INDIAN SUMMER" is a time for looking back with nostalgia to August, and forward to the pleasures of fall. This menu reflects such a spirit.
Dessert is chilled, as in summer, but flavored with the new fall pears. The Guest Book The last vine-ripened vegetables (tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant) are cooked then en cocotte in a manner that suits cool weather as well as warm. And, all the recipes reflect the new, lighter style of cooking, where food is steamed and baked with a minimum of fuss.
Few ingredients are used, but they must be of the very best. In fact I'd say a trip to the nearest farmers' market (or at least to an excellent grocery store) is mandatory for this menu.
As a dish, baked eggs are a sleeper. Many top French restaurants feature scrambled eggs, but none bakes them anymore. Yet eggs en cocotte (cocotte is another word for casserole) meet all the criteria of nouvelle cuisine. Simplicity itself to assemble, the eggs require a close eye if they are to be cooked 'a point' with the whites set and the yolks still soft. The little ramekins in which they are cooked and served make a charming show on the table. Best of all, they display the perfection of flavor of a good fresh egg and whatever is chosen to season it -- tomato and fresh herbs in this case.
Most cooks have their favorite recipe for making cheese straws. The lightest I've come across are Michel Guerard's (his puff pastry is a miracle). "The Joy of Cooking" makes cheese pastry by simply adding grated cheese to pie pastry -- an easy solution, I must admit. My own pet version is a quick rendering of Escoffier's classic. He rolls puff pastry trimmings and sprinkles them with grated parmesan -- wonderful, except that outside the professional kitchen, puff pastry is a rarity and trimmings even more so. At home the dough must be started from scratch and so in the adopted English version, pie dough is dotted with butter, then folded and rolled a couple of times to form layers like puff pastry. The resulting straws are rich and butter-laden. What more could one want?
Recipes for both chicken and vegetables are simple (they are cooked apart but served together on the plate). I often opt for cooking a chicken en cocotte rather than roasting it because, being in a covered casserole, it requires less attention and can be reheated. The principle of both roasting and en cocotte is the same -- the chicken is cooked with butter and seasoning only, so its full flavor can be appreciated.
For the vegetables I've omitted the familar Mediterranean olive oil. Both the zucchini and eggplant are parboiled so their flesh can be scooped out and chopped. The zucchini is then flavored with mushroom, and the eggplant with onion, garlic and allspice in an echo of eggplant caviar. This preparation can be done ahead, and the vegetables baked together, just before serving, with a little stock to keep them moist.
Dessert is an aspic of fresh pears poached in red wine and black pepper -- a fashionable combination. The poaching liquid set with gelatin holds the fruit in suspension in a shallow dish. Clearly the ripest pears must be must be used if the mold is to have the perfumed flavor of fresh fruit. If inspection at your market proves that pear season has not yet arrived, look around for another really ripe fruit to take its place. Peaches, apples, plums, cherries, or apricots will be fine. The mold can be made in individual ramekins or in one large mold and I'd go for the latter unless you have help in the kitchen to turn out little molds before serving. THE MENU
Quick Cheese Straws
Baked Egg with Tomato
Chicken en Cocotte with Stuffed Zucchini and Eggplant
Pear Aspic with Red Wine and Black Pepper TIMETABLE
Up to three days ahead: Bake cheese straws and store in airtight container.
Up to two days ahead: Cook chicken and stuffed vegetables, keep in refrigerator. Make pear aspic and keep in refrigerator.
Up to two hours before serving: Prepare eggs for baking. Set the table.
Forty five minutes before serving: Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Thirty minutes before serving: Reheat chickens and vegetables. Unmold pear aspic; keep in refrigerator.
Ten minutes before serving: Bring eggs in water bath to boil on top of stove. Take chicken and vegetables from oven and keep warm; make the sauce.
Eight minutes before serving: Lower oven heat to 350 degrees; bake the eggs.
Five minutes before serving: Arrange chicken and vegetables on platter; keep warm while serving eggs. QUICK CHEESE STRAWS (Ba tonnets au Fromage) (Makes about 24 straws)
Parmesan cheese makes nutty, dry cheese straws, while with gruye re or cheddar they are richer but less light. 2 cups flour 2/3 cup unsalted butter 1/2 teaspoon salt 10 tablespoon ice water, more if needed 1 egg, beaten to mix with 1/2 teaspoon salt (for glaze) 1 cup grated cheese
For pastry dough: sift flour onto a board or marble slab and make a well in the center. Add 1/3 of the butter with salt and water. Cut remaining butter into hazelnut-sized cubes. With your fingertips mix the 1/3 of the butter and water until soft, then work in flour, using fingertips of both hands to form coarse crumbs. If crumbs seem dry, add more water. Press dough together in a ball but do not knead it.
On a lightly floured board, roll out dough to a 6-by-18-inch rectangle. Dot two-thirds of rectangle with half the cubed butter. Fold dough in three, making a square, so butter is sandwiched with a layer of dough. Seal edges with the rolling pin, wrap and chill 15 minutes. Repeat with the remaining cubed butter and chill dough thoroughly.
To shape straws: Roll dough to a large rectangle 1/4-inch thick. Brush with egg glaze and sprinkle with cheese, pressing cheese into glaze so it sticks. Cut dough into 4-by- 1/2-inch lengths. Dampen 2 baking sheets. Transfer dough to baking sheets, twisting lengths to form spirals and pressing ends on baking sheet so they stick. Chill until firm, 15-30 minutes.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Bake straws until crisp and deep golden brown, 15-20 minutes. Transfer them to a rack to cool. Straws can be made up to 3 days ahead and stored in an airtight container. Warm them in a low oven just before serving.
