THE MENU Cold Herbed Crab Meat Veal Chops in Papers Stuffed Mushrooms Buttered Noodles Strawberry-Almond Cup
THIS May meal is in perfect harmony with the dogwood, montana clematis and azaleas blooming in the garden and has the added attraction of fitting in whether the weather is good, as we deserve, or dank. It begins with fresh crab meat, now easing into succulent season, prepared according to the precept that the less done to this lovely crustacean, the better. The crab is dressed with fresh herbs (available from nurseries or herb specialists, if not pushing up through the earth) and a lemony dressing, then barely touched with mayonnaise to bind it lightly. The slivers of red pepper which brighten the mounds of crab in their lettuce cups have a sweetness that accord with the shellfish.
Next are veal chops en papillote. The chops, which are first browned and then cooked with herbs and a few drops of lemon juice in envelopes of parchment paper, are served in their packets. Crosses are cut in the puffed papers and the corners folded back to release the intoxicating aromas of meat and herbs. With the veal are stuffed mushrooms and lightly buttered thin noodles to mop up the sauce. Dessert is an unusual and wonderful concoction of strawberries and almonds baked in a zabaglione-like cream and served warm in champagne glasses.
The beauty of backfin crab meat is its white, sweet chunkiness, but even the best quality crab must be picked over for bits of cartilage and shell that manage to elude skillful packers.
The trick in cleaning crab is to employ a gossamer touch with the tips of the fingers so as not to shred the meat more than necessary or reduce it to a stringy mush. The crab and its seasonings are tossed lightly with two forks, again to preserve the integrity of the pieces. The crab is prepared in three quick stages. In the morning, it is cleaned and seasoned with lemon, oil and herbs. It sits in the refrigerator absorbing these flavors until the mayonnaise is added, just before guests arrive. The final assembly takes only minutes.
The greaseproof parchment paper for the veal chops can be found in rolls at most kitchenware stores and is useful also for lining pans for baking meringues and tortes. Foil can be substituted, but the presentation is less striking than paper, which puffs up gloriously. Good bond stationery will also do in a pinch, although the 8 1/2-by-11-inch pieces are a bit small for comfort. Whatever is used, the paper must be buttered or oiled. The packets can be prepared for baking several hours in advance and held in the refrigerator. The chops are dried thoroughly with paper towels, browned quickly in butter and sandwiched between two layers of minced herbs in the papers. As they bake, the juices of the meat blend with the herbs. I serve the chops in the papers and have no difficulty in eating the meat, but my husband declares this to be barbarous and empties chop and juices onto his plate. For the likes of him, a dish should be provided for discards.
The mushrooms, which are stuffed with their stems plus herbs, bread crumbs and a smidgen of garlic, are a natural accompaniment to the veal. They can be prepared as long as a day before, refrigerated and then quickly baked with the chops.
Water for the noodles can be put on to boil when you sit down for the first course. They cook in minutes while the rest of the food is being removed from the oven.
The strawberry-almond cup can be put together in the afternoon and placed in the oven when you take the main course dishes out. The dish consists of a cre me patissie re enriched with cream and flavored with framboise, my preference, or Grand Marnier or whatever you think helps strawberries. A bottom layer of cream is poured into a gratin dish. This is topped with halved berries that have been macerated in the liqueur of choice along with toasted almond slivers and covered with more of the cream. The dish is baked until the berries are warmed and have melted their flavor into the cream. The result, which is rather liquid but still creamy, is turned into flat champagne glasses, sprinkled with more toasted almonds and served warm. COLD HERBED CRAB MEAT (8 servings) 1 pound fresh backfin crab meat, picked over and all cartilage and bits of shell discarded 1 tablespoon lemon juice olive oil 2 tablespoons peanut oil 2 tablespoons minced shallots 4 tablespoons minced parsley plus additional for garnish 1 tablespoon minced chives 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon or 1/4 teaspoon dried Pinch of cayenne pepper Salt to taste 4 to 6 tablespoons homemade or unsweetened commercial mayonnaise 8 boston lettuce leaf cups 16 1/4-by-2-inch strips roasted skinned red bell pepper or drained pimiento
Combine the crab meat with the lemon juice, oils, shallots, parsley, chives, tarragon, cayenne and salt. Toss carefully with two forks so as not to break up the crab meat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate anywhere from one to several hours. Half an hour before serving, add the mayonnaise, starting with the least amount, and mix carefully. If necessary, add more mayonnaise to bind the crab meat lightly. Just before serving, divide the crab meat among the lettuce cups placed on scallop shells or salad plates. Arrange two pimiento strips in the shape of an "x" on each mound of crab meat and sprinkle with a little parsley. Serve with crustless toast points or thinly sliced french bread. VEAL CHOPS IN PAPERS (8 servings) 8 4- to 6-ounce veal loin or rib chops 2 tablespoons butter 4 tablespoons minced shallots 6 tablespoons minced parsley 2 teaspoons minced chives Melted butter or olive oil for the parchment paper 1 teaspoon lemon juice, about Salt and pepper to taste
Dry the chops thoroughly with paper towels. Heat the butter in a frying pan and brown the chops, one or two at a time, and remove to a dish as they are browned. Combine the shallots, parsley and chives. Cut 8 pieces of parchment paper (or foil) measuring 12-by-15-inches each. Brush the papers with melted butter or oil and make a bed of 2 teaspoons of the mixed herbs on the center of each piece. Place a chop on the herbs and spread 2 more teaspoons of the herbs on top of each chop. Add the juices from the dish to the frying pan and spoon the combined juices over the chops. Sprinkle each with a few drops of lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Make a tight package of each paper by bringing the two long ends together and pleating the paper twice over itself to make a "butcher's" fold. Turn ends back to the side of the paper with the fold and secure with transparent tape. Place chops, fold side down, on a jellyroll pan. The chops can be prepared to this point several hours in advance and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before the final cooking.
