THE MENU: Taramasalata and Celery Sticks in a Lemon Marinade; Blanquette of Veal Buttered Rice or Noodles Strawberry Charlotte with Strawberry-Raspberry Sauce
THIS JUNE meal has a lemony lightness befitting a summer evening and the backbone to sustain the chill of a sudden thunderstorm. It begins with a fluffy, tangy taramasalata, a whipped dish of the palest pink made with tarama, Russian- or Greek-style carp roe. The taramasalata is decorated with oil-cured black olives and accompanied by celery sticks in a lemon marinade. The main course is one of the few stews suitable for summer--a pale-colored, deeply satisfying blanquette of veal with tiny whole mushrooms and minuscule white onions served, classically, with lightly buttered rice or, if you prefer, with noodles. A simple green salad would be a pleasant follow-up to the blanquette and an inviting prelude to dessert, a crown of upright ladyfingers circling a strawberry-filled cream. This charlotte needs no unmolding since it is formed on its serving platter within the rim of a springform pan. Served with the charlotte is a clean, beautifully colored strawberry-raspberry sauce that tastes as fresh as it looks.
Tarama is found in Greek, Italian or specialty food stores in jars and is usually refrigerated. It is red-orange in color and becomes taramasalata when it is processed with white bread soaked in milk and squeezed dry, lemon juice and oil. My version of taramasalata, which can be made in a couple of minutes, uses half olive oil and half peanut oil for a more delicate result, although all olive oil is traditional. Tarama can be sealed with a little olive oil and refrigerated; taramasalata should be covered tightly with plastic wrap and will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks, so it can be made well in advance. While taramasalata is served with pita bread in Middle Eastern restaurants, I prefer it with fingers of pumpernickel, crustless toast triangles or thinly sliced french bread. Finding good olives can take some doing. I bought some Nyons olives at the Paris airport just for the packaging (they came in a charming earthenware pot), but the real reward was the superiority of the olives themselves. These are carried in jars at, among other places, Chevy Chase Supermarket and Someplace Special. Someplace Special also has very good oil-cured olives in bulk.
The celery sticks are an unexpectedly delicious accompaniment to the taramasalata, especially if you take the trouble to pare the stalks with a potato peeler to remove every bit of string. The celery should sit at room temperature in the dressing for a few hours, during which the moisture is drawn off. Some of the liquid should be drained before serving.
The blanquette can be made a day or two in advance, with the final enrichment added a few minutes before serving. (While leftover blanquette is wonderful, the enriched sauce does tend to thin when it is reheated.) Veal makes scum as no other meat, so it must be blanched first unless you are willing to skim forever, which I am not, particularly since blanching results in no loss of flavor. The meat is covered with cold water, brought ---------to a boil and simmered for a minute, when an unbelievable amount of scum roils on the surface. The contents of the pot are then turned into a colander, and each piece of meat is washed separately and thoroughly under cold water to get rid of the last bits of scum. At the same time, any remaining gristle, membrane or fat can easily be removed with the fingers. The meat then cooks in broth and aromatic vegetables--including the white part of one leek--until it is almost tender. The remaining leeks in the bunch can be braised in bouillon and served hot or even cold with a vinaigrette sauce. While the meat cooks, the onions--small frozen white onions save a lot of grief--as well as the mushrooms are cooked separately. The liquid from the vegetables is added to the veal stock and used to make the sauce. When the veal finishes cooking in the sauce, the mushrooms and onions are added.
There is no need to worry if the blanquette comes to a boil when it is finished with the egg-yolk mixture because the flour in the sauce acts as a stabilizer and prevents the eggs from curdling. However, I would not press my luck by letting the stew remain at the boil. Note that the recipe does not call for salt to be added. This is because condensed chicken broth is used, and as it reduces with cooking its salt content is heightened. I do not even add salt to the accompanying rice or noodles, since the blanquette will pick up any slack. Fresh tarragon sprinkled over the blanquette gives it a summer lift, and either parsley or tarragon brightens the whiteness of the plate. If the lack of color is troublesome, glazed carrots can be served with the veal. The rice or noodles should be cooked to coincide with the finishing of the blanquette.