Tip: Make a double recipe and store the finished straws in the freezer. BAKED EGGS WITH TOMATO (Oeufs en Cocotte a la Tomate) (10 servings)
Your favorite herb, or just plain parsley, can be used to flavor these eggs instead of the classic fines herbes mixture suggested here. 3 tablespoons butter 3-4 tablespoons chopped mixed herbs -- tarragon, chervil, chives Salt and pepper 3 ripe tomatoes, peeled 10 eggs 10 tablespoons heavy creme
Thickly butter 10 heatproof ramekins with the butter and sprinkle half the herbs in the bottom, with salt and pepper. Cut tomatoes in 4 crosswise slices, discarding the core. Set a slice of tomato in each ramekin. (There will be two slices leftover). Break an egg on top and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Spoon over cream. Eggs can be prepared to this point up to 2 hours ahead; keep them covered at room temperature.
To cook eggs: heat oven to 350 degrees. Put ramekins in a water bath and bring to a boil on top of the stove. Bake in oven until egg whites are just set but yolks are still soft, 6-8 minutes. NOTE: Eggs will continue cooking in heat of ramekins. Sprinkle eggs with remaining herbs and serve at once on small plates with a teaspoon. CHICKEN EN COCOTTE WITH STUFFED EGGPLANT AND ZUCCHINI (Poulet en Cocotte, Aubergines et Courgettes Farcies) (10 servings)
In winter this recipe can be made with stuffed root vegetables such as turnips, onions and carrots.
For stuffed vegetables: 5 small zucchini (about 2 pounds) 5 very small eggplant (about 2 pounds) 3/4 pound fresh mushrooms 2 tablespoons butter Salt and pepper to taste 1 onion, chopped 1 clove garlic, finely chopped 1 teaspoon ground allspice 1 cup veal or chicken stock
For the chicken: 3 medium roasting chickens (about 4 pounds) Salt and pepper 3 tablespoons butter 2 cups veal or chicken stock 1 cup cre'me fra iche' or heavy cream
For vegetables: cut zucchini and eggplant lengthwise, trimming ends; slash flesh of eggplant almost through to the other side. In large pans of boiling salted water, blanch vegetables for 5 minutes, then drain them and let cool slightly. Scoop out flesh from zucchini and coarsely chop it. Scoop flesh from eggplant and coarsely chop also. Reserve vegetable shells.
Finely dice two-thirds of the mushrooms, reserving rest. Melt half butter in a frying pan, add diced mushrooms, salt and pepper, and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until all liquid has evaported, about 5 minutes. Mix mushrooms with zucchini flesh, taste for seasoning and stuff zucchini shells.
Melt remaining butter in frying pan, add onion and cook until soft but not brown. Stir in eggplant flesh, garlic, allspice, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until soft, 4-5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and fill into eggplant shells. Set stuffed vegetables in a baking dish, pour over 1 cup stock and cover with foil.
To cook chickens: heat oven to 375 degrees. Truss chickens and sprinkle with salt and pepper. In a large casserole heat butter and brown birds thoroughly on all sides. Set birds on one thigh, cover with lid and cook in oven 10 minutes. Turn onto other thigh and cook, covered, 10 minutes longer. Finally put birds on their backs and cook, covered, until no pink juices run from the center of the thigh when pricked; baste from time to time during cooking. Total cooking time is 40-50 minutes.
Twenty minutes before end of cooking chickens, put stuffed vegetables in oven and cook until the shells are tender, 15-20 minutes. Chickens and vegetables can be cooked 48 hours ahead and kept covered in refrigerator.
To finish: if necessary reheat chickens and vegetables in a 375-degree oven for 15-25 minutes. Slice remaining mushrooms. When hot, transfer chickens to a platter and keep warm. Add stock to pan and boil, stirring to dissolve pan juices, until reduced by half. Strain into a saucepan, add sliced mushrooms, and cream and simmer 2 minutes. Taste sauce for seasoning and continue reducing if necessary until it is rich and well flavored.
For presentation: arrange stuffed vegetables around chickens and serve sauce separately.
TIP: You can follow the same procedure with chicken parts, reducing cooking time to about 25 minutes. PEAR ASPIC WITH RED WINE AND BLACK PEPPER (10 servings)
The combination of pear with black pepper has become a favorite in modern French cooking. Here it is used to poach the fruit, then flavor the aspic. Use a shallow mold to accommodate the pears. 10 pears 1 lemon 3 cups dry red wine 1 cup sugar 2 cups water 1 tablespoon black peppercorns 3/4 ounce gelatin
Peel, core and halve pears. Rub cut surface with lemon to prevent discoloration.
In a saucepan, combine wine, sugar, water and peppercorns. Heat gently until sugar dissolves. Add pears; simmer until tender, 8-15 minutes. Note: cooking time varies widely depending on type and ripeness of pears. Let pears cool in liquid.
Sprinkle gelatin over 2 tablespoons cold water and leave to soften. Strain pears and measure liquid; there should be 1 quart. Add water if less or reduce over high heat if there is more. Bring measured liquid to a boil. Add softened gelatin, off the heat, and stir until melted.
Pour a 1/4-inch layer of aspic into 1 3/4 quart mold and refrigerate until set. Arrange pears, cut sides up, in mold. Pour over half remaining aspic and chill until set. Pour over remaining aspic to completely cover pears and chill until very firm, at least 2 hours.
Pear aspic can be prepared 2 days ahead and kept in refrigerator. Let it soften at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.
To unmold aspic: dip bottom of mold in hot water and invert on a serving platter. Shake mold to loosen aspic.