As winter's chill leaves us, culinary thoughts turn from stews and hearty soups to lighter foods. A delicate puff-pastry, such as this Vegetable Shortcake, can serve as a prelude to an elegant dinner or as an entree for Sunday brunch.
This seemingly lavish presentation is really quite simple to make. Almost everything can be prepared ahead, leaving little but the pleasure of assembling each plate for serving time. The bases and top decorations are cut from frozen, ready-to-use puff pastry, which is available in most supermarkets. The herb-flecked hollandaise can be prepared one to two hours ahead and reheated over simmering water for serving, and the vegetables need only a brief blanching before being served.
Select the freshest and most visually appealing vegetables available--thin, tender asparagus, baby leeks, delicate baby carrots, fragile \o7 haricots verts\f7 , snap peas, broccoli flowerets or baby squash. Sandwich the blanched vegetables between puff pastry, add hollandaise sauce and garnish with fresh herbs. Accompany this spring shortcake with a chilled Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc or white Zinfandel.
SAVORY VEGETABLE SHORTCAKE Selected vegetables (see Note) Fresh Herbed Hollandaise Puff-Pastry Shortcakes Fresh herbs, optional
Bring 4 quarts cold water to boil with 2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil and 2 tablespoons salt. Add trimmed vegetables to water and blanch uncovered 2 to 5 minutes, until vegetables are barely fork-tender. Drain and plunge immediately into cold water. Remove and drain. Set aside. (You may reheat vegetables by returning them to simmering water 10 seconds or by a quick saute in melted butter.)
To assemble each serving, place several spoonfuls Fresh Herbed Hollandaise on center of plate. Place layer of vegetables on sauce. Top with larger puff-pastry square. Place another layer of vegetables on pastry. Top with additional sauce. Place smaller puff-pastry square on top. Spoon on a bit more sauce and top with decorative pastry cut-out. Garnish with fresh herbs, if desired. Makes 4 servings.
Note: Suggested vegetables include asparagus (1 1/2 to 2 pounds small or medium spears, trimmed into 5-1/2 inch lengths), baby leeks (16, root ends and tough leaves trimmed, cut into 5-inch lengths), carrots (2 bunches baby carrots scraped clean with 1-inch green top attached), \o7 haricots verts\f7 (1 pound, ends trimmed), sugar snap peas (1 pound, ends trimmed), broccoli (1-1/2 pounds, trimmed into flowerets), baby squash (8 to 10 per serving). Fresh Herbed Hollandaise 3 tablespoons minced shallots 5 tablespoons white or herbed vinegar 2 eggs, room temperature 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 pound butter, melted and hot 2 to 4 tablespoons finely minced fresh herbs
Combine shallots and vinegar in small non-reactive saucepan and bring to simmer. Cook, stirring, until liquid has just evaporated. In food processor, combine eggs, mustard, lemon juice and shallot mixture until well blended. With processor running, add melted butter, starting with a few drops, then increasing to a thin, steady stream. Add herbs. Serve sauce at once or let stand 1 to 2 hours at room temperature. To reheat, set sauce container in warm water and whisk smooth. Makes 2 cups. Puff-Pastry Shortcakes 2 17 - ounce packages frozen puff pastry 1 egg 1 tablespoon cold water
Thaw 3 sheets puff pastry at room temperature 20 minutes before unfolding. Working quickly to keep pastry cool, place 1 pastry sheet on lightly floured surface. Using sharp knife, cut four 4-1/2 inch squares. Cut second sheet into four 4-inch squares. Using decorative cutter, cut desired top decorations from third sheet (top decorations should be at least 3 inches in diameter). Beat egg and water together. Transfer squares and cut-outs to ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheets. Lightly brush tops of pastry with egg mixture. With fork, prick pastry through in several places to prevent pieces from rising too high. Bake in 375-degree oven 15 to 18 minutes for squares, 8 to 12 minutes for cut-outs, until pastry is puffed and golden brown. Remove from oven cool on wire rack. Serve within several hours of baking.
PRODUCED BY ROBIN TUCKER
FOOD STYLIST: EDENA SHELDON
PLATES FROM THE PRINCE'S TABLE, BEVERLY HILLS
GLASS, FORK FROM NANCY EPSTEIN GALLERY,