins are ample for eight people, and cost less than $2.50 a person. Whole loins can be found at fancy butcher shops, but I buy mine at a supermarket with a reputation for good meat. They must be ordered a day or two before they are wanted, to salvage them before they are cut up into chops. Butchers are obliging about cracking through the chine bone so that the loins can be carved easily. New Zealand loins are sometimes available in frozen food cases and are somewhat less expensive, but I do not buy them because I prefer fresh meat, because the chine bone is intact, which makes the loins difficult to carve, and because New Zealand lamb often has a strong taste that I have never become accustomed to. A simple lemon juice and oil marinade seasoned only with a couple of branches of fresh rosemary gives the lamb a delicate lift.

Any vegetables can be substituted for those suggested in the recipe for the vegetable garnish. Steamed broccoli would be very nice, as would saute'ed whole mushrooms and crunchy green beans. I buy the vegetables that look the freshest and yet don't cost a fortune.

The peaches for the tart should be bought a few days in advance so they can ripen in a plastic bag. Peaches must be checked each day, and those that have begun to feel like edible fruit removed to the refrigerator lest they develop brown spots and infect the less ripe fruits. Peaches that have even a tinge of green, in my experience, will not ripen ...ever. Even very hard peaches (and these seem to be the only kind that can be found) should have a hint of peach aroma which, one hopes, will intensify as the fruit ripens. Poaching them lightly in syrup brings up flavor. It also helps to add a couple of drops of a pure peach essence imported from France to the pastry cream. While the pastry cream is a custard, it can be boiled without fear of curdling because it contains potato starch or cornstarch.

The pastry shell is delicious and so indestructible that the tart can be assembled hours in advance. When I made this the other day, a leftover slice spent the night in the refrigerator. It was as good the next evening as it had been when it was first cut, without even a hint of sog in the crust. This tart can also be made with uncooked blueberries, or a combination of peaches and blueberries, or fresh strawberries, or raspberries, or any summer fruit, as long as it's ripe.

SEVICHE (8 first-course servings)

% pound fresh bay scallops or 1 pound skinless, completely boneless, firm-fleshed, white-meated fish fillets, cut into a 1/4-inch dice 1/2 cup fresh lime juice 1 ripe avocado 10 cherry tomatoes 7 to 8 scallions with half the green tops, thinly sliced 2 canned jalapen o peppers, chopped 1 teaspoon ground coriander 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 tablespoon good-quality wine vinegar 4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro Salt and pepper to taste

The day before the seviche is to be served, remove the tendons from the scallops, wash and drain the scallops or diced fish and place in a bowl. Add the lime juice, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. A few hours before the seviche is to be eaten, use a slotted spoon and remove the scallops or fish to another bowl. Reserve the lime juice. Peel and stone the avocado, cut it into a 1/4-inch dice and add to the lime juice. Swirl the avocado pieces around in the juice to coat them well and then remove the avocado with a slotted spoon and add to the scallops or fish. Add a tablespoon or two of the lime juice if desired and discard the remaining juice.

Cut the stem ends out of the cherry tomatoes and squeeze the seeds and juices out into the sink. Chop the tomatoes and add to the scallops. Then add the scallion, jalapeno peppers, ground coriander, oil and vinegar. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Just before serving, drain off most of the excess liquid and stir in the chopped cilantro. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve the seviche on lettuce leaf cups or in medium-sized scallop shells.

WHOLE LOINS OF LAMB (8 servings) 2 whole loins of lamb, about 1 3/4 pounds each Juice of half a lemon 4 tablespoons peanut oil 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 sprigs fresh tarragon

Ask the butcher to crack the chine bone on each loin so that the loins can be carved into 16 chops, or eight chops from each loin. Trim off as much fat as possible from the loins. In the process of removing the fat from the inside curved portion of the loins, end strips of meat will be left with only a flimsy attachment. Don't worry about this.

The day before the lamb is to be cooked, place the loins in a dish or pan large enough to hold them, along with the lemon juice, the oils and the tarragon. Cover and refrigerate, turning the loins in the marinade whenever you remember to do so. Bring the meat in this marinade to room temperature before cooking.

Remove the loins from the marinade and reserve the marinade. Place the loins curved side down on a rack in a roasting pan and leave as much space as possible between them. Tuck the strips of end meat in toward the bone. Half an hour before you are to sit down to the first course, place the loins in a 450-degree oven and cook them for 25 minutes. Do not bother to turn them. Remove from the oven and set aside. The internal temperature should be just below 140 degrees. Turn off the oven and turn on the broiler to preheat it.

To finish off the loins, paint them with the marinade and place them under the broiler, directly on the grids, about 4 inches from the source of heat. Broil for 3 minutes on one side and 2 minutes on the other. Remove to a carving board.

To carve, remove the thin strips of meat and slice them into bite-sized morsels. Then carve the loins into 16 chops. Arrange the chops down the center of a large serving platter and end with the morsels. Arrange the vegetables around the meat and serve.