To bake the chops, place the pan in a 375-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the size of the chops. To serve, place each packet on a dinner plate, fold side down, cut a cross in the papers and turn back the corners. If desired, the papers can be discarded and the sauces in them spooned over the chops. STUFFED MUSHROOMS (8 servings) 24 mushrooms, each about 1 1/2 inches in diameter 4 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons shallots, minced 1 clove garlic, minced 1 tablespoon minced parsley 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs Salt and pepper to taste 2 to 4 tablespoons medium-dry madeira or dry sherry Olive oil for the pan and the mushrooms Minced parsley for garnish
Wipe mushrooms with a damp paper towel and pop out stems, leaving the cap intact. Chop stems. Heat butter in a frying pan, add stems and cook for about 3 minutes. Add shallots, minced garlic and parsley and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add bread crumbs, salt, pepper and enough of the madeira or sherry to hold the stuffing together. Fill mushroom caps lightly. Smear some olive oil to coat a shallow baking dish large enough to hold the mushrooms and arrange them in it. Pour a few drops of oil on each mushroom and bake in a 375-degree oven for about 12 minutes. The mushrooms can be prepared for the oven in advance and set aside. If they are refrigerated, bring them to room temperature before they are baked. Garnish hot mushrooms with minced parsley. BUTTERED NOODLES (8 servings) 1 pound very fine noodles 2 tablespoons butter Salt and pepper to taste Cook noodles in a large quantity of boiling salted water according to package directions and quickly turn into a colander. Place noodles in a warm serving dish, toss with butter and season with salt and pepper. STRAWBERRY-ALMOND CUP (8 servings) Softened butter to grease a 13 1/2-inch gratin dish For the cream: 2 cups milk 6 egg yolks 2/3 cup sugar 1/4 cup flour 1 tablespoon butter 2 teaspoons vanilla 3 tablespoons framboise, Grand Marnier or other liqueur 1 1/2 cups heavy cream For the filling: 1 1/2 pints strawberries 1 tablespoon sugar 1 tablespoon liqueur of choice 1/2 cup slivered blanched almonds For the assembly: 6 tablespoons confectioners' sugar 3 tablespoons slivered blanched almonds
Butter baking dish and set aside. Make the cream. Bring milk to a boil and lower heat to keep milk at a simmer. Combine egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until the egg mixture becomes very light and forms a ribbon when the mixer whisks are lifted. Stir in flour with a wire whisk. Then, whisking constantly, add hot milk in a thin stream. Pour mixture back into saucepan and, whisking constantly, bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and beat in butter, vanilla and framboise or other liqueur. Pour into a cold mixing bowl and cool for 10 minutes. Then whisk in cream. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
Wash and hull strawberries, cut them into halves, or thirds if they are large, and place in a bowl with 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 tablespoon liqueur. Mix, cover and let the berries macerate for about an hour.
Toast slivered almonds ( 1/2 cup for filling plus 3 tablespoons for the topping) in a 425-degree oven (or toaster oven) for 10 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Stir nuts occasionally so they will toast evenly.
To assemble, pour half the cream into the buttered baking dish. Drain the strawberries and distribute them on the cream. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the almonds on the berries and pour the remaining cream over the filling. Sprinkle the confectioners' sugar over the top. The dish can be refrigerated for a few hours at this point and brought to room temperature before baking. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the berries and cream are warm and the top is lightly browned. Spoon the berries and the cream into flat champagne glasses and sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of the remaining almonds on each serving.