Recently I was put on the spot when our teen-age children brought home a vegetarian friend. Curbing an initial impulse to rush out for yogurt and bean sprouts, I reflected that,in fact, it if surprising how many vegetarian meals one eats without realizing it.
With the modern emphasis on cereals and fruit, few breakfasts include meat or fish. Often lunch or supper will consist of eggs, cheese, vegetables and fruit, whether in the form of a sandwich, pizza or salad. We're halfway to vegetarianism without knowing it.
This menu was put together with hearty young appetites in mind. To stave off pangs of hunger as guests gather, I propose an hors d'oeuvre of crudite's with a fondue pot of hot piquant sauce for dipping. A very distant relation of the familiar cheese fondue, this mixture of ginger, scallions, marjoram, lemon juice and cayenne pepper with cream complements almost any vegetable. I think of my children as members of the carrot-stick generation and they can usually be persuaded to try exotica like ji'cama, fennel and daikon radish as well as the usual zucchini and cauliflower.
The brie-and-tomato flamiche (a Flemish word for a pie made with bread dough) and the latticed leek pie are basically sophisticated pizzas. Both are made with brioche instead of bread dough, spread in pie or cake pans so it can be topped, one with sliced tomatoes and brie, the other with leeks and red peppers saute'ed in butter. Richer than pizza, both toppings are moistened with egg yolk and cream mixture. The cheese flamiche is left to brown uncovered, while the leek pie is shielded in a brioche lattice, leaving the red pepper julienne to peep temptingly through the gaps.
So many different dried legumes are available now that permutations and combinations of a three-bean salad are almost limitless. This version includes black-eyed peas and I had half a mind to try green peas instead of green beans but was deterred by the grapeshot quality of most fresh green peas. Dressing, which includes olive oil and balsamic vinegar to balance the robust bean flavors, is added while the vegetables are still warm, so it is absorbed more thoroughly. As with all firm ingredients, the salad is improved if left to marinate a few hours before serving.
Simple ideas are so often the best. For dessert I've returned to one of the favorites of my childhood: berry meringue baskets. The baskets are made with Italian meringue, cooked by adding boiling sugar syrup to the whipped egg whites. I find it just as easy to make as regular Swiss meringue, particularly if you have a mixer to do the hard work of whisking.
Because the egg whites are cooked by the syrup, the meringue holds up much better for piping and it cooks to be meltingly crisp. If you have a piping bag to shape the baskets, so much the better, but if not, you can form quite lifelike bird's nests with two spoons.
Look for the ripest of fresh berries -- raspberries are my particular favorite, but strawberries are good and so are the gamut of blackberries, loganberries and boysenberries. Blueberries are improved by the addition of a few red or black currants to sharpen their taste. Since all these berries are red, they are glazed simply with melted red currant jelly. What to Drink
The best pick-me-up for the middle of the day must be a bloody mary or a virgin mary (this nonalcoholic version is by no means a poor relation). Make both with good tomato juice -- I'm not a fan of mixed vegetable juices -- and spice it to your taste with worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce, celery salt and black pepper, remembering that the spices are meant to give the drink a boost, not to launch an assault on your taste buds. For a bloody mary, pour the vodka into the glass before the tomato juice mixture. For either version, add a wedge of lime. Timetable
With this menu, you are assured a relaxing brunch with your guests. All time-consuming preparations can be taken care of in advance, and you won't even miss out on the first round of bloody marys.
Up to two weeks ahead: Make meringue baskets and store in airtight container.
Up to two days ahead: Prepare fondue and refrigerate. Soak black beans and black-eyed peas.
Up to one day ahead: Cut up crudite's, wrap and store them in the refrigerator. Prepare brioche dough and fillings. Cook dried beans and peas for salad and toss with vinaigrette. Prepare salad garnishes, cover, and refrigerate.
In the morning: Assemble and bake leek pie and flamiche. Assemble bean salad. Prepare fruit and finish meringue baskets. Set the table. Make tomato juice mixture for bloody and virgin marys.
15 minutes before serving: Reheat fondue. Set out crudite's. Warm leek pie and flamiche. EXOTIC FONDUE WITH CRUDITE'S (8 servings)
A piquant hors d'oeuvre, which is perfect with cocktails, this fondue sauce also doubles as a cold salad dressing for cooked vegetables and fish.
