MENU Soup with Quenelles Under a Puff Pastry Dome Roast Filet of Beef With Bearnaise Sauce Watercress Duchess Potatoes Prunes in Red Wine with Cream

HIS is a noble meal of consistent deliciousness and descending complexity.It begins with luxurious abandon, moves on to understated exorbitance and ends with modest understatement. The execution is within the reach of all while the rewards are boundless.

Diners sit down to a regal presentation of perfect domes of browned puff pastry clinging to ovenproof soup bowls. When the crusty spheres are pierced, rich aromas are released at the same time that tiny, feathery veal quenelles are revealed floating in a well-endowed chicken broth.

Such a hard act deserves to be followed by a filet of beef. Here it is roasted quickly to a luscious rareness while the first course is being consumed. With the beef are mounds of gold-flecked duchess potatoes, fresh watercress and a bearnaise sauce heady with tarragon.

Dessert ends with an unobtrusive sigh. Dried prunes are plumped in tea, then cooked in an infusion of red wine and sugar spiked with cinnamon stock and orange rind. The prunes are served icy cold with cream.

The soup is a homespun variation of the truffle-and-fresh-foie-gras extravaganza produced by Paul Bocuse for the celebratory E'lyse'e Palace luncheon in 1975 when the great chef was made a member of the Legion of Honor. The hot contents of the bowl force the puff pastry to balloon up as it bakes. I prepared this dish three times in one week. The first time confirmed that my low-cost version was more than worth eating. The soup was made the second time because I couldn't believe it was so easy to do. We had it the third time because it really was. Do not be daunted by the length of the recipe. Several steps are involved, but all the components can be prepared in advance and with great facility, what with the availability of good, frozen puff pastry and the food processor for making the quenelles.

I use onion soup bowls brought out of retirement from the depths of a cupboard, but any earthenware or ceramic bowls four to five inches in diameter and with a 1 1/2-cup capacity are fine.

There is no shortcut to making the soup itself. It must have a rich, concentrated, full-bodied flavor, meaning it does not come from a can. I use inexpensive chicken backs and necks that yield an added bonus of fat. The fat can be frozen and rendered whenever it suits. The soup should be made at least two days before the party (or weeks earlier and frozen). The bulk of the time is spent in cleaning the chicken parts and thoroughly skimming the stock before the vegetables and herbs are added. Any leftover stock can be frozen. The vegetable enrichment can be made anywhere from hours to a day in advance.

The panada, in reality a choux paste that binds the quenelles, is made the day before so it can be thoroughly chilled when added to the veal. Only half the panada is used for the recipe, but the other half can be frozen. I have had perfect results using stew meat. However, every bit of fat, membrane and gristle must be trimmed before the meat is reduced to a paste. The actual quenelle mixture is made the morning of the party and chilled for a few hours, since the balls are formed more easily when the paste is cold. The formed quenelles are refrigerated until the dish is assembled.

Considering the cost, it is easy to be depressed by the amount that must be trimmed off a filet to prepare it for roasting. The good news is that everything can be used. The fat can be rendered and added to the oil for making french fried potatoes. The gristle and membranes go into the stockpot, as can the sinewy cord called the "chain," which becomes detached from the filet when the fat is removed. The chain can also be ground. The tail can either be tucked under itself and tied in order to make the roast of equal thickness or removed and used to make a nice stroganoff. The oven must be raised to 500 degrees (or 475 degrees if yours smokes at 500 degrees) the minute the soup is removed. The filet, which is browned in advance, is placed into it and cooks, along with the duchess potatoes, while the soup is being eaten. There may be a 10-minute hiatus between the time the first course is cleared and the roast appears.

The duchess potatoes are prepared several hours in advance. The eggs and flavorings are beaten into the whipped potatoes and then the warm (not hot, otherwise you'll burn your hands) mixture is turned into a pastry bag with a large star tube and piped into pretty mounds. These are covered loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerated until half an hour before baking. The potatoes go into the oven 10 minutes after the filet and continue to cook while the filet rests before it is carved.

