archives : festive spread june '09

 I was asked by my niece to prepare the food for her wedding party in California. I took off from Paris my bags full of artisanal goat cheese from Elevage de Corbier (Philippe Gégroire is faithfully at his stand every Sunday morning at the Raspail organic open-air market); bags of Guerande coarse and fine sea salt; heaps of Aquerello organic carnaroli rice; a magnum of Bernard Baudry's 2003 Les Grézeaux Chinon... My bags were anything but light.

Just to mention: it is legal to return to the States from Europe with  up to 10 lbs of cheese (some say only pasteurized, but I've never had problems with raw-milk specimens). Best to declare it; the only formality is that sometimes they send you to the bag inspectors to make sure there isn't some undesirable product hidden with the cheese; then they send you merrily on your way.

So I thought for this newsletter I'd share with you a few of the hors d'oeuvres I concocted for the occasion. And it was a real delight to create a bio-sustainable plant-based banquet. Roasted almonds and green olives with lemon zest and fresh thyme;poppy-seed crackers with fresh goat cheese and blueberry jam; chilled carrot-ancho pepper soup with fresh goat cheese-scallion croutons; English-pea blancmange; corn crepe rolls with gorgonzola, honey-balsamic arugula and rosemary; lime marinated tofu rolls... among others.
We drank a Drusian Prosecco from Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, a 2007 Uvaggio Vermentino from Lodi and a Terre Rouge Tête à Tête, a Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache blend from the Sierra Foothills.
And I wanted to share with you a Commonwealth Club radio program podcast I heard last month: A New National Food Policy - But What About the Hungry? from May 6. Worth listening to. And here's a great NYTimes article "Neighbor, Can You Spare a Plum?" about sharing fruit from heavily boughed neighborhood fruit trees: the ones that hang lustily over backyard fences or patter away the days in lone corners of backyards. There are lots of wonderful links to small enthusiastic neighborhood organizations promoting the idea and savoring the ripe juices...

Roasted Green Olive-Almond Medley

500 gr | 16 oz Mediterranean green olive, pitted
500 gr | 16 oz  blanched almonds
Zest of 1 lemon
2 - 3 sprigs fresh thyme, leafed (flowering if in spring or early summer)
1 - 2 garlic cloves, peeled, cut in half, the sprout removed, and corasely chopped (if spring garlic, just chopped)—optional
Extra virgin olive oil

|||  Preheat the oven to 400°C.
|||  Lightly toss the olives and almonds separately with olive oil. Bake the almonds in the oven for approx 20 minutes, or until lightly golden. Bake the olives for approx 30 minutes, or until beginning to wrinkle and crisp. If using the garlic, add to the olives after 15 minutes  Stir both a few times during roasting. Combine in a bowl and toss with the lemon zest and thyme while still hot. Serve either warm or room temperature.

Poppy Seed Crackers

250 gr (1 1/2 cups) unbleached white flour
2 tBsp + 3 tBsp extra-virgin olive oil
150 ml (5 oz) cold water
10 gr (1-2 tBsp) poppy seeds
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp unrefined sea salt plus extra for sprinkling

Combine the flour, olive oil, water, poppy seeds, ground pepper and a generous pinch of sea salt in a bowl, mixing with your hands.
Pour out onto a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, approx 10 minutes.  You can also knead it in your Kitchen Aid for about 3 minutes. Wrap in a kitchen towel and set aside to rest for 2-3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Lightly oil a baking sheet.
Cut the dough into three pieces. While working with one keep the others wrapped in the towel. Roll out the dough until very thin (no more than 1/16 inch). Carefully lay it on the greased cookie sheet and cut into 1 3/4 inch squares using a pizza cutter. Brush the top with extra-virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and prick each square twice with a fork. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until beginning to brown at the edges.

Place a thin square slice of fresh goat cheese in the center of each. Garnish with a dollop of organic blueberry jam or orange marmalade and a fresh rosemary leaf.

Smoky Carrot soup - serves 8

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 chopped leeks chopped (white part only)
1 cup chopped red onion
4 garlic cloves, sperm removed and chopped
8 cups chopped carrots
1 cup Marsala wine
13 cups water
1 tsp unrefined sea salt

Sachet of:
1 dried Ancho chili
1 tBsp coriander
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 tBsp peppercorns
5 flat parsley sprigs
5 fresh thyme sprigs
2 fresh bay leaves

Sweat the leeks, onions and garlic over medium heat until translucent, approx 10 minutes. Add the carrots and Marsala wine, and cook until reduce by half. Add the sachet of herbs, spices and peppers along with the water. Simmer over medium heat until carrots are tender, approx 30 minutes. Remove the sachet and squeeze over the pan to catch the liquid. Blend the carrots and cooking water in a blender. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
Recipe adapted from Sam Kass and the Hull-House Kitchen website.