2 cups whipping cream
12 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh ginger
8 scallions, thinly sliced
4 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram or oregano
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper
2 quarts fresh vegetables, cut up, for dipping: carrots, celery, cauliflower, radishes, cucumbers, ji'cama, mushrooms, green pepper, cherry tomatoes
Combine cream, garlic, ginger, scallions, marjoram or oregano and olive oil in a shallow 5-cup fondue pot. Bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat, whisk in lemon juice, salt, pepper and cayenne, and simmer 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Note: The lemon juice and the heat will thicken the cream slightly.
Transfer fondue pot to a warmer set on low. Place vegetables for dipping alongside.
The fondue can be made up to two days ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator. Reheat it on the stove before transferring it to the warmer. Crudite's can be cut one day ahead and kept, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator.
Tip: For an attractive presentation, put crudite's in a basket lined with lettuce leaves. BRIE AND TOMATO FLAMICHE (8 servings)
Allow brie flamiche to cool 10 minutes before serving, otherwise the brie will run when the flamiche is cut.
Flour for kneading
1/2 brioche dough recipe (recipe follows)
3/4 pound ripe brie, rind removed and sliced
10 cherry tomatoes, sliced
2 tablespoons butter plus extra for pan
2/3 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon mixed chopped herbs: parsley, tarragon, chives
Salt and pepper
1 egg yolk, beaten with 1/2 teaspoon salt, for glaze
Butter a 10-inch springform pan. On a floured surface, lightly knead the dough and roll to a round about 5 inches larger than the pan. Line pan with dough, draping edges over rim.
Cover the dough with sliced cheese and tomatoes and dot with butter. Beat eggs with cream, herbs, salt and pepper and pour custard over cheese and tomatoes. Lift border of dough on top of filling, so it is half-covered. Brush dough rim with egg yolk glaze and leave flamiche to rise for 15 minutes.
Reglaze the dough rim. Bake flamiche in a 400-degree oven until crust is browned and custard is set, 45 minutes to 1 hour. If the top browns too quickly, cover with aluminum foil.
Flamiche can be baked up to 6 hours ahead and kept wrapped in foil. Reheat it, in the foil, in a 350-oven for 10 to 15 minutes. LATTICED large leeks (about 1 1/4 pounds)
2 tablespoons butter plus extra for greasing foil and pan
Salt and pepper
1 small sweet red pepper, cored, seeded and cut into julienne
1/2 brioche dough recipe (recipe follows)
Flour for kneading
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup whipping cream
1 egg yolk beaten with 1/2 teaspoon salt, for glaze
Trim leeks, leaving some green top, quarter them lengthwise, and wash thoroughly. Slice them. Melt butter in a large skillet, add leeks, salt and pepper and cover with buttered foil and a lid. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until leeks are very soft, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir red pepper julienne into leeks, continue cooking 5 minutes and taste for seasoning. Note: Do not allow leeks to brown.
Lightly knead brioche dough. Butter a 9- or 10-inch tart pan and add 3/4 of the dough. Dip your fist in flour and flatten dough to line base and sides of the pan. The dough should be fairly thin.
Spread leek and pepper mixture evenly over dough. Beat egg yolks with cream, season with salt and pepper and pour custard over leeks. Brush rim of dough with egg glaze.
Roll out remaining dough, cut into 1/2-inch strips and use them to weave a lattice over the pie. Trim lattice, and press ends firmly to stick them to dough rim. Brush lattice and rim with egg yolk glaze and leave pie to rise for 15 minutes.
Reglaze lattice and rim. Bake the pie in a 400-degree oven until the custard is set and the crust and lattice are brown, 40 to 45 minutes. If the top browns too quickly, cover it with aluminum foil.
Latticed pie can be baked up to 6 hours ahead and kept wrapped in foil. Reheat it, in the foil, in a 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
Tip: When shaping a lattice decoration, do not stretch strips of dough or they will shrink during cooking. BRIOCHE DOUGH (Makes 2 large brioche loaves)
This basic recipe for brioche makes enough dough for the latticed leek pie and the brie and tomato flamiche. In this recipe I've suggested the French method of kneading where the dough is lifted in a ball and literally hurled down on the board. It has the added bonus of relieving stress.
1 envelope ( 1/4 ounce) dry or 1 cake ( 1/2 ounce) compressed yeast
4 tablespoons lukewarm water
4 cups flour plus extra for kneading
5 to 6 large eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup unsalted butter
Oil for bowl
In a small bowl, sprinkle or crumble yeast over water and leave until dissolved, about 5 minutes.