FRESH VEGETABLE GARNISH (8 servings) For the potatoes: 16 small new potatoes, scrubbed 1 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons melted butter 1 tablespoon minced mint For the tomatoes: 2 pints less 10 cherry tomatoes, washed and stemmed 2 large cloves garlic, crushed 2 tablespoons butter For the asparagus: 32 thin asparagus spears, peeled, washed, cut all to the same length and tied into two bundles 2 tablespoons melted butter For the carrots: 2 pounds young carrots, scraped and trimmed 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar Pinch of salt 4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) butter 1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Place the potatoes in a pan containing an inch of boiling water and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook the potatoes until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain. Drizzle butter over the potatoes and sprinkle with mint.

Combine the tomatoes, garlic and butter in a saute' pan large enough to hold the tomatoes in one layer. About 5 minutes before serving, place the pan over medium heat and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the tomatoes are heated through; but remove from heat before the skins burst.

Bring about two inches of water to a boil in a large frying pan, add the asparagus bundles and cook for 4 minutes. Turn the bundles over and cook for another 3 minutes, or until the asparagus are tender but retain some crispness. Remove to a clean dish towel, cut the strings holding the bundles and drain on the towel. Place on serving platter and drizzle butter over the spears.

If the carrots are small, leave them whole. If they are large, cut them into 3-inch pieces and shape the ends so that they look like whole, small, plump carrots. Combine the carrots, sugar, salt and butter in a saucepan and add enough water to cover them barely. Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered, until the carrots are tender but still crisp and the liquid has a syrupy consistency. This can take 15 minutes or longer, and must be watched at the end. These carrots can be prepared in advance and reheated before serving. However, care must be taken to shake the pan constantly to keep the carrots from burning. Turn onto the serving platter and sprinkle with minced parsley.

FRESH PEACH TART (8 servings) 10-inch baked sweet tart shell (see recipe below) 1 cup pastry cream (see recipe below) 2 pounds ripe peaches (about 10 medium peaches) 1 cup sugar 1 cup water 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 1/2 cup apricot glaze (see recipe below)

Make the pastry shell and the pastry cream enough in advance so both will be completely cool when the tart is assembled.

To prepare the peaches, drop them, a few at a time, into a pot of boiling water. Let them remain for about 15 seconds, remove with a slotted spoon and peel. Set aside.

Combine the sugar and water in a wide-bottomed pan just large enough to hold the peaches in one layer. Bring to a boil, simmer until the syrup is clear and add the vanilla. Add the peaches to the syrup, bring back to a simmer and cook for 3 minutes. Then turn the peaches over and cook them for another 3 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the peaches to cool in the syrup. When they are cool, choose one with a pretty blush and reserve the better half for the center of the tart. Slice the remaining peaches and return them to the syrup.

To assemble the tart, heat the glaze for a few minutes so that it is spreadable and, using a pastry brush, paint the baked shell with a thin layer of glaze. Let the glaze set for a few minutes. Then pour the pastry cream over the glaze and spread it evenly over the shell. Drain the peaches. (Strain the syrup into a jar, if desired, for the next batch of peaches. It will keep refrigerated for at least two weeks.) Place the reserved peach half in the center of the shell and arrange the slices around it. Then paint the peaches with the remaining apricot glaze.

SWEET TART SHELL (Makes a 10-inch shell) 1 1/2 cups sifted flour 1/3 cup sifted confectioners' sugar Pinch of salt 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces 3 tablespoons ice water

Combine the flour, sugar and salt in the container of a food processor fitted with the steel knife, and process for a few seconds. Place the butter in the container and process, rapidly turning the machine on and off until the mixture resembles coarse corn meal. With the motor running, add the ice water through the tube and process only until the dough seems to be coming together. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board, knead it three times, form into a ball and place in a plastic bag. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before rolling out. To roll out, lightly flour a board and roll into a circle about 12 inches in diameter. Place on a two-piece 10-inch tart pan, fold the overhanging dough back into itself and crimp to make a rim of double thickness. Prick the bottom and sides with a fork, place a layer of parchment paper over the shell and arrange pastry weights or dried beans over the paper to cover the shell. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes, remove the shell and lift out the parchment paper and the weights. Prick the bottom and sides with a fork once again. Return the shell to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes, or until the shell is nicely browned. Remove and allow the shell to cool completely. Then remove it from the pan and place on a serving dish. The shell is now ready to be filled.

PASTRY CREAM (Makes 1 cup for a 10-inch tart) 1/4 cup sugar 2 tablespoons potato starch or cornstarch Pinch of salt 2 egg yolks 1 cup milk 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 tablespoon softened butter 2 drops peach essence (optional)

Combine the sugar, starch, salt and egg yolks in a saucepan and beat with an electric hand mixer until the mixture is very light and thick. Bring the milk to a boil and add it slowly to the egg mixture, beating all the time. Beat in the vanilla extract.

Exchange the hand mixer for a wire whisk. Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil, whisking all the time. Make sure the bottom of the custard is stirred, or else it will scorch. Cook until the mixture is thick and has the consistency of mayonnaise. Beat in the softened butter and the optional peach essence. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and cool.

APRICOT GLAZE (Makes 1/2 cup) 1/2 cup apricot jam 1 tablespoon kirsch or dark rum

Combine the jam and the kirsch or rum in a saucepan, bring to a simmer, force through a strainer and return to the saucepan. Set aside. Reheat to liquify the glaze so that it can be painted onto the fruit. PHOTO:1981 by Alison Shaw.