Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Contessa Goes Fearless and French

Barefoot Contessa -Thank You Dinner

Provencal Vegetable Soup
Seafood Platter
Coconut Madeleines

To get the recipes:
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Ina, you are a brave woman. Making a French meal for a French friend who wants to thank her employees! That's pretty brazen to cook for zee Frensh, who are, how we say, tres serious about their food and who don't fool around, my leetle mignonette (one of the carefully chosen sauces for the menu). And, by the way, how do these people know my Ina anyway? As my friend Molly pointed out...even when Ina runs out of her own friends to cook for, she starts cooking for her friend's friends and NOW she's cooking for her friend's employees...Wow, how do I get in on that action?

We’re in the establishment that the friend (the Francaise) runs. Now wait a minute! The ladies in the shop don't seem French. Not even close. There's not a hint of a sneer or even a carefully arranged scarf made to look like it was thrown on at the last minute as its wearer is smoking some cigarettes and drinking some Champagna. Mon Dieu. Let's rewind. Oh, I get it now. The OWNER of the shop is French, but the manager and the other guest employees are Amurican. There will be no Frenchies anywhere at this table. Ok, but I'm still not changing my headline.........

The Great One begins with Vegetable Soup from Provence. Ahhh, to stroll along the Seine on a grey winter day and return to ma maison for a pot of steaming soup...Oh I forgot these broads are probably from Long Island. We're in her kitchen now. Gosh, Ina’s hall floors look shiny, just like her beautiful hair, which, since Molly pointed out to me, I can't stop admiring. Nice vegetable chopping - make them all the same size. Leeks - oh good, she's schooling us from the beginning. Halve them and rinse REALLY well. Ok, this is not exactly the way I deal with them, but she's Ina and I'm not. 1 1/2 TABLESPOONS of salt! Even to coat an entire fish, I wouldn't use that much.

She's in her pantry. The light is shining particularly nicely on her highlighted hair. Back to the stove. Why do you think she bothered to heat up the stock separately before adding it to the soup? You know, I don't care why she did it, she’s the Contessa. I vow to do that too the next time I'm making soup. I pledge that I will add HOT stock to my soup pot. Now she's making a pistou, a provencal pesto, with tomato paste in place of the pine nuts. To Ina, they're pignoli. Ok from this day forward to ME they're pignoli. I pledge to call my pine nuts pignoli forever. If it's good enough for....oh you get the idea. She's prepping her green beans for the soup. "We're not looking for perfection here. We're looking for delicious." I swear that from now on I will look for delicious in everything I do.

Now, there is this teeny weeny thing that I really hesitate to bring up, but here goes. She added her uncooked broken up spaghetti DIRECTLY to the soup pot. I NEVER advise that. I understand that the pasta is getting more flavor, but it's also soaking up the precious liquid. Please, Ina, would you just think about cooking it separately, very al dente of course, and THEN adding it to the soup.

Here's another example of her fearlessness - Coconut Madeleines. I don't know about you, but the people I come across in my everyday life often don't like coconut. But I like that Ina just barrels through assuming that everyone will appreciate this exotic sweet addition to a classic baked good. What a beautiful batter she's made. She's not the Princess of the Palate for no reason. She remarks that she hates specialized cooking and baking equipment, BUT this is an exception, because she loves madeleines so much and they really do need this special shaped pan. You know what? Maybe she’s right.. I think I’ll hate specialized cookware from now on too…which may require a bit of downsizing. I’m going to get rid of my Danish Ebelskiver and closet my Cloche. My Shrimp Deveiner, Bean Slicer and Asparagus Peeler have all been taking up valuable room, not to mention my Savarin, Kugehopf and Cornstick pans. I COULD still use my Fish Poacher to bathe puppies, though. Between my Salamander and Spatzle Maker, I guess things ARE getting a bit crowded, but could I really handle being Parsley Mincer, Nut Mill and Lemon Spout free? (I’ve had THAT since 1978.) That still leaves my Divisorex, Cookie Gun and Cataplana. And what gal doesn’t need all the “Fait Tout” she can get? I think I’ll drink on it, oops I mean sleep…

We're back to the shop where they're setting up lunch (dinner?) for the non-French staff. Now, if I'm selling upscale homeware, do I really take pricey items off my shelf to set a table for my staff and they're not even European of any persuasion? I must really be paying them crap, but they do have the bonus of a meal by Ina. Seems fair to me, oh Glistening Highlighted One.

Back to the Mignonette Sauce, which is traditionally served with raw oysters. Go ahead, break down and get that bottle of champagne vinegar and you'll have it when any situation presents itself. Parsley, Dill and Chives from her garden (don't rub it in that you live in Versailles) are chopped and added.
Mustard Sauce - Poupon, Hellman's and Maille aussi, plus salt. Finis!

Here's what the very smart Contessa does for the main course. She buys glorious seafood and then has the seafood shop cook it! What a great low labor elegant meal. Remember to place things on the platter in groups, she tells us, otherwise it looks like "a dog's breakfast." (My dog's meals were always lovely, but that's another story.) I must remember that tip though. One night I served my husband a lovely dinner. I was trying to encourage more salad eating, so I plated the entree and then arranged the salad around the rim of the plate. I thought it would get eaten as part of the main course, rather than as an afterthought. The master said it looked "messy". He wasn't pleased by the helter skelter arrangement of the lettuce leaves. And this is what years of serving him amazing meals has gotten me.

"I would say that's not a bad French dinner." Ina proclaims. I would say her understandment is only exceeded by her impressive cooking skills. And, Mes Petites, the dinner in the shop went well. Her little dinner - oysters, buttered bread and mignonette sauce - superbe. Just like her.

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