Try putting Oscar Madison and Felix Unger in the same kitchen to cook a dinner for four and you'll see the room shrink from 15 feet to two quicker than a microwave meltdown.
On the surface, the Odd Couple's culinary approaches seem mismatched. Felix is always underfoot, wiping flour off cupboard doors and closing drawers. Oscar, on the other hand, spends his time chasing down paring knives and tasting spoons he left in sensible spots around the kitchen, only to find them in the most unlikely place--the dishwasher.
But dinner need not be lost for our cooking duo. Here is a menu that will turn the slob and the neatnik into kitchen cohorts. The first three courses get the cooks in and out of the kitchen in less than 40 minutes--a critical point for a team with differing cleanliness thresholds.
The dessert, however--a fresh peach tart--should be cooked in the morning by half of this Odd Couple (it involves multiple uses of pots, bowls, flour and other assorted paraphernalia). However, the extra time is well spent on this tart, with its thick, sweet crust, fresh peaches and apricot glaze. Four people have been known to eat the whole thing at one sitting.
The dishes range from heavy to light, starting with a pasta course of green and white fettucine topped with a basil-tomato sauce, followed by a crisp, delicate garlic-lemon chicken and saute'ed green beans with tomatoes. Next comes a salad of chicory and boston lettuce drizzled with your favorite vinaigrette. Then that sensational peach tart.
Begin by boiling water for the pasta. Then, let the kitchen-Oscar make the basil tomato sauce--it requires only one pot and a cutting board. Felix takes on the messier job of washing the lettuce greens and radishes, and making a vinaigrette of oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, oregano and garlic.
Each dish in the second course takes about fifteen minutes. One person cooks the green beans and tomatoes while the other tackles the lemon chicken. Assignments don't matter here. Just be sure to have two frying pans and stay out of each other's way. Accurate timing is of the essence, and overcooking would be a grave mistake for either dish.
Presentation really counts for this meal. Serve the pasta in the prettiest bowl you own and leave it on the table with a grinder filled to the brim with black peppercorns--everyone will want seconds. The chicken and vegetables are a lovely contrast to one another and should be served together on a large platter. Garnish the chicken with extra lemon quarters and the green beans with sprigs of fresh parsley. BASIL-TOMATO SAUCE WITH FETTUCINE (4 servings) 1 large bunch fresh basil, preferably with the smallest possible leaves 4 to 5 fresh medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, drained and coarsely chopped (substitute 2 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes) 5 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine 1/3 cup olive oil, more if desired Salt Freshly gound pepper, about 6 twists of the mill 1 1/2 pounds fresh green and white fettucine 2 teaspoons salt for water
Pull off all the basil leaves from the stalks, rinse them briefly in cold water, and roughly chop them. The yield should be about 1 1/2 to 2 cups. Put the chopped basil, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper in an uncovered saucepan and cook over medium-high heat for 15 minutes. Taste and correct for salt.
Bring 4 quarts of water with 2 teaspoons salt to a rolling boil. Add fettucine and cook until the pasta floats to the top (this takes about 2 to 3 minutes; if using packaged pasta, it will take a little longer). Drain. Season with lots of freshly ground pepper and toss with basil-tomato sauce. Serve immediately. Adapted from "The Classic Italian Cook Book," by Marcella Hazan LEMON CHICKEN (4 servings) 2 tablespoons olive oil 4 tablespoons butter 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped 3 whole chicken breasts, halved, boned and skinned Salt and pepper, to taste 3 lemons 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Heat the oil and 2 tablespoons butter in a saute' pan. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute over medium heat. Add chicken breasts, season with salt and pepper and brown on each side (about 2 minutes per side). Remove from pan. Squeeze juice of 2 lemons in pan. Add chopped parsley and remaining butter and cook for 1 minute. Return chicken to pan and reheat (about 30 seconds on each side). Serve immediately garnished with lemon slices. SAUTEED GREEN BEANS AND TOMATOES (4 servings) 3 fresh tomatoes 3/4 pound green beans 4 tablespoons butter Salt and pepper to taste 1 shallot, finely chopped 1 clove garlic, finely chopped 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
Drop tomatoes in enough boiling water to cover for 15 seconds. Remove, run under cold water and peel off skins. Quarter and seed. Cut each quarter in half. Trim ends away from green beans and wash. Stew tomatoes with 2 tablespoons butter, salt and pepper to taste in a small saucepan for 10 minutes. Meanwhile steam grean beans for 2 minutes. Run beans under cold water to stop cooking process. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a saute' pan, add shallot and garlic, cooking for 1 minute. Add green beans and saute' until light brown (about 3 minutes). Add stewed tomatoes to green beans, sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately. FRESH PEACH TART (4 to 6 servings) For pastry: 2 cups sifted flour 3 to 7 tablespoons sugar (we liked 4 tablespoons) 1/8 teaspoon baking powder 5 tablespoons chilled butter 2 tablespoons chilled vegetable shortening 1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract For filling: 4 peaches 1/2 to 2/3 cup sugar 2 tablespoons butter, cut into pea-sized dots 1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted For apricot glaze: 1/2 cup apricot preserves, forced through a sieve or 1/2 cup red currant jelly 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, butter and vegetable shortening in a mixing bowl. Rub butter and shortening with dry ingredients rapidly with the tips of your fingers until the fat is broken into bits the size of small oatmeal flakes. Blend egg and vanilla, add it to flour mixture and knead the dough rapidly into a ball. Pull off a chunk of pastry about the size of an egg. Place on a pastry board and, with the heel of your hand, rapidly press the pastry down on the board and away from you in a firm, quick smear of about 6 inches. The dough will be quite sticky if you have used the full amount of sugar. Repeat with remaining dough, form all into a ball, wrap in waxed paper and chill for several hours until firm.
Mold the pastry in a 10-inch tart pan, flan ring or false-bottomed cake pan. Work rapidly--if you have used the full amount of sugar, the dough softens quickly. Line the inside of the shell (including sides) with aluminum foil and cover with 1 cup uncooked dried beans. Bake in the middle level of a preheated 400-degree oven for 8 to 9 minutes until pastry is set. Carefully remove foil and beans. Prick bottom of pastry with a fork to keep it from rising. Return to oven for 2 or 3 minutes more. When just beginning to color, remove from oven. Set aside to cool.
To prepare filling, drop peaches into boiling water for 10 to 15 seconds. Peel, halve and remove pits. Slice the fruit if you wish. Sprinkle the shell with 3 tablespoons of sugar and arrange peaches on top. If the fruit is sliced, arrange it over the sugar in a closely overlapping layer of concentric circles. If it is halved, place the halves--domed side up--closely together in the shell. Sprinkle with remaining sugar. Dot with butter. Bake in the middle of a 375-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until fruit has colored lightly and the juices have become syrupy.
While tart cooks, make a glaze by stirring the strained preserves or currant jelly with the sugar over moderately high heat for 2 to 3 minutes. The glaze will be thick enough to coat the spoon with a light film and the last drops are sticky as they fall from the spoon. Do not boil beyond this point or the glaze will become brittle when it cools. You will want to apply the glaze while it is still warm. (Unused glaze will keep indefinitely in a screw-topped jar; reheat again before using.)
When the tart finishes baking, slip it onto a rack. Decorate with the slivered almonds and spread with the warm apricot glaze using a pastry brush. From "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," By Julia Child