FOOTBALL AND FINE food do mix. You can have John Riggins to dinner. Infact, you can have the whole rowdy bunch of Redskins (and throw in the Colts to boot) for dinner Sunday and still entertain in a style acceptable to your discriminating guests.
Here is a dinner that will please your most fastidious friends, even served on trays in front of the television. Of course, it helps that the Redskins will be on from Indianapolis against the Colts Sunday afternoon at 1.
This is the season when tray suppers replace outdoor grilling for casual dining. Yet, casual need not mean nacho chips and onion dip. Distinguished by the ease of presentation, tray suppers can make good use of substantial main courses and the ingenuity of the cook.
Fragile and diminutive meals look sparse on a tray, but a spicy fricassee, a quick saute' of chicken breasts in a piquant sauce or a succulent blend of shellfish looks and tastes appealing. When composing tray suppers, choose tantalizingly flavored main courses that, perhaps with some kind of pasta or rice, become meals in themselves, requiring nothing else but dessert -- although I confess to sneaking a salad in between the two because I'm greenery conscious.
These main courses are wildly fragrant and at least two of them make use of widely obtainable market items: boneless and skinless chicken breasts (for chicken with basil, garlic, tomatoes and pine nuts served with a small mound of buttered orzo on the side) and whole pork shoulder (for pork with red peppers). The third is a ragout of shellfish with root vegetables, vermouth and saffron in a gutsy sauce charged up with jalapeno peppers.
For dessert, there is a choice of two tarts -- lemon or honey-chocolate pecan. Tarts seem to make the best desserts for tray suppers because they are assembled and baked in advance. The two types of dough here can be made and refrigerated for up to two days in the unbaked form, then prebaked and filled on serving day.
The good, clean taste of the optional green salad depends on the most perfect salad material you can find (use the tenderest inner lettuce leaves) and a simple blend of Japanese rice vinegar, light safflower oil and peanut oil. RAGOUT OF SHELLFISH WITH ROOT VEGETABLES, VERMOUTH AND SAFFRON (6 servings)
This composition of shellfish is light and sparky, and slightly devilish, owing to two chopped jalapeno peppers that fire up a sauce colored by saffron and tomato. 4 tablespoons olive oil 2 garlic cloves, minced 2 onions, chopped 2 leeks, diced 3 carrots, diced 4 ribs celery heart, diced 1 teaspoon stem saffron threads 2 jalapeno peppers, stemmed, seeded and diced (using a pair of rubber gloves to protect your hands) 1 cup diced boiling potatoes 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves 1 small imported (Turkish) bay leaf 1/2 cup dry white vermouth 1 1/2 cups chopped plum tomatoes, blended with 3 cups rich fish stock Salt and freshly ground white pepper 3 dozen large shrimp, peeled leaving the stem intact and deveined 2 pounds bay scallops 4 dozen littleneck clams, shucked 2 dozen mussels, shucked 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley Hot pepper sauce, to taste Crispy Bread Slices (recipe follows)
In a large kettle or casserole (preferably of enameled cast iron), pour in the olive oil. Add the garlic, onions and leeks. Cook slowly until the onion and leeks wilt.
Add the carrots, celery, saffron and jalapeno peppers. Cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Stir in the boiling potatoes, thyme, bay leaf and vermouth; bring to a boil uncovered. Add the tomato-fish stock combination; season with salt and pepper. Bring everything to a boil, then boil slowly, with the lid askew, until the liquid is reduced by half and the vegetables are stew-like tender, about 40 minutes.
It is important to boil down the liquid slowly, so as to enrich the broth. Season the broth lightly with salt and pepper.
Uncover the pot and bring the contents to an active boil. Add the shrimp, reduce the heat so that the liquid bubbles slowly and cook the shrimp for 1 minute. Add the scallops, clams and mussels and cook for about 2 minutes longer until the scallops just turn opaque and the clams have firmed up. Sprinkle on a few drops of hot pepper sauce and adjust the seasoning with more salt, if nescessary.
Portion out the ragout into gently warmed bowls; sprinkle each serving with chopped parsley and serve immediately, with 2 Crispy Bread Slices tucked into each serving. CRISPY BREAD SLICES (6 servings) 12 1-inch thick slices french bread 4 to 5 tablespoons olive oil 1 clove garlic Coarse salt
Brush both sides of the french bread with the olive oil. Rub each side of each slice with a peeled and halved garlic clove. Ligtly brown the bread slices on each side under a hot broiler. Sprinkle each slice very lightly with a little freshly milled coarse salt. CHICKEN WITH BASIL, GARLIC, TOMATOES AND PINE NUTS (6 servings)
This lightly spicy and piquant chicken dish uses boneless and skinless breasts, which are easy to find and taste juicy and succulent. Whisked into the pan sauce, tomatoey and garlic-imbued, is a small amount of garlic jelly and a little heavy cream. Garlic jelly is a sweet and tangy spread, available jarred at most specialty food stores. Green onion jelly or mild pepper jelly can be substituted.
