THE MENU Tomato and Sorrel (or Spinach) Soup Farsumagru (Hot or Cold Sicilian Stuffed Braised Beef Roll) Hot or Cold Broccoli with Olive Oil, Garlic and Lemon Ekolsund Cream Waffles with Softened Vanilla Ice Cream and Hot Blueberry Sauce
WHEN Washington weather behaves as it should, it is reasonable and even intelligent to plan a nice cold meal for a June evening which, as we know, is bound to be warm if not hot. But when the weather takes a turn, with temperatures hovering stubbornly in the 50s and the rain barely stopping long enough to allow a person to cut a few soggy blooms for the table, the cold meal is unfriendly and even ludicrous. Fortunately, the one I had planned for the other wet and frigid evening turned out to be deliciously convertible, as good hot as cold. Had the same meal been planned to be eaten hot, it could just as successfully have been turned around and served cold on a sultry evening.
This useful and adaptable menu starts with a fresh, light tomato and sorrel soup, or tomato and spinach soup if sorrel is not to be had. The soup takes off from an Elizabeth David recipe and is best eaten hot as soon as it is made or cold as soon as it cools off. This poses no problem since the cooking is completed in less than 10 minutes. Next is a braised Sicilian beef roll stuffed with ground beef, hard-cooked egg and other morsels, all of which are very festive-looking when the meat is sliced and the mosaic of stuffing is revealed. Peas are added to the gravy only if the meat is served hot. Accompanying the beef is crisp-cooked broccoli, also equally good hot or cold, dressed with a heady olive oil, a bit of garlic and a squeeze of lemon juice. The textures, colors and flavors of meat and vegetable are perfect together. Dessert consists of Scandinavian cream waffles made from a recipe given to me by Nina Sandh, the Danish cook who made them for us when we were guests at Ekolsund, a grand 18th-century house in the Swedish countryside between Stockholm and Uppsala. The waffles, which contain no egg at all, are light and crisp. They are served at room temperature, as at Ekolsund, with softened vanilla ice cream and hot blueberry sauce. This would make a fabulous ending to a meal anytime of the year, especially if some blueberries were put into the freezer when they were at their least expensive.
Fresh sorrel, which my grandmother used to pick wild as "sour grass," is not always to be found but generally is on sale at Hudson Brothers in Georgetown, the Farm Women's Market in Bethesda and the Alexandria Farmers' Market. The only way to assure the availability of this tangy leaf for soups or for sauces is to grow it, which is stunningly uncomplicated for anyone with a small patch of earth and some sun. Sorrel is a perennial that thrives and returns each year. I am profligate enough to keep a couple of plants in a barrel on my handy kitchen porch, but these do freeze in the winter and must be replenished each year. Nice sorrel plants can be found at Gourmet Gardens in Arlington, the Washington Catheral Greenhouse and the Farm Women's Market. Two plants are ample for an occasional supply, but four are better for aficionados. Spinach is a passable but not totally satisfactory substitute and must be complemented with some but not too much lemon juice to provide a hint of the benign bite of sorrel. I use fresh tomatoes for this soup only when they are full of sunshine and flavor. Otherwise, imported Italian plum tomatoes are more desirable than fresh.
The Sicilian beef roll is called farsumagru, which translates literally as "false lean," although nobody seems to know why. Waverly Root in "The Food of Italy" speculates vaguely on the "magru" part relating to Lent but then rejects the notion since the dish is made of meat. Whatever the reason for the name, this is an impressive dish which must contain hard-cooked eggs and nutmeg, among other ingredients. It costs about a dollar a portion and can be made totally in advance. I dealt with a young, willing supermarket butcher who agreed to slice a 1/2-inch-thick round steak horizontally on the slicing machine, stopping before it was cut all the way through, so that it would open up to be 1/4-inch thick by about 8-by-11-inches. It could then be pounded, stuffed and rolled. Most recipes suggest tying the roll at intervals, but I prefer to sew it closed, which keeps the stuffing from falling out the ends and makes a very neat-looking piece of cooked meat. Be sure to put the needle away the minute you have finished with it. It is too easy for it to become lodged and hidden in the roll. The threads should not be removed until the meat has cooled and settled into its shape. For slicing the roll, it is essential to have a very sharp knife. If the knife is dull or it is pressed down too hard, the studded bits of stuffing get mashed together and lose their allure.
The broccoli can be parboiled in advance. It can also be dressed in advance if it is to be served cold. Otherwise it takes only a few minutes to heat it in the oil and seasonings.
