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Posts Tagged ‘morels’

Early June brings two important dates for Tom and me, snugged around each side of D-Day. The 5th is my birthday, and the 7th is our wedding anniversary. Last year we celebrated them with a splendid week in Venice; this year, of course, we were confined to home. Accordingly, we indulged ourselves with two elegant dinners for those days.

 

The Birthday Dinner

The main dish at this meal was based on a long-time favorite recipe for casserole-roasted pheasant – Fagiano ai sapori veneziani – from our book The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen. It has done great things for guinea hen, as well as for pheasant, so I thought I’d see what it would do for a chicken. The “Venetian flavors” here are celery, carrot, onion, pancetta, prosciutto, sage, rosemary, and white wine. The savory combination contributed an intriguing hint of wildness to half an excellent free-range chicken.
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Our first course was two little parmesan cheese custards, sformati di parmigiano. It’s a clipped recipe I’ve had for years and keep forgetting about, then happily rediscovering. It’s rich, easy, and good. Essentially just eggs, grated cheese, and heavy cream, baked briefly in a bain marie, unmolded and served with optional tomato sauce on the side. Makes a lovely light appetizer for company, if one could only have company again!
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The Anniversary Dinner

All through May, the season for fresh morel mushrooms, we searched markets for them, with no success. At last we acquired a single batch of big, beautiful ones.
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After cooking them all and eating half immediately, we froze the rest to save for this celebratory first course: feuilletés aux morilles à la crème. The puff pastry dough was not homemade, but I did cut and shape it into bouchée cases, which became crisp, buttery, flaky containers for the morels.
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Our main course – extravagant, elegant, and utterly simple – was one big, rare, rib of beef, cooked in an open pan on top of the stove in a way that makes it taste like a classic standing rib roast. I’ve written here about this recipe from Roger Vergé’s Cuisine of the South of France. We chose it for this evening specifically to partner with a very special bottle of red wine, which it did to perfection. (See below.) This is a fabulous preparation for the very best beef.
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The Dessert

I saw a luscious-looking raspberry ricotta cake on someone else’s blog and fell in love with it. Google found the recipe for me on the Bon Appétit website, and I made the cake to serve for both our festive dinners. The 1½ cups of fresh ricotta that went into the rich, sweet batter produced a cake as light and cushiony as a cloud. In the mix I substituted fresh raspberries for frozen, which wasn’t entirely wise: fewer fresh berries fill a measuring cup than frozen ones. Fortunately, I had extra berries to serve alongside, with big dollops of whipped crème fraiche. Heavenly! The cake held up perfectly for the second dinner, as well.
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And to Drink . . .

Both days, we started with glasses of Champagne, of course. For my birthday, even though the food was Italianate, it went beautifully with a French wine: a 1990 Faiveley Gevrey Chambertin. The anniversary meal, as I mentioned above, was chosen deliberately to match a wine: one long-cherished bottle of the extraordinary 2006 Ridge California Montebello, which we’d been waiting for just the right special occasion to drink. And, for digestifs both days, snifters of a fine Spanish brandy called 1866.
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Tom has written about the wines in his own blog, for those who’d like to know more about them.

 

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Tournedos Rossini

The dinner Tom and I ate this Christmas Eve was arguably the best meal we’d ever made for ourselves. It was also extremely costly, but we regarded it as a Christmas gift to each other. Its centerpiece was a slightly tamed version of Tournedos Rossini.

Properly done, that luscious French dish is a filet mignon sauteed in butter, sitting on a round of bread sauteed in butter, topped with a thick slice of bloc foie gras, garnished with a piece of black truffle, and bathed with a complicated Madeira-and-truffle sauce. Caloric megadeath for sure, but what a way to go! For our version, adapted from the recipe in the Classic French Cooking volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series, we vastly simplified the sauce and substituted morels for the truffle. It was still wonderful.

With the change in the sauce, it wasn’t at all difficult to make. The published recipe uses a sauce base of fond lié, a complex sauce that’s itself based on fond brun de veau, a French “mother sauce” that takes at least eight hours to make. Instead we defrosted some of Tom’s hearty meat-and-vegetable broth and boiled down that very flavorful liquid to concentrate it even further. To that base we added a dose of good Sercial Madeira that we’d also reduced by half (skipping the truffle juice that the recipe wanted added to the wine). It wasn’t as rich as the classic sauce, but it tasted very good. A small amount of a high-quality Madeira does wonders for sauces.
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Other than setting out the remaining ingredients on the kitchen counter, we didn’t do any more work on the dish until after we’d finished our first course at dinner (American transmontanus caviar on homemade buckwheat blini and a glass apiece of champagne; if you’re going to splurge, go all the way). Then I began heating vegetables (tiny green peas and sauteed morels that we’d frozen fresh earlier in the year) while Tom browned slices of my white bread in butter.
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We transferred the bread to dinner plates and in the same pan (with more butter) sauteed our filet mignons. They were larger than the classic tournedos cuts, but that wasn’t a problem.
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Keeping the steaks warm on the plates, we quickly deglazed the pan with more Madeira, stirred in the previously made sauce base, and simmered it briefly. (We skipped the step of straining the sauce and swirling in yet more butter: Neither was really necessary.)

On each steak we placed a thick slice of duck foie gras and a small morel to serve as a faux truffle, and poured the sauce over them.
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Magnificent! A wonderful combination of flavors. The foie gras virtually melted into the beef the moment it was cut into. And it is an honest opinion, not sour grapes, to say that morels are tastier than most black truffles. Certainly they are never as aromatic, but they are definitely more flavorful.

All this magnificence had an equally great companion in the Drouhin 2004 Chambolle Musigny Premier Cru that Santa provided. Tom may have more to say about that wine soon on his blog.

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