No doubt about it, midsummer's eve is a hard night to plan a party for.
Looking at my calendar, I discovered that in 1986 (just like '85 and '84) I once again missed the date entirely. The shortest night of the year, which follows the longest day, took place a few weeks ago on June 20 and I had neither the time nor temper for any form of festivity. Besides, I was so certain midsummer's night took place after July, I never even bothered to make up a guest list.
You may think I'm eccentric, but let me tell you, many otherwise knowledgeable people draw blank on the subject of midsummer's eve.
If I seem to belabor this point, it is because a party in the middle of summer has been a Greene tradition since adolescence. Actually from the time I played Bottom in a High School production of "A Midsummer's Night's Dream" when I was 15.
Decor at a Minimum
The party took place, after the last performance of the play, in the backyard of the apartment house where we lived. The decor was at a minimum; lighted candles stuck in sand-filled paper bags provided the illumination. Music was a wind-up phonograph and a pile of Artie Shaw records endlessly replayed. Food was passed by my mother and sister through the kitchen window of our ground floor apartment. And it was wonderful: oven-baked hamburgers, potato salad, coleslaw and chocolate cake.
A memorable occasion, it set a precedent that goes on to this day. My midsummer party fare follows.
Cold Green-Stuffed Flank Steak, which I always serve at room temperature for a party, can be made well in advance, refrigerated first, then allowed to mellow in the kitchen before it is sliced and served. The only other accompaniment, aside from scalloped potatoes, would be a green salad.
COLD GREEN STUFFED FLANK STEAK
1/2 pound Swiss chard or collard greens
1/2 pound arugula
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 pound ground veal
2 eggs, lightly beaten
5 tablespoons chopped parsley
3/4 teaspoon chopped thyme or 1/8 teaspoon dried
1 (1 1/2- to 2-pound) flank steak, butterflied
2 medium onions, sliced
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup beef stock
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chopped chives
Trim chard and arugula, discarding stems. Chop leaves.
Melt 1 tablespoon butter in large skillet over medium-low heat. Add chopped onion. Cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in chard and arugula. Cook, covered, until tender, about 15 minutes. Increase heat and remove cover. Cook, tossing constantly, until all liquid has evaporated. Transfer to mixing bowl and allow to cool.
Mix veal with greens. Add eggs, 1 tablespoon parsley, thyme and season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix well.
Spread veal mixture over flank steak and roll it up. Use string to tie meat in various places and keep it from unrolling.
Melt remaining butter in large Dutch oven over medium heat. Saute tied meat roll on all sides until well-browned. Place sliced onions and carrot around meat and stir slightly. Add beef stock and wine. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat. Cook, covered, over medium-low heat until tender, about 1 1/4 hours.
Remove meat to serving platter. Let stand at room temperature, removing strings before serving. Strain juices and allow to cool.
In medium bowl, whisk mayonnaise with meat juices. Add chives and remaining 1/4 cup parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with meat. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
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These pink potatoes (like the green flank steak) are just as great. But if you've never consumed a plateful cool, you're missing one of the great summer foods of all time.
ROSY SCALLOPED POTATOES
3 pounds potatoes
2 cups milk
3 cups whipping cream or half and half
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Peel potatoes and slice 1/8 inch thick. Place in large saucepan. Combine milk, cream, garlic, tomato paste, mustard, salt and white pepper in bowl. Pour over potatoes. Heat potato mixture to boiling, stirring often.
Rub large gratin dish with butter. Spoon in potato mixture. Bake at 400 degrees 1 hour. Reduce heat if potatoes brown too quickly. Serve at room temperature or hot, if desired. Makes 8 servings.