For the sauce: 4 tablespoons unsalted butter 1 large onion, finely chopped 8 garlic cloves, chopped 2 cups canned plum tomatoes, with their juice, roughly chopped 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves 1/2 cup chicken broth Salt and freshly ground white pepper 1/2 teaspoon sugar
For the chicken: 4 tablespoons vegetable oil 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 3 whole chicken breasts, boneless and skinless, weighing 1/2 pound each, split (to yield 6 1/4-pound pieces) Salt and freshly ground white pepper 1/2 cup dry white wine
To finish the dish: 3 heaping tablespoons garlic jelly 1/2 cup whipping cream 2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
First prepare the sauce. Melt the butter in a large saucepan, stir in the onions and cook them slowly over moderately low heat until they wilt. Stir in the garlic and continue cooking for 2 minutes. Add the plum tomatoes, basil, chicken broth, salt, pepper and sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer everything, partially covered for 15 minutes. The tomato mixture should be reduced slightly, by about 1/4 in volume. Set aside, or hold at room temperature, covered, for up to 8 hours before using.
To cook the chicken breasts, heat the oil and butter in a large skillet, about 14 inches in diameter. Three at a time, saute' the chicken breasts in the fat over moderately high heat for about 3 minutes on each side. Transfer the cooked pieces to a warm oven and saute' the remaining chicken. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and keep them warm while you finish the sauce. Pour out any remaining fat and pour in the white wine; let the wine bubble up until it is reduced by half. Pour in the tomato mixture and bring to a boil. Swirl in the garlic jelly and whipping cream; let the sauce simmer slowly for 2 minutes.
Add the chicken breasts to the sauce, basting them, and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Transfer each chicken breast to a plate and spoon over a little of the sauce. Sprinkle each piece of chicken with a few pine nuts. Serve with buttered orzo. PORK WITH RED PEPPERS (6 servings)
Extravagantly spiced, this tempting slow-cooked pork dish begins by marinating chunks (cut into 2-inch cubes with some fat remaining for flavor) of the fresh shoulder in beer. The spices that energize the pork are heated gently until their full intensity comes forth before being ground into a powder and combined with the pork and liquid. The pork does respond kindly to this treatment, soaking in all of the flavors, but it should please you to know that cubes of veal shoulder, or lamb shoulder, are no less delectable when treated with the seasonings and method below. 3 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 2-inch cubes 10 ounces beer 4 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 cup all-purpose flour, spread out on a plate Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 4 tablespoons olive oil 2 onions, chopped 4 garlic cloves, chopped 1 teaspoon cumin seed 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seed 3 inches cinnamon stick, broken into rough shards 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seed 1 small imported (Turkish) bay leaf, crumbled 4 whole allspice berries 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano 2 small jalapeno or serrano peppers, cored, seeded and thinly sliced (use rubbed gloves to protect the hands) 1 cup canned plum tomatoes, with their liquid, chopped, or an equal quantity of peeled, seeded and diced fresh tomatoes 3 cups chicken stock
To finish the dish: 3 tablespoons peanut oil (preferably a good quality French peanut oil) 3 firm, meaty red peppers, cored, seeded and cut into 1 1/2 or 2-inch squares
Place the pork cubes in a nonmetallic bowl, pour on the beer, cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. Drain the pork, reserving the liquid. Dry the pork cubes on several thicknesses of paper toweling.
Heat the oil in a 6-quart dutch oven, or similar casserole. A few at a time, flour the pork cubes and brown them in the hot oil. As the pork cubes brown, remove them to a side plate and season them with salt and pepper. Pour out any vegetable oil and fat and add the olive oil. Cook the onions and garlic in the oil over moderately low heat until the onions have softened, about 10 minutes.
While the onions are cooking, place the cumin, black mustard seed, cinnamon stick pieces, fenugreek, bay leaf and allspice berries in a small skillet. Cook the spices over moderate heat until they begin to brown slightly and release a pungent aroma, about 4 minutes. Let the spices cool for 20 minutes, then grind them to a powder in a small electric grinder or crush them finely with a rolling pin.