The prunes can be precooked in any kind of tea except for lapsang soochong or other smoky tea. The cinnamon stick is removed immediately after the final cooking so as not to overpower the syrup. SOUP WITH QUENELLES UNDER A PUFF PASTRY DOME (8 servings) For the chicken stock (makes about 12 cups): 10 pounds chicken backs and necks, fat removed and reserved for another purpose, loose organs discarded Cold water to cover the chicken parts, about 6 quarts 6 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks 3 large onions, peeled 3 stalks celery, cleaned and cut into chunks 6 sprigs parsley 1 tablespoon salt Pepper to taste 1 teaspoon thyme leaves 1 1/2 bay leaves For the panada for the quenelles (makes 1 cup): 1/2 cup water 3 tablespoons butter 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 cup sifted flour 1 egg About 1 teaspoon softened butter For the quenelles (makes about 56 1/2-inch quenelles): 1/2 pound veal 1/2 teaspoon salt Freshly ground white pepper 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 2 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened 1 egg white 1/2 cup chilled panada 3 tablespoons very cold whipping cream Flour for shaping the quenelles For the vegetable enrichment: 1 medium carrot, peeled and trimmed 2 inner stalks celery, cleaned 1 small onion, peeled 1/4 pound mushrooms, cleaned 2 tablespoons butter For the puff pastry lids: 17 1/4-ounce package frozen puff pastry dough, defrosted Flour for the pastry board To assemble the dish: 8 onion-soup or other ovenproof bowls 10 cups chicken stock Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste The cooked vegetable garnish 8 teaspoons minced parsley The uncooked quenelles 8 rounds of puff pastry, cut 1 1/2 inches greater in diameter than the tops of the soup bowls 1 egg yolk, beaten

Make the stock two days or more in advance. Place the chicken parts in a large stockpot. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Skim off the scum as it rises. When the stock is clear, add the vegetables and skim until clear. Add the remaining ingredients and enough more cold water to cover. Cook at the lowest simmer, with the cover slightly askew, for 5 hours. Ladle the stock through a strainer into bowls, cool and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. When the fat has congealed, scrape it off and discard. If the stock has jelled, heat until it becomes liquid. Ladle the stock through a strainer lined with wrung-out cheesecloth and then cook the stock, uncovered, to reduce it until 12 cups remain. Cool and refrigerate (or freeze) until needed.

Make the panada for the quenelles a day before it is to be used. Combine the water, butter and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove the pan from heat and add the flour all at once. Beat the mixture with a wooden spoon until it comes away from the sides and forms a ball, about 1 minute. Return to heat, mash the mixture down on to the bottom of the pan and then with the wooden spoon bring it up and fold it over, much as if you were kneading bread. This dries out the paste. Continue for about 3 minutes, or until a sandy-looking film of paste forms on the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and let the paste stand for about 15 minutes, beating it occasionally as it cools. Then beat in the egg by hand or, if you wish in the food processor. (Turn the paste into the bowl and, with the motor running, add the egg and process for about 15 seconds). There will be 1 cup of panade. Measure off one half and freeze for later use or discard. Spread the remaining half onto a saucer smeared with some softened butter, spread the top with remaining butter, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold.

The mixture for the quenelles can be made the morning of the dinner. Refrigerate the food processor container, lid and blade before using. Trim the meat of all fat and fibers. Process the veal with the salt, pepper and nutmeg until the mixture is reduced to a paste. With the motor running, add the following, processing for 15 seconds, after each addition: first the softened butter, then the egg white, then the chilled panada and finally the cream. Turn the mixture into a bowl, cover and refrigerate for two hours or longer. The quenelles can be shaped several hours before cooking. Place a 12-inch piece of waxed paper on a counter and flour it lightly. Using a demitasse spoon scoop up enough of the mixture to make a ball 1/2 inch in diameter. With a second demitasse spoon, push the mixture into the waxed paper. Using fingers and not the palm of the hand, roll the quenelles into balls. It may be necessary to add more flour. Make 56 quenelles and place them on a waxed paper-lined plate or tray. Cover and refrigerate until the dish is to be assembled.

The vegetable garnish can be made up to a day in advance. Cut the vegetables into the smallest dice possible. Melt the butter in a small saute' pan and cook the vegetables without letting them color until they are soft. Refrigerate until needed.

Make the puff pastry lids a few hours before using. Lightly flour a board and roll out the defrosted puff pastry, one sheet at a time, to measure 12-by-12 inches. Use a plate or, even better, a pot lid of the correct size to cut circles 1 1/2 inches greater in diameter than the tops of the onion soup bowls, cutting 4 rounds from each sheet of the pastry. Brush off excess flour and place each circle on a plate with a piece of waxed paper between the circles. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

Assemble the soup bowls before they are to go into the oven (this will take less than 10 minutes). Bring the stock to a boil and adjust seasonings. Ladle the soup into the bowls, filling the bowls to within an inch of the lip. Divide the cooked vegetable garnish and the parsley among the bowls. Place 7 quenelles into each bowl. One at a time, brush the edges of the puff pastry rounds with the beaten egg yolk, making a 1/2-inch band. As each round is prepared, place it, painted side down, on top of a bowl and press carefully all around the outside edge to make a good seal. Place the bowls on two jellyroll pans, making sure the bowls do not touch, and bake in 425-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the pastry lids are dome-shaped and browned.

To serve, place each bowl on a salad plate and provide a fork to pierce the dome, plus a spoon. ROAST FILET OF BEEF (8 servings) 5- to 6-pound filet of beef 2 tablespoons butter 1 1/2 cups beef stock or bouillon Bunch watercress, washed, dried and coarse stems discarded

The filet can be prepared for roasting as much as a day in advance. Trim the filet down to the meat by removing all membranes, sinews and fat. In the process of removing the fat, a 1 1/2 inch or so thick cord of sinewy meat will become detached from along the side of the filet. This "chain" can be saved for stock or ground and added to hamburger meat.