Sift flour onto a countertop or into a very large bowl, and make a well in the center. Break 5 eggs into the well, add salt and sugar, and combine with yeast mixture. Beginning with the inside of the well, gradually draw in flour until dough is loosely mixed. If dough seems dry, beat the last egg and add it. Dough should be soft and sticky.
On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough, lifting it and throwing it down on the surface in a ball. Continue until dough is very elastic and smooth, about 5 minutes. Alternatively, use a heavy-duty mixer with the dough hook.
With a rolling pin, beat the butter to soften. Note: Butter should be pliable but not oily. Flatten dough slightly and work in butter. After about 3 minutes, when all the butter has been incorporated, dough should be soft, smooth and somewhat sticky. Note: The dough will be messy until it begins to absorb the butter.
Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl, turn it over to coat all sides with oil, and cover with a damp cloth. Let dough rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.
Punch dough down, fold it over onto itself 2 or 3 times, and recover with a damp cloth. Let it rise again until doubled in bulk, preferably overnight in the refrigerator.
Unbaked brioche dough can be kept up to 24 hours in the refrigerator, or it can be shaped and frozen up to 2 weeks. Let it thaw before baking.
Tip: When brioche dough is thoroughly chilled it becomes pliable, almost waxy in consistency. Easy to shape at this temperature, it quickly softens at room temperature, so work as fast as you can when using it. BRIOCHE LOAF
If you wish to make only the flamiche or the pie and have brioche dough left over, it can be made into an excellent brioche loaf.
Divide leftover dough and shape 3 balls, dropping them side by side into a large buttered loaf pan. Brush with egg glaze and leave to rise. When dough fills the pan, bake it in a 375-degree oven until loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, about 40 minutes. GREEN BEAN, BLACK BEAN AND BLACK-EYED PEA SALAD (8 servings)
A great color combination!
1 1/2 cups black beans, soaked overnight and drained
1 1/2 cups black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and drained
3/4 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch lengths
1 large red onion, chopped
1 bunch radishes, trimmed and diced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chives, minced
FOR THE VINAIGRETTE:
1 tablespoon strong grainy mustard
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup oil
Put black beans and black-eyed peas into separate sauce pans and fill each with 5 cups cold water. Cover pans and simmer beans and peas until tender, about 1 1/4 hours for the beans and 1 hour for the peas.
To make vinaigrette, whisk mustard with vinegars, salt and pepper. Gradually whisk in oils so dressing emulsifies and thickens slightly. Season it to taste.
When beans and peas are tender, drain them and toss immediately with vinaigrette.
Cook green beans in boiling salted water until tender, about 2 minutes, refresh under cold running water, and drain.
Add green beans, onion, radishes, cucumber and herbs to the beans and peas and toss well.
Beans and peas can be cooked and tossed with vinaigrette up to a day ahead. All other ingredients should be added no more than 3 hours ahead. One quarter of the chopped herbs may be reserved for sprinkling over salad just before serving. BERRY MERINGUE BASKETS (8 servings)
If you like, add a layer of ice cream beneath the berries in these fanciful dessert baskets.
Butter and flour for sheets
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
8 egg whites
1 cup red currant jelly
1 quart ripe berries, such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries
Butter and lightly flour 2 baking sheets, shaking off excess. Mark 8 4-inch circles with a cookie cutter or large glass.
In a saucepan, heat sugar with water until dissolved. Bring to a boil and boil without stirring until syrup reaches the hard ball stage (248 degrees on a candy thermometer). Note: You can also test by lifting some syrup with a teaspoon, cooling slightly, and picking up a bit with the thumb and forefinger. The syrup should form a thick thread when the fingers are separated.
Meanwhile stiffly whip the egg whites. Let bubbles subside from syrup, then pour it gradually into egg whites, whisking constantly at high speed. Continue whisking until meringue is cool.
Put meringue in a piping bag and pipe 8 rounds on prepared baking sheets. Pipe circles around rim to form baskets. Bake meringues in 300-degree oven until crisp, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Note: Do not allow meringues to brown; if they cook too fast, lower the heat and cover them loosely with foil.
Transfer meringues to a rack to cool. They can be kept up to two weeks in an airtight container, or frozen.
Not more than 4 hours before serving, hull and pick over berries, washing them only if they are sandy. Melt red currant jelly in a saucepan, stirring until smooth. Brush baskets with the glaze, arrange berries inside and brush them generously with more glaze. Refrigerate until serving.