THE MENU Sauteed Chicken Livers and Red Bell Peppers in Cassolettes or over Toast Points Roast Beef with Horseradish Sauce and Pan Gravy Roast Potatoes Gratine Tomatoes Buttered String Beans Caramelized Pears
THIS IS A polished meal for friends who appreciate restraint and style. It starts with an unusual and sensational combination of chicken livers saute'ed with roasted red bell peppers, whose continued availability invites invention. This is served, for those with the ambition, in edible cassolettes (tart-shaped rosette shells) or, more simply, over toast points.
Next is a quickly cooked, rare roast eye round of beef with a richly flavored pan gravy and a subtle horseradish sauce. Accompanying the meat are three contrasting vegetables: crisp, roasted potatoes; gratine' tomatoes, to take advantage of the last good supply until next summer, and string beans, which finally are being sold at a reasonable price. The meal ends with irresistibly inexpensive, plentiful and delicious Bartlett pears, here caramelized and mixed with cream for a wonderful flavor of butterscotch.
The combination of chicken livers with red bell peppers is magical, since the livers take on an extraordinary and delicate flavor slightly reminiscent of field mushrooms. Once the peppers are roasted, which can be done a day in advance, and the livers cleaned, the dish can be made literally in 10 minutes. In the interest of avoiding as much last-minute preparation as possible, the livers can be cooked in the morning, refrigerated and then reheated quickly just before serving. The dish is wonderful over toast but more elegant in cassolettes.
Cassolette or tart-shaped rosette molds are to be found in various shapes in every cookware store I have shopped over the last year. I like the three-inch wide by one-inch-deep fluted mold which cooks up into a slightly larger shell. One is perfect for a first-course serving. I suspect that many of these molds are sitting, never used, in kitchen drawers because making cassolettes involves deep-fat frying, a process that can be terrifying.
Deep-fat frying requires no special skill but certain rules must be followed. First, unwavering attention is demanded of the cook. This means that once the oil is placed over heat, the cook may not leave the kitchen or indulge in a telephone conversation. Children must be banned from the kitchen during the process. Should any distraction occur, the heat must be turned off and the pan of oil moved to the back of the stove. The handle of the pot in which the oil is being heated should be turned toward the back of the stove to prevent accidents.
A deep-fry thermometer is esential. This should be placed in the oil when the heat is turned on and the temperature must be monitored constantly. The oil should be heated slowly. It will take about 20 minutes to bring two quarts of cool oil to 370 degrees over low heat, so time should be budgeted accordingly. Oil can be reused until it turns dark. Let it cool, strain it through a coffee filter into jars and store in the refrigerator.
All other needed equipment should be in place before you start to heat the oil. The cassolette mold should be screwed into its holder and placed into the oil along with the deep-fry thermometer when the heat goes on. A jellyroll pan lined with paper towels should be to the left of the pan so that the cooked shells can be placed on it to drain. A knife or fork to push the shells off the mold should be on a plate to the right of the pot along with a pair of tongs to remove the shells from the oil.
A heavy aluminum saucepan is perfect for deep frying. The French make a deep-fry pot with two ears while the American pot has a long handle. Both come with baskets that are not used in making cassolettes but which are invaluable for potato chips and French fried potatoes. After the cassolettes are made, the mold should be left to cool and then detached from its handle and wiped dry with paper towels.
I use peanut oil which I buy by the gallon for the most reasonable price of $4.25 at Potomac Butter and Egg in Southwest Washington.
Cassolettes can be filled with any creamed dish for a first course or with various vegetables as an accompaniment to meat or fish.
I set out to buy a standing four-rib roast for this meal but was so appalled by the price that I settled on a lovely long, narrow eye-of-the- round roast which was nicely barded with a thin layer of beef fat. The flavorful meat was cut into neat, small slices and went so far that I had enough left over for roast beef hash for two. I cook beef at a constant high temperature for a crusty brown outside and a rare inside. The horseradish sauce which accompanies it, along with the gratineed tomatoes, uses fresh breadcrumbs. To keep a supply of breadcrumbs at all times, I amass heels of toasting bread in the freezer, which I will reduce in a processor to breadcrumbs when I have enough. The crumbs are stored in a jar, again in the freezer, and can be spooned out as needed.
