QUICK COOKING is all the rage, but it seems to me the subject was wrapped up long ago (around 1930) by Dr. Edouard de Pomiane. Pomiane was a Frenchman writing for "All those who have only an hour to make lunch or dinner and who nonetheless would like half an hour of liberty." Devoted to good food, Pomiane cut only the right corners with dishes such as omelets, potato salad, saute'ed frogs' legs and veal escalope with capers.
"Don't dream," "Close your eyes and taste the first sip," "Of course you have good table manners, but . . .", his voice rebounds from the page as if he were in the room (he had a most successful radio show).
The recipes in this menu are not Pomiane's but they seem as if they could be. The bay scallop soup is a simple Boston-style stew, unthickened, and flavored with celery and bacon. Bay scallops or sea scallops can be used and the taste of just a small quantity comes through remarkably clearly. Oyster crackers give the soup body and, indeed, oysters are an alternative to scallops in the soup itself.
For Steak Diane, one of Pomiane's rules must be invoked: careful preparation. Steak Diane is an old maitre d's' favorite, flambe'ed with brandy and madeira and spiced with shallots, worcestershire sauce and tomato. In restaurants cooked tableside, at home, Steak Diane can be done in the kitchen or in a chafing dish at the table if you have the equipment. Either way the ingredients and cooking tools are laid out ahead and cooking is done at the last minute.
All sorts of accompaniments would go with the steak -- boiled noodles, rice, fried potatoes, green salad. Here I've suggested a seasonal mix of tomatoes and eggplant baked with garlic and olive oil, hearty flavors to balance the piquant steak and also echo its autumn reds and browns. Baking time is 20 minutes, so this is the first dish on the menu you should tackle.
Pears should be wonderfully ripe and juicy just now. For the simplest possible fruit salad, slice the pears, tossing them at once with lemon juice and sugar to prevent them discoloring, and flavor them with chopped fresh mint; strawberries are also good with the same treatment of mint. Pomiane might not even have bothered with that. He probably would have suggested serving the pears plain with a slice of really good roquefort or triple creme cheese -- and why not?
My timing a la Pomiane for this menu was 32 minutes: 10 for the soup, five for preparation of the steak, eight for the eggplant and 10 for the pear salad. With the remaining 28 minutes of his hour, Pomiane suggests a cigarette and a cup of coffee. I enjoyed a frosted glass of cold white wine.
Pomaine's "Cooking in Ten Minutes" is available in translation by Philip and Mary Hyman from Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, published 1977. TIMETABLE
Day before: Make base for scallop soup and refrigerate. Bake eggplant and tomatoes and refrigerate.
One hour ahead: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Make fruit salad and chill. Set the table. Chill white wine.
30 minutes ahead: Assemble ingredients for steak.
5 minutes ahead: Reheat soup, cook scallops and finish soup. Put vegetables in oven to reheat.
After serving soup: Cook steak in kitchen or at table. BAY SCALLOP SOUP (4 servings)
If substituting large scallops, cut them in two or three slices before cooking in butter. 4 slices bacon, finely diced 1 onion, chopped 3 stalks celery, thinly sliced 3 cups milk 1 cup whipping cream Salt and pepper 1/2 pound bay scallops 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped Small package oyster crackers (for serving)
In a large pot fry bacon, stirring, until fat runs. Add onion and celery and cook until soft but not brown. Pour in milk and bring to a boil, stirring. Simmer 2 minutes. Add cream and pepper; salt may not be needed as bacon is salty. Bring back to a boil and taste for seasoning. Soup can be prepared up to 24 hours and refrigerated.
Bring soup to a boil, add scallops and poach until just translucent at center, about 1 minute. Note: Do not overcook scallops or they will be tough.
Take from heat, add parsley and taste for seasoning. Serve at once, with oyster crackers separately. STEAK DIANE (4 servings)
Though French in inspiration, Steak Diane is said to have originated in Melbourne, Australia. 3 tablespoons butter 4 very thin steaks 2 shallots, very finely chopped 2 tablespoons brandy 1 cup brown stock or canned consomme' 2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce 2 tablespoons tomato paste 2 tablespoons madeira or port
Assemble all ingredients for dish up to 20 minutes ahead and keep covered at room temperature. If using a chafing dish at table, prepare a plate and two spoons for cooking.
To cook steaks: In a large frying pan or chafing dish heat half the butter. Add two steaks and brown very quickly, about 30 seconds on each side. Take out and repeat with remaining steaks. Replace all steaks in pan, add shallots and brandy, and flame. Remove steaks to plate.
Add brown stock or consomme', worcestershire sauce, tomato paste and madeira or port to pan. Simmer, stirring, until pan juices are dissolved and sauce is slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Taste for seasoning -- the sauce should be quite piquant.
Replace steaks, reheat them 1/2-1 minute and transfer to individual serving plates. Add remaining butter to sauce in small pieces and shake pan until butter blends into sauce. Spoon sauce over steaks and serve at once. BAKED EGGPLANT AND TOMATOES (Aubergines Nicoise) (4 servings)
Sliced zucchini and a few slices of sweet onion can also be sandwiched with the tomatoes and eggplant. 2 small eggplants (about 1 pound) 1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes 3-4 tablespoons olive oil 1-2 cloves garlic, crushed 1 teaspoon rosemary 1 bay leaf Salt and pepper
Cut eggplant in 3/8-inch slices, including skin. Thickly slice tomatoes. Oil a large shallow baking dish with a bit of the olive oil and sprinkle with garlic and rosemary; set bay leaf in center. Arrange eggplant and tomatoes in dish, alternating and overlapping the slices. Sprinkle with remaining olive oil, salt and pepper.
Cover and bake in 350-degree oven until vegetables are tender and brown, about 20 minutes. If vegetables do not brown, remove cover towards end of cooking.
Vegetables can be cooked up to 24 hours ahead; undercook them slightly to allow for reheating and reheat them, covered, 10-15 minutes in a 350-degree oven. PEAR OR STRAWBERRY AND MINT SALAD (Salade de Poires ou Fraises a la Menthe) (4 servings)
Don't attempt this salad without fresh mint. 1 quart strawberries or 4 ripe pears Juice of 1-2 lemons 1-2 tablespoons sugar Bunch of fresh mint
Hull strawberries and wash only if sandy; slice thickly. If using pears, peel, core and slice them. At once sprinkle fruit with lemon juice to prevent pears discoloring. Sprinkle with sugar, toss to mix and taste, adding more sugar or lemon if necessary.
Coarsely chop mint leaves, reserving 4 sprigs for garnish. Add chopped mint to salad and toss again. Cover and chill. Serve within 2 hours, garnished with mint sprigs.