The waffles can be made a couple of hours beforehand and held in a turned-off oven with a pilot light, especially if the weather is humid. If they are held any longer, they become hard to cut, although they still manage to taste good. I had great success using some leftover batter that had sat in the refrigerator for three days, so if all is not used at once, the remaining batter will keep. I made these waffles using three kinds of irons: the Jotul top-of-the-stove iron that produces charming but very thin heart-shaped waffles; the top-of-the-stove iron that produces a rectangular waffle and a large electric waffle iron. I found very little real difference in the results, although my husband thought the waffles produced by the top-of-the-stove rectangular waffle iron far superior to the others. TOMATO AND SORREL (OR SPINACH) SOUP (8 servings) A large handful of sorrel leaves or 1/2 pound spinach leaves 4 tablespoons butter 28-ounce can imported, peeled plum tomatoes 2 10 3/4-ounce cans chicken broth 1/2 pint heavy cream Salt and pepper to taste Lemon juice to taste (if using spinach instead of sorrel)
Wash the sorrel or spinach in several waters, discard the coarse stems and chop finely. Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a saucepan and add the chopped leaves. Cook until the sorrel or spinach are very soft and "melted." Set aside.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a 3-quart saucepan and add the entire contents of the can of tomatoes, liquid and all. Break tomatoes up into smallish chunks, and stir over heat for about 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth, the sorrel or spinach and the cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper and add a little lemon juice if spinach has been used. Serve immediately. Or allow the soup to cool and serve cold. FARSUMAGRU (HOT OR COLD SICILIAN STUFFED BRAISED BEEF ROLL) (8 servings) 1 1/4-pound piece round steak, 1/4-inch thick and at least 8 inches wide by 11 inches long 2 slices white bread (heels are fine), soaked in milk and squeezed dry Scant 3/4-pound lean ground beef 2 raw eggs 2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese 4 cloves garlic, 2 crushed, 2 minced 1/4 teaspoon marjoram 1/4 teaspoon thyme 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground if possible 3 tablespoons minced parsley Salt and pepper to taste 2 hard-cooked eggs, cut lengthwise into slivers 1/8 pound corned tongue or Italian salami or baked ham, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slivers Scant 1/8-pound provolone cheese, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slivers 2 tablespoons vegetable oil For the sauce 2 onions, chopped 2 cloves garlic 1 stalk celery with leaves, chopped 1/2 cup red wine 2 cups canned tomato sauce Salt and pepper to taste 1 10-ounce package frozen peas (if the dish is to be served hot
Have the butcher "butterfly" a 1/2-inch-thick by 5 1/2-by-8-inch piece of round steak to open up to a 1/4-inch thick by 8-by-11-inch piece of meat (see text if further instructions are necessary). Lay the meat flat and pound it, particularly at the joined seam. Lay it on a board, the long side parallel to the edge of the counter.
Add the squeezed bread to a bowl along with the ground beef, raw eggs, parmesan cheese, crushed garlic, marjoram, thyme, nutmeg, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix well and fry a tiny bit to check flavor. The mixture should be highly seasoned, particularly if the dish is to be served cold. Then spread the mixture over the round steak, to within an inch of the edges. Place the slivers of hard-cooked egg, meat and cheese in rows on the hamburger mixture and roll the steak into a large "salami." Either tie the roll at short intervals with butcher's twine or sew it closed, using a darning needle and heavy thread.
Add the oil to a heavy oval pot just large enough to hold the meat, and heat until it smokes. Add the meat and brown it on all sides. Then add the onions, celery and garlic and cook over low heat until soft. Add the wine and raise the heat. Cook until almost all the wine has evaporated. Add the tomato sauce, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to very low and braise for 1 1/2 hours, turning the meat every half hour or so.
Remove the meat to a dish and when it is cool, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Remove the string or threads when the meat is cold. Cool the sauce and store it in the refrigerator in a jar.
To serve the dish cold, arrange some of the cold sauce on the bottom of a large serving platter, slice the meat and arrange the slices down the platter on the sauce. Serve remaining sauce separately. To serve the dish hot, return the sauce and the meat to the oval pot and place over low heat for an hour. When the meat is hot, add the frozen peas and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the peas are done. Arrange some of the hot sauce with the peas on the bottom of a large serving platter, slice the meat and arrange the slices down the platter on the sauce. Serve remaining sauce separately. HOT OR COLD BROCCOLI WITH OLIVE OIL, GARLIC AND LEMON (8 servings) 1 1/2 pounds broccoli 3 tablespoons green olive oil 2 cloves garlic, crushed A few drops lemon juice Salt and pepper to taste
Wash the broccoli, cut off the tops and separate into small florets. Reserve. Peel the stalks, removing all the tough parts, and cut into 3-inch-long by 1/4-inch-thick slivers. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the slivers and cook for 5 minutes. Then add the florets and cook for 5 minutes more. Drain and refresh under cold water.
Heat the oil in a wok or a frying pan, add the garlic and the broccoli and stir fry for a few minutes until heated through. Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Serve immediately if the broccoli is to be eaten hot. Otherwise, let it cool, refrigerate until an hour before it is needed and bring it to room temperature before serving. EKOLSUND CREAM WAFFLES (8 servings) 1 1/2 cups flour Pinch of salt 1 cup water 1 teaspoon vanilla 4 tablespoons melted butter 1 1/3 cups heavy cream Melted butter for the waffle iron Confectioner's sugar, vanilla ice cream and blueberry sauce (recipe below) for serving
Combine the flour, salt, water, vanilla and melted butter in a bowl and whisk until the batter is smooth. Whip the cream stiff and fold it into the batter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the batter for at least an hour. Heat the waffle iron and brush it lightly with melted butter. Pour batter in until it spreads to about an inch from the edges, bring the cover down gently and bake at high until the iron stops steaming and the waffles are brown
The waffles will keep for a couple of hours in a turned-off oven with a pilot light. To serve, sprinkle with confectioners' sugar and pass softened vanilla ice cream and hot blueberry sauce. BLUEBERRY SAUCE (Makes about 3 cups) 3 cups blueberries, washed and picked over 2/3 cup sugar 4 teaspoons lemon juice Grated rind of half a lemon
Combine the blueberries and the sugar in a saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and rind and serve hot. The sauce will keep under refrigeration and loses nothing on being reheated.