The pears for this recipe must be firm but ripe enough to have some perfume. Again, the nose is the best guide for buying decent fruit. The 14-wedge apple slicer (there is also a 20-wedge slicer which is perfect for apple tarts) is lovely for these pears, which must be baked in the hottest oven possible (at 500 degrees). The pears can be placed in the oven immediately after removing the potatoes (and resetting the temperature) and allowed to bake while the main course is being eaten. While it is a nice touch to baste the pears while they bake, it is no tragedy if this step is ignored. By the time the main course dishes are being cleared, the sugar should have caramelized. The cream can then be poured over the pears, and the cooking finished in minutes. SAUTEED CHICKEN LIVERS AND RED BELL PEPPERS (8 servings) 8 medium or 6 large red bell peppers 2 pounds chicken livers Flour for dusting the livers 3 tablespoons butter 1/2 cup dry white wine 1 teaspoon lemon juice Salt and pepper to taste 8 cassolettes (recipe follows) or toast points 2 tablespoons minced parsley
Roast the peppers by charring their skins under a broiler or over a flame. Skin, core and seed them and cut them lengthwise into 1/2-inch wide strips. Set aside.
Cut the livers into quarters and clean them of all fat, green spots and membranes. Pat the livers dry on paper towels and dust them lightly with flour. Heat the butter in a frying pan and saute' the livers quickly over high heat for about 4 minutes, or until they are browned all over. Add the wine and lemon juice, bring to the boil and add the red pepper strips plus salt and pepper. Lower the heat and simmer the mixture for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The liver mixture can be made several hours in advance and reheated quickly. Just before serving, spoon the hot mixture into 8 cassolettes or over toast points with crusts removed. Sprinkly with parsley. CASSOLETTES (Makes about 20) 2 eggs 1 cup milk 1 tablespoon peanut or corn oil 1 cup sifted flour 1/2 teaspoon salt Oil for deep frying
Beat the eggs lightly in a bowl and stir in the milk and the oil. Beat the flour and salt into the liquid and strain the batter into another bowl, preferably one that is tall and narrow. Cover with plastic wrap and let the batter rest for 1 hour before using.
To make the cassolettes, pour about 2 quarts of oil into a heavy saucepan or deep-frying pan, or enough oil so that it measures about 4 inches in depth. Fit a 3-inch-wide by 1-inch-deep fluted cassolette, (tart-shaped rosette) mold onto its holder and place the mold in the oil along with a deep-fry thermometer. Heat the oil slowly until the thermometer reads 360 to 370 degrees. This will take about 20 minutes. Remove the heated cassolette mold from the oil and hold it over the pan for 5 seconds or so, or until the excess oil runs off. Dip the hot mold into the batter to within 1/8 inch of the top of the mold and hold the mold in the batter for 15 seconds. Lift the mold and hold it over the batter for another 10 seconds and then plunge it into the hot oil. Count another 20 seconds. If the shell has not started to free itself from the mold, loosen it by gently pushing down around the top edge with a knife or a fork. Allow the shell to fall off the mold and into the oil. Continue cooking until the shell is brown all over. Keep the oil at a constant 370-degree temperature, although you can let it reach 375 degrees without problems. I allow the theromemeter to remain in the oil during the cooking of the cassolettes and either raise the heat when the temperature drops or remove the pot from the heat when it becomes too high. Remove the cooked shells with tongs and place upside down on a jellyroll pan lined with paper towels. Repeat until all the batter is used or until you have the desired number of shells (discard the remaining batter). Extra shells can be stored in an airtight container or frozen. Should the shells need recrisping, place them in a 350-degree oven for 5 minutes before filling. They should be filled at the last minute. Place the mold on a dish and allow it to cool. Unscrew it from its holder and wipe it with a paper towel. Do not wash the mold. ROAST BEEF WITH PAN GRAVY (8 servings) 4-pound long, narrow eye round roast, with a thin layer of fat tied to the top 1 1/2 cups beef stock or bouillon 1/2 bunch watercress, washed
Place the meat in a roasting pan and roast it for 1 hour and 10 minutes in a 425-degree oven, or until an instant thermometer registers 120 degrees when inserted into the center of the roast. Place the meat on a carving board, remove the strings and the fat and let it rest for 15 minutes before carving into thinnish slices. Potatoes will be put in the oven 40 minutes after the roast, so they will finish cooking while the roast sets. If the potatoes have roasted in the same pan as the meat, remove them to another pan along with the fat from the roasting pan. Return the potatoes to the oven to finish cooking. If the potatoes are roasting in another pan simply pour off the fat from the meat's roasting pan. To make pan gravy add the beef stock or bouillon to the degreased roasting pan, bring to a boil and cook over moderately high heat, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen the brown bits, until the juices have reduced a bit.