For the croutons:
Cut 14 - 16 thin slices of sweet baguette. Toast under the broiler until golden on each side.
Combine 2 oz fresh goat cheese with 1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion tops. Season with a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Place a small spoonful of the cheese spread on each baguette toast and float 2 on top of each bowl of soup.

Blancmange au Petit Pois - serves 8

1 liter (4 cups plus 4 tBsp) rice milk
1/4 cup pea cooking water
(you should end up with approx 800 ml (3 1/2 cups) liquid after all the cooking
1/2 + 1/8 tsp agar agar (do a test on your agar agar; each brand seems to have "special" gelling properties)
750 gr (1 1/2 lb) English peas in their pods
2 shallots, coarsely chopped
4 bay leaves
3/4 tsp unrefined sea salt
1 medium-sized red onion
A handful fresh mint leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil

Mix the agar agar with 60 ml (1/2 cup) cold or room temperature rice milk and set aside. Shuck the green peas. Wash and drain the pods. Bring the pea pods, shallots, and 3 bay leaves to a boil in the rest of the rice milk. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 minutes. Strain.

Return rice milk to the pan and add the agar agar-rice milk. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and strain. Meanwhile, cook the shucked peas in 3/4 cup water with a pinch of sugar, 1 bay leaf, and a pinch of sea salt for 5 minutes and drain

Transfer the peas to a blender along with the rice milk and cooking water, and blend until smooth. Pour the mixture into individual ramekins and place in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours (or over night - cover with plastic wrap or parchment paper in that case).

While the blancmange is setting, finely chop the mint leaves and just cover with olive oil (that has been slightly heated) and sea salt to taste. Thinly slice the red onions lengthwise. Toss with a bit of olive oil and bake in the oven at 190°C (375°F) until soft turning golden on the edges, approx 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Remove from the oven and season with sea salt. salt. Unmold the blancmange on individual plates. Garnish with a few roasted onions and a small teaspoonful of mint olive oil.

Corn Crepe Rolls - makes approx 50

Crepe batter:
175 gr (1 cup) corn flour
45 gr (slight 1/3 cup) rice flour
30 gr (1/4 cup) fine cornmeal
3 beaten eggs
1/2 tsp unrefined sea salt
250 ml (1 cup) rice milk (or other)
250 ml (1 cup) water
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil or butter

Filling: 60 gr (2 oz) roasted walnuts
3 tBsp light liquid honey
2 tBsp balsamic vinegar
2 tBsp extra virgin olive oil
2 large handfuls arugula
125 gr (5 oz) gorgonzola (room temperature)
1 rosemary sprig

Sift the corn flour, rice flour, corn meal and sea salt together in a bowl. Add the unbroken eggs. Combine the milk and the water. Gradually whisk into the flour and eggs. Add the olive oil and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator overnight. Just before using dilute with 3-3 tBsp of water.

Make the crepes. Stack them as they're made. When cool, cut off the left and right edges then cut the stack into 1 1/4 in strips.

Combine the honey, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar in a jar and shake to mix. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Toss the arugula in the vinaigrette; it should be very wet.

Place a knob of gorgonzola on each crepe strip. Place a small handful of dressed arugula on top, followed by a piece of walnut, then a rosemary leaf. Roll up and secure with a toothpick.

Lime Marinated Tofu Rolls - makes approx 36

1 lb firm tofu cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tBSP sesame oil
1/3 cup tamari
Zest and juice of 1 1/2 limes
2 pepperoncini
36 1-inch strips toasted Nori seaweed
Unrefined sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 - 2 carrot, for sticks
1 lime for zest strips
Rhubarb chutney

Cut the tofu into approx 1-inch cubes. Lay them out in a baking dish in a single layer.

Combine the olive oil, sesame oil, Tamari, pepperoncini, lime juice and zest, a generous pinch of sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Pour over the tofu. Cover with plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, better over night. Turn the tofu cubes from time to time.

Bring the tofu back to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Bake in the oven on the upper rack for approx 20 min. They should be nicely golden and turning crisp. Set aside to cool in the marinade.

To make the rolls: Toss the tofu cubes in the marinade juice. Wet the end of each Nori seaweed strip with a bit of the marinade. Place a tofu cube on each strip. Place a dollop of rhubarb chutney on top, then a thin carrot stick and a lime peel strip. Roll the tofu up in the seaweed so that the end sits underneath, sealing it.

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