Cut off the tail of the filet (where the meat narrows considerably) and reserve for beef stroganoff or other saute'ed beef dishes for two or three people. Alternatively, the tail can be tucked under itself to make a longer piece of meat of more or less equal thickness. The tail must be tied every 3/4 inch with soft butcher's twine. Should there be a cut in the roast, the meat should be tied at that place with soft butcher's twine.

The roast can be browned two hours before its final cooking. Melt the butter in a long oval frying pan, in a roasting pan or in the bottom part of an oven broiler pan. Over high heat, brown the filet quickly on all sides. Remove the meat, add the beef stock or bouillon to the pan, bring to a boil and scrape up all the brown bits from the pan. Turn the deglazed juices into a bowl and reserve. Wash the pan for later use.

If the browned meat has been refrigerated, bring it to room temperature before roasting. Place the meat on a rack over the roasting pan or oven broiler pan and roast at 500 degrees for 20 minutes. If the meat is to be cooked in the same oven in which the soup was baked, remove the soup, turn up the oven to 500 degrees and immediately place the filet in the oven. Roast for about 24 minutes, with the extra few minutes compensating for the time needed to bring the oven up from 425 to 500 degrees.

Remove the meat to a carving board and let it settle for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, return the reserved deglazed juices to the bottom of the roasting pan, bring to a boil and scrape up any brown bits. Turn into a sauceboat.

To serve the meat, remove any strings, slice the meat and arrange down the length of a warm serving platter. Surround the meat with a border of the duchess potato mounds and then of the watercress. Serve with the deglazed pan juices and bearnaise sauce. BEARNAISE SAUCE (Makes about 1 1/2 cups) 1/4 cup white wine tarragon vinegar 1 1/4 cup dry white wine 1 tablespoon minced shallots 1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon or 1 teaspoon dried plus an additional 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon leaves or parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

2 sticks unsalted butter

3 egg yolks

Combine the tarragon vinegar, white wine, shallots, 1 tablespoon tarragon, salt and pepper in a small saucepan and cook until the liquid is reduced to 2 tablespoons. Set aside and allow to cool. Cut one stick of the butter into 8 pieces and melt to foaming in a small saucepan over moderate heat, then lower the heat. Place the egg yolks in the container of an electric blender and blend at highest speed for about 15 seconds, or until the yolks are very thick. Add the vinegar-wine reduction plus the cooked tarragon and shallots and blend at highest speed for another 15 seconds.

With the motor running still at highest speed, feed the hot butter into the container, preferably through the small opening in the cover, in a very thin but steady stream. Continue blending at high speed until the sauce thickens. Should it remain thin, turn it into a measuring cup and feed it into the blender once more in a thin, steady stream with the motor running at high speed. Turn the sauce into a bowl and heat the second stick of butter until it foams. In a thin, steady stream beat the butter into the sauce with a wire whisk. Then beat in the additional 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh tarragon or parsley. Turn the sauce into a warm bowl. DUCHESS POTATOES (8 servings) 2 pounds russet potatoes 2 whole eggs plus 2 egg yolks, well beaten 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg Salt and pepper to taste Softened butter to grease the foil-lined jellyroll pan

Peel the potatoes, cut them into 2-inch chunks and cook in boiling water until tender. Drain, return to the saucepan and shake over low heat to dry them out. Beat the potatoes until fluffy with an electric hand mixer. Then beat in the beaten eggs, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Adjust seasonings and let the potatoes cool to lukewarm.

Line a jellyroll pan with foil and grease the foil lightly with the softened butter. Turn the warm potatoes into a large pastry bag fitted with a #7 open star tube and squeeze 2 1/2-inch high mounds of potato onto the foil. The potatoes can be prepared to this point a few hours in advance.

Bake the potato mounds at 500 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, or until they are lightly browned. Lift the mounds off the foil with a spatula and arrange around the carved meat. PRUNES IN RED WINE WITH CREAM (8 servings) 1 1/2 pounds large prunes 6 cups strong tea 1 1/2 cups sugar 2 1/2 cups dry red wine 3-inch piece stick cinnamon

The peel of 1 large orange, removed in one or two large pieces with a potato peeler 1 1/2 cups whipping cream

Combine the prunes and the tea in a saucepan, bring to a simmer and cook, covered, over low heat for 15 minutes. Drain the prunes, discarding the tea. Combine the sugar, red wine, orange peel and cinnamon in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the prunes, bring to a simmer and cook, covered, over low heat for 30 minutes. Discard the cinnamon stick. Cool and refrigerate overnight. Before serving, discard the orange peel.

Serve cold with cream.