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The Baltimore Sun

Vive l'independence

Yes, the Fourth of July is behind us. But that doesn't mean you can't find other celebratory themes to help inspire your culinary creativity. If the Fourth was all-American, then July 14, Bastille Day, is all Française.

Our "ooh-la-la" carte for eight, is designed to help us mark French Independence Day. We've tried to do it in the French mode, but "nouveau," of course, which is fitting for the season and for our American approach to things culinary.

Gougeres Gruyere

Ever had a cream puff? Well, gougeres are actually savory cream puffs. In this case, the pastry contains the French version of Swiss cheese. And you're actually going to make them!

They're best made the day you plan to serve them, preferably warm. You can reheat them gently in a 300 degree oven, if you have made them in the morning. Relatively low humidity on party day is a big plus. But, we can't do much about the weather.

A pastry bag is a big help with the little puffs, but you can use a couple of tablespoons to scoop the dough.

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, well chilled, cut into small pieces

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups water

1 3/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

8 large eggs, preferably at room temperature

1 1/2 cups freshly grated imported French or Swiss Gruyere cheese, divided

Prepare 3 baking sheets: Use softened butter, sprinkle with flour and shake off excess flour.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium saucepan, over high heat, combine butter, salt and water and bring to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon. Quickly remove pan from heat and add flour all at once. Beat vigorously with a large wooden spoon to create a smooth dough. Reheat for 1 minute over medium heat, stirring continuously to allow dough to dry out a bit.

Quickly transfer dough to the bowl of an electric mixer. Add all of the eggs and half of the grated cheese and beat at medium speed until eggs and cheese are thoroughly incorporated into dough. Dough should still be warm. It will be the consistency of very thick mayonnaise and rather sticky.

Spoon dough into a pastry bag fitted with a 3/4-inch tip. Squeeze dough into 2 1/2- to 3-inch mounds two inches apart onto prepared baking sheets. If puffs don't fit on the two baking sheets, use a third and bake when the other two sheets are done.

Sprinkle remaining grated Gruyere on puffs. Bake until puffs are an even golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. If the two trays of puffs are not baking evenly, don't switch them on shelves; rather, wait until one tray looks done, remove it to a cooling rack, and continue baking until the second tray until done.

If need be, bake a third tray of puffs when the first two are done.

When you've removed trays from oven to cooling rack(s), use the tip of a very sharp knife to make a couple of slits in each puff, to vent some of the steam that's built up inside them (helps keep them from getting soggy).

Makes about 56 to 64 gougeres.

Garlic aioli

Pronounced "a OH lee," this homemade mayo will serve as a dunk for your crisp and colorful fresh vegetable sticks, aka crudités ("croo dee TAYS"). Try it as a sandwich spread, too.

6 large, fresh garlic cloves, peeled, cut in half lengthwise

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large egg yolks, at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon saffron threads

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Cayenne pepper, to taste

Remove the little green nubbin from the center of each garlic clove half. Place garlic and salt in a mortar (or plate) and mash with a pestle (or fork) until garlic gives up its juice and salt dissolves and the two form a paste. Remove to a blender. Add egg yolks and saffron and a couple of drops of the olive oil and puree mixture well. With machine running, add remaining olive oil in a slow steady stream until mixture emulsifies/thickens to the consistency of mayonnaise, then do not add any more oil. Remove to a bowl, taste for seasonings, and add cayenne pepper to taste. Makes about 1 cup.

Thon grille

Thon (pronounced "ton," is French for tuna. Grille ("greel-AY") is self-explanatory, we hope.

Try a Cotes-du-Rhone (red) with the main course.

You might have to go to a seafood market to get the tuna as thick as you want it.

Sauce

6 tomatoes, peeled, cored, seeded and chopped

About 3/4 cup olive oil

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

6 garlic cloves, minced

Sea salt, if using

Coarsely ground black pepper

About 2 tablespoons each, minced fresh chives, flat-leaf parsley and tarragon, plus a few sprigs of each, for garnish

Tuna

2 to 3 pounds fresh tuna steak, 2 inches thick

Olive oil, for brushing

For the sauce, in a large bowl, combine well the tomatoes, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. Taste for salt and pepper and add if needed. Cover and let stand 1 to 2 hours so flavors can marry. Hold the herbs; add them to tomato mixture just before you cook the tuna.

Prepare grill for high heat. Brush tuna with olive oil and grill for 2 minutes on each side. Tuna will be charred on the outside and pink on the inside.

Remove tuna to a large platter. Let stand 10 minutes. Use a knife to make fairly thick diagonal slices. Top with half the tomato/herb sauce. Serve additional sauce on the side.

The sides

Warm potato salad with herb vinaigrette: Use 3 pounds mixed red-skin and Yukon gold potatoes, the smallest you can find. Scrub them, halve them (or slice them if quite large), but do not peel them. Cook in lightly salted boiling water for about 20 minutes until tender. Drain immediately, toss with dressing A, cover loosely and let stand 30 minutes. Just before serving, toss potatoes gently with Dressing B (see below).

For Dressing A, whisk together 3/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup best quality white wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons dry white wine, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper.

For Dressing B, whisk together 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 3 finely minced shallots, 1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley and 1/3 cup snipped fresh chives.

Endive salad: Select 2 1/2 pounds of Belgian endive (about 8 small heads). Get a couple heads of pretty, red radicchio for plate garnish. Separate endive leaves, wash and dry well. Separate radicchio leaves, wash and dry well.

Also, toast 1 1/2 cups walnut pieces. And gently crumble 8 ounces imported Roquefort (bleu) cheese.

For dressing, whisk together 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt and 1/3 cup walnut or hazelnut oil, or extra-virgin olive oil.

To serve, arrange endive and radicchio in 8 individual chilled salad plates. Drizzle on some of the dressing. Top with each with some walnuts and Roquefort. Pass additional dressing on the side.

Strawberry trifles

These are put together in martini glasses or wine glasses. Fix them up to 5 hours ahead, then refrigerate until 30 minutes before serving time.

This would be a good time for some French roast coffee and/or some of the liqueur you've used in the trifles.

2 pints small strawberries, hulled, sliced

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup light sour cream

1/4 cup confectioners sugar

About 16 (3/8-inch-thick) slices pound cake

About 1 1/4 cups kirsch (cherry brandy) or Grand Marnier or cointreau (orange liqueurs)

Fresh mint leaves, garnish

In a medium bowl, gently toss together sliced berries with sugar. Set aside.

In a chilled bowl, with chilled beaters, whip cream until stiff, then fold in sour cream and confectioners sugar.

Cut pound cake slices into rounds (give or take) the size of the 8 glasses you are using, allowing 2 or 3 slices for each glass.

To assemble, place a tablespoon or so of the whipped cream in the bottom of a glass. Add some pound cake, and a light sprinkling of kirsch, then some of the berries, then cream, then more cake, then kirsch. Etcetera. The top of each serving should be whipped cream. Cover and chill 3 to 5 hours. Garnish with mint just before serving.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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