Add the meat to the casserole with the spice mixture, chopped oregano, hot peppers, tomatoes, chicken stock and reserved beer-pork juices. Bring the contents of the casserole to a boil, stirring, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer the pork for 1 3/4-2 hours, or until it is tender. Skim the top of any extra fat after you have removed the meat to a bowl with a slotted spoon. If the liquid has not condensed lightly, boil it down for 5 minutes. Return the pork cubes to the sauce.
To finish the dish, heat the peanut oil in a skillet over moderately high heat. Add the pepper cubes and cook, stirring, until they have just lost their firmness, about 4 minutes. Add the peppers to the pork and heat everything together to blend the flavors.
Spoon out portions of pork alongside a mound of buttered orzo. BUTTERED ORZO (6 servings)
Orzo is a dried, semolina-based pasta that looks like small beads of rice. Boiled, then seasoned with shallots that have been stewed in butter, it makes an ideal accompaniment to Chicken with Basil, Garlic, Tomatoes and Pine Nuts, or Pork with Red Peppers. 1 1/2 cups orzo (available at Greek markets, most large grocery stores and specialty food emporiums) Salt (preferably fresh milled kosher salt) and freshly ground black pepper 5 tablespoons unsalted butter 5 large shallots, finely chopped About 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
In a slow, steady stream, pour the orzo into a large pot of boiling salted water; stir. Cook the pasta for about 10 minutes or until it still retains a bit of firmness to the tooth.
While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a skillet. Add the chopped shallots and cook over low heat until they have softened. When the pasta is ready, drain it thoroughly in a colander, then add it to the buttery shallot mixture. Season the pasta with salt and pepper; stir the pasta through the butter and shallot combination for 30 seconds longer, just to blend the flavors. Stir in the chopped parsley off the heat and serve as an accompaniment. A FASHIONABLE SALAD (6 servings)
A bracing, but gentle salad, that ideally should be made of the youngest, most tender greens available. It's special enough to be treated as a separate course, the greens mixed in a bowl waiting to be dressed. 2 medium-small heads radicchio, separated into leaves and washed 2 heads tender bibb lettuce, separated into leaves and washed 1 large bunch of small-leafed arugola, washed well to remove the grit, stems removed and large leaves torn into smaller pieces 2 heaping teaspoons sweet mustard 2 tablespoons Japanese rice wine vinegar 4 tablespoons safflower oil 2 tablespoons peanut oil Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
Tear the lettuce leaves into manageable pieces, discarding those that look withered. Place all of the greens in a salad bowl.
To prepare the dressing, whisk together the mustard and vinegar. Beat in the oils, 2 tablespoons at a time. Season the dressing with salt and pepper. Toss the salad with enough dressing to coat, not saturate, the leaves. Serve immediately.
Note: 1 tablespoon of finely chopped chervil is a pleasant addition to the salad dressing; add the chervil just before tossing the salad greens with the dressing. The herbless dressing may be made up to 8 hours ahead; whisk thoroughly before using. SUZANNE'S LEMON TART (6 generous servings)
The filling for the tart is a creamy baked one that incorporates a lot of eggs and lemon rind -- it closely resembles lemon curd, although it is better. It comes from Suzanne Reifer of Suzanne's. The dough is one which I've fashioned for home cooks and tastes like the dough used at the restaurant.
For the pastry dough: 1 1/2 cups unbleached unsifted all-purpose flour 1/4 teaspoon salt 6 tablespoons butter, cut into small dice, kept cool but not cold 4 tablespoons superfine sugar 3 extra-large egg yolks, cool but not cold (remove them from the refrigerator about 15 minutes before using) 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the lemon filling: 1 1/8 cups granulated sugar 5 jumbo eggs, at room temperature 5 medium-size lemons, finely grated and juiced 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm
To finish the tart: 12-ounce jar apricot jam Juice of 1/2 a lemon 6 thin slices of lemon
First prepare the pastry dough. Sift the flour and salt onto a large work surface, such as marble or laminated plastic. Make a large well in the center; put in the butter, sugar, egg yolks and vanilla. With the fingertips of one hand, mix together all of the ingredients in the well until very well combined (this will take about 5 minutes). With a pastry scraper, quickly draw in the flour, absorbing all of the mixture in the well. Now, gently squeeze together portions of the dough with your fingertips to make a soft mass. In the beginning, it looks as if the dough will never come together, but everything will eventually adhere as you press the shreds and large lumps into a rough cake. Next, quickly push sections of the dough out with the heel of your hand, a portion at a time, to distribute the butter evenly. Form the dough into a round, cover with waxed paper and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Roll out the dough between 2 sheets of waxed paper to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Refrigerate the dough on a cookie sheet for 20 minutes. Remove the top sheet of waxed paper, then invert to center the dough over the inside of a 9-inch tart pan with a removeable bottom. Fit the dough inside the pan and make a nice rim on the top. Prick the bottom of the dough with the tines of a fork. Place the pan in a plastic bag and refrigerate for 2 hours, or up to 2 days ahead. (To store for 2 days, first wrap the pan in plastic wrap, then close in a plastic bag.)