Arrange the meat in overlapping slices in 2 rows down the length of a serving platter and place the potatoes on each side of the meat. Arrange a bouquet of watercress at each end of the platter. Serve the pan gravy which has been decanted into a sauceboat and the horseradish sauce. HORSERADISH SAUCE (8 servings) 1/2 cup well-drained bottled horseradish 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard 1 tablespoon fresh bread crumbs 1/4 teaspoon confectioners' sugar 6 drops worcestershire sauce Salt and pepper to taste 3/4 cup heavy cream
Spoon bottled horseradish into a fine strainer set over a small bowl and press out as much vinegar as possible. Return the vinegar to the jar or discard it. Measure out 1/4 cup of the drained horseradish and combine it in a bowl with the mustard, bread crumbs, sugar, worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Whip the cream lightly and beat it into the horseradish mixture. The sauce can be made several hours in advance. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap so the strength of the horseradish is not dissipated and refrigerate. Just before serving, turn into a sauce-boat. ROAST POTATOES (8 servings) 16 firm white or red russet potatoes, about 2 inches in diameter, or enough larger potatoes to be carved into 16 potatoes of the needed size 2 to 3 tablespoons rendered chicken, duck or goose fat, or butter (unless the potatoes are to be roasted with the meat) Salt and pepper to taste
Peel the potatoes and shape them if necessary. Parboil them for 5 minutes in salted water and turn into a colander to drain. If the potatoes are to be roasted separately, melt the rendered fat or the butter in a pan and roll the potatoes in the fat. Let the roast cook for 40 minutes before putting the potatoes in the oven. Roast them in a 425- degree oven for 45 minutes in all, shaking the pan every 10 minutes or so to roll the potatoes around and allow them to brown evenly. If they are to be cooked with the meat, place them around the meat and roll each potato in the rendered fat. Every 10 minutes or so, turn the potatoes with a wooden spoon so they will brown evenly. The potatoes will continue to roast for an additional 15 minutes after the meat has been removed from the oven, so adjust timing accordingly. Do not remove the potatoes from the oven until just before serving. Then season them to taste with salt and pepper. GRATINE TOMATOES (8 servings) 1/2 cup olive oil 6 medium or 4 large ripe tomatoes 2 small cloves garlic, finely minced 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil, or parsley if basil is not available Salt and pepper to taste 1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
Pour a little of the olive oil on the bottom of an oval baking dish and reserve the remaining oil. Stem the tomatoes, cut them into 1/2-inch slices and arrange them, overlapping slightly, in rows down the length of the baking dish. Distribute the garlic, basil or parsley, salt and pepper over the tomatoes and then sprinkle the bread crumbs over the tomatoes in a layer that covers them. Pour the remaining oil evenly over the breadcrumbs and broil about 4 inches under a medium flame for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the tomatoes are soft and the bread crumbs are browned. BUTTERED STRING BEANS (8 servings) 2 1/2 pounds string beans 4 tablespoons butter Salt and pepper to taste
Wash the string beans, cut off their ends and, if they are large and you have the will, run a potato peeler down each side of the beans to remove their strings. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and add the beans. Cook them for about 5 minutes if they have been strung and about 8 minutes if they have not. Start testing by biting into a bean after 4 minutes. The beans are done when they taste sweet and "cooked" but still have a bit of crunch. Immediately turn them into a colander and run cold water over them to stop further cooking. Drain them well, wrap in paper towels and refrigerate. The beans can be cooked to this point anywhere from several hours to a day in advance. Just before serving, place the beans in a frying pan and, shaking the pan constantly, cook them over medium heat for a minute or two to rid them of excess moisture. Then add the butter to the beans and continue cooking, shaking the pan constantly for another 2 minutes, or until the butter is melted and the beans are heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste and turn into a warm serving dish. CARAMELIZED PEARS (8 servings) 8 medium bartlett pears, firm but with a good perfume 1 cup sugar 4 tablespoons unsalted butter 1 cup heavy cream
Peel the pears, core them and cut each lengthwise into thin wedges, or use a 14-wedge apple slicer which will core and cut the pears into wedges at the same time. Arrange the wedges in a baking dish and spoon the sugar over them in a thick layer. Dot with butter and bake in a 500-degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until the sugar has turned a nice caramel color. If it is convenient, baste the pears a few times with the syrup that forms. Remove the dish from the oven, pour the cream over the pears and return to the oven for another 5 to 8 minutes, or until a homogeneous, butterscotchy brown syrup has formed. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature, although warm is best.