At this time of year, any dessert is good if it uses strawberries, which are plentiful and nicely perfumed. In this charlotte they are elegant. I normally make a charlotte in a 6-cup mold, but using the rim of a springform pan is foolproof and anxiety-free for those who are nervous about unmolding. It also makes a sensational presentation since the tops of the ladyfingers do not have to be trimmed and everyone wonders why the tips weren't crushed when the dish was unmolded, which of course it wasn't. The rim is locked and centered on a flat serving plate, filled and refrigerated. Just before serving, the rim is unlocked and lifted off the mold. Should a bit of filling leak through a ladyfinger, it is easily removed with a damp paper towel. The sauce, really a rather liquid pure'e the French call a coulis, is a fine combination of fresh strawberries, frozen raspberries with their liquid and lemon juice. Its full flavor and slight tartness also go well with ice cream or a dish of fresh strawberries. TARAMASALATA (8 servings) 3 slices firm-textured white bread, crusts removed Milk to cover the bread 1/3 cup tarama (carp roe, Russian or Greek style) Juice of 1 lemon 1/3 cup olive oil 1/3 cup peanut oil Black olives, either Nyons olives from France, or French, Greek or Italian oil-cured olives preferably in bulk 1 tablespoon minced parsley
Place the bread in a shallow bowl, cover with milk and let the bread soak until it is saturated. Squeeze the bread dry and place in a food processor bowl with the steel knife. Add the tarama and lemon juice and process for about 5 seconds. Slowly pour the olive oil and peanut oil through the feed tube with the motor running. Stop the motor once or twice, stir down the sides and process until the mixture is smooth and fluffy, another few seconds. Turn into a bowl or a terrine. Decorate the edges with a ring of black olives and sprinkle the parsley on the center. Serve with strips of pumpernickel, toast triangles or thinly sliced french bread. CELERY STICKS IN A LEMON MARINADE (8 servings) 9 to 10 stalks celery, or enough to make 5 cups when julienned 4 tablespoons olive oil 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice Salt and pepper to taste 3 tablespoons minced dill or chives
Use a potato peeler to remove every bit of string from the celery stalks. Then cut the celery into a fine julienne, about 3 inches long by 1/8 inch wide. Place the celery sticks (there should be 5 cups) in a bowl and toss with the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Let sit at room temperature for about 2 or 3 hours. Refrigerate if not being served immediately. Before serving, bring to room temperature, drain off some of the liquid if a good deal has formed and stir in the minced dill or chives. BLANQUETTE OF VEAL (8 servings) For the veal: 3 pounds veal stew meat cut into 2-inch chunks 2 carrots, cleaned and trimmed 2 onions, peeled 1 clove (stuck into 1 of the onions) 1 leek, white part only, split down the middle and washed carefully under running water to remove all sand 4 sprigs parsley 1 teaspoon thyme 2 cloves garlic, unpeeled 1 bay leaf 5 10 3/4-ounce cans condensed chicken broth For the vegetables: 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 1/2 cup condensed chicken broth 16-ounce bag frozen small whole onions 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice 1 pound small mushrooms, cleaned, stems cut off at the cap and reserved for stock or other purpose For the sauce: 3 tablespoons butter 3 tablespoons flour The stock from cooking the veal (about 3 1/2 to 4 cups) For the final assembly: 3 egg yolks 1 cup heavy cream Freshly ground white pepper Freshly grated nutmeg 2 tablespoons minced parsley 1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon (optional)
Place the pieces of veal in a 4- or 5-quart pot, cover with cold water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 minute. A great deal of scum will have formed on top. Turn the contents of the pot into a colander and rinse with cold water. Then thoroughly wash each piece of veal under cold running water, pulling off and discarding any bits of fat, gristle or membrane as the pieces are washed. Place the meat in a 5-quart enamel-on-steel or other non-reactive heavy casserole and add the carrots, onions, clove, leek, parsley, thyme, garlic and bay leaf. Add the chicken broth and, if necessary, a little water to cover the meat. Bring to a boil, skim for a minute, reduce heat and simmer gently, partially covered, for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove the pieces of veal to a bowl and pour the stock through a strainer into a second bowl. Press down on the vegetables to extract all the juices and discard the vegetables. There will be about 3 1/2 to under 4 cups of stock. Wash the casserole, dry it and put aside for use later.