To bake the shell, preheat a cookie sheet on the lower third level rack of a 350-degree oven. Line the inside of the dough with a sheet of aluminum foil. Fill to the top with raw rice. Bake the pastry in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and rice, reduce the temperature to 325 degrees and continue baking until the shell is a very light biscuit color.
While the shell is baking, prepare the filling. Put the sugar in a mixing bowl. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, blending after each addition. Beat in the lemon rind and juice. Vigorously beat in the melted butter. Pour the filling into the partially baked tart shell and carefully place the filled tart in the oven. Bake the tart for 20 minutes, at 325 degrees, or until just set. The top will not (and should not) brown and the filling will not wiggle. Take care not to overbake the tart, lest the top crack and the filling curdle. Cool the tart in the pan on a rack.
After the tart has been removed from the oven for 5 minutes, make the apricot glaze: Place the jam and lemon juice in a heavy saucepan. Simmer the jams for 4 minutes, then bring to a boil. Boil 1 minute. Immediately press the jam through a fine mesh stainless steel sieve. Return the glaze to a clean saucepan and bring to the boil.
Place the lemon slices on top of the tart at even intervals as close to the edge as possible. With a wide pastry brush, apply a thin coat of hot glaze to the top of the tart and to the upper rim of the pastry dough. Let the tart rest for at least 3 hours, then cut into wedges for serving. HONEY-CHOCOLATE PECAN TART (6 generous servings)
This tart is packed full of pecans set into a simple chocolate and butter base; the combination of corn syrup and honey gives a slightly chewy quality to the pecans and makes the top of the tart look glazed and shiny. If you love pecan pie, you'll adore this chocolate version.
For the tart crust: 1 1/2 cups unsifted unbleached all-purpose flour 1/4 teaspoon salt 4 tablespoons cold solid shortening, in tablespoon chunks 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, in tablespoon chunks 1 extra-large egg yolk, cold About 3 tablespoons ice water
For the filling: 6 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate, such as Maillard's, Tobler, or Lindt, cut into rough chunks 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks 1/2 cup light corn syrup 1/2 cup clover honey 1 cup sugar 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 4 jumbo eggs, at room temperature 2 3/4 cups chopped fresh pecan pieces
For serving: (optional) 1 cup whipping cream, beaten until the cream holds its shape in a soft mound on a spoon, flavored with 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar and 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, or 6 scoops of vanilla ice cream
For the pie crust, put the flour and salt into a mixing bowl; scatter over it the pieces of shortening and butter. With a round-bladed knife, cut the fat into the flour until it has been reduced to small bits. With your fingertips, crumble the fat against the flour, dipping down and up into the mixture, turning it into what looks like coarse meal. Stir together the egg yolk and 2 1/2 tablespoons of water in a small bowl and pour over the flour. Mix the two together with a fork, adding additional cold water (the remaining 1/2 tablespoon and more if needed) to make a soft -- but not sticky -- dough. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and press it into a rough cake; wrap in waxed paper and chill for 1 hour.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of 1/4-inch; line a 2 1/2 by 9-inch tart pan (one with a removable bottom) with the dough, keeping the sides about 1/8-inch higher than the rim of the pan. Prick the bottom of the dough with the tines of a fork and refrigerate for 30 minutes (at this stage, the shell may be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 2 days).
Line the inside of the shell with aluminum foil and fill to the top with raw rice to weigh down the dough and keep the shape. Prebake the crust on a cookie sheet on the lower third level rack of a 400-degree oven for 12 minutes. Remove the foil and beans, reduce the temperature to 375 degrees and bake the shell until tan, about 7-10 minutes.
While the shell is baking, melt the chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler set over low heat; cool to likewarm. In a large mixing bowl, beat the corn syrup, honey, sugar and vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Blend in the melted butter-chocolate. Stir in the pecan pieces. Pour the filling into the prepared tart shell and bake the pie on the cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 50 minutes or until set (a set pie will not wobble in the center). Serve slightly warm or at room temperature, cut into wedges, with some flavored whipped cream or ice cream on the side.