Prepare the vegetables while the veal is cooking. Combine the butter and chicken broth in a saute' pan or frying pan large enough to hold the onions in one layer and bring to a boil. Add the onions, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, uncovered. Remove the onions to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Add the lemon juice and mushrooms to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon and add them to the onions. Pour the liquid from the pan into the veal stock.
To make the sauce, melt the butter in the clean casserole, stir in the flour and cook over low heat for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Whisk in the veal stock and bring the sauce to the boil, whisking constantly. Simmer for another few minutes and skim off any scum that may form. Add the veal to the sauce and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the veal is fork-tender. Stir in the mushrooms and the onions. If desired, the blanquette can be made to this point in advance, cooled and refrigerated.
To assemble the blanquette, bring the contents of the casserole to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Combine the egg yolks and the cream in a bowl and beat well. Add freshly ground white pepper and grate a good pinch of nutmeg into the egg-cream mixture. Pour the mixture into the blanquette in a thin, steady stream, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Heat the blanquette, stirring until it is hot. Should the blanquette come to a boil, it will not curdle since the flour stabilizes the sauce. However, do not let it boil for more than a few seconds. Serve the blanquette from the casserole, if it is attractive, or spoon it into a warm serving bowl. Sprinkle with parsley and, if you have it, with tarragon and serve with lightly buttered rice or noodles. STRAWBERRY CHARLOTTE (8 servings) 1 1/2 envelopes (1 1/2 tablespoons) unflavored gelatin 4 1/2 tablespoons cold water 2 cups milk 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 cup sugar 5 egg yolks 1 1/2 pints strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced 2 packages ladyfingers 1 cup cold heavy cream
Place a metal bowl in the freezer to chill it well for whipping the cream. Sprinkle the gelatin on the water in a bowl and set aside to soften. Combine the milk with the vanilla, bring to a boil and set aside for 5 minutes. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks with the sugar for about 4 minutes, or until thick and pale. Beating constantly with the mixer (or vigorously with a wire whisk), slowly add the milk to the eggs. Return the mixture to a saucepan, place over low heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon for about 6 minutes, or until the custard coats the spoon. Do not let the custard boil. To test whether it is thick enough, run a finger down the middle of the spoon and then hold the spoon vertically. If the custard does not run over the line made by your finger, it is ready. Pour the custard into a bowl and add the softened gelatin, stirring until the gelatin is dissolved and incorporated. Set the bowl aside but stir the custard occasionally as it cools.
Center the clasped rim of a 9-inch springform pan on a serving platter and line the inside edge of the rim with ladyfingers, standing them vertically with the rounded sides touching the rim. Break up into coarse crumbs enough additional ladyfingers to cover the plate inside the rim. Set aside.
When the custard is cool, remove the metal bowl from the freezer, pour the cold cream into it and beat until stiff. Stir the sliced strawberries into the cooled custard and fold in the whipped cream. Spoon the mixture into the lined cake rim and refrigerate for at least several hours and preferably overnight. To serve, unfasten the rim and lift it off. Should any filling have dribbled through the sides under the ladyfingers, clean it off with a damp paper towel. Cut into wedges and serve with strawberry-raspberry sauce. STRAWBERRY-RASPBERRY SAUCE (Makes about 3 cups) 1/2 pint strawberries, washed and hulled 10-ounce package frozen raspberries, defrosted 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Combine the strawberries, the defrosted raspberries with their juices and the lemon juice in a food processor bowl with the steel blade and process until the berries are reduced to a pure'e. Push the mixture through a strainer fine enough to trap the raspberry seeds and turn the sauce into a bowl. The sauce will keep refrigerated for a week.