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A Start-to-Finish Meal Quicker Than You Can Say 'Your Hour Is Up'

April 30, 1987|ANNE WILLAN | Willan, a cooking teacher and author, is founder and president of La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in Paris. She lives in Washington. and

It is quite a challenge to cook a good dinner in an hour for eight people. I had my doubts about whether it could be done until a kind friend timed this menu for me and clocked only 54 minutes from the start to sitting, slightly breathless, at the table.

In any such situation, the first actions you must take are to heat the oven, run a sink full of warm soapy water and assemble the ingredients. The order of cooking is inverse to serving, so without more ado, let's start with dessert.

How happy I was to find a quick pudding in Jane Grigson's book on "English Food" (Macmillan England: 1974). The almond pudding has a deliciously crisp crust with a squashy center, just asking to be served with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, American-style. The ingredients are simply stirred together, so mixing takes only a few minutes, particularly if you can buy the almonds already ground. If not, grind whole blanched almonds, a few at a time, in a food processor.

The main dish of chicken cooked en cocotte with lemon zest has an Italian flavor. Remember that New York habit of twisting lemon zest over a cup of espresso and watching the lemon oil drift over the surface? The oil has a perfume quite different from the acidity of lemon juice.

Forget the Chickens

When cooking chickens en cocotte , they are first browned on top of the stove in butter for a deep golden brown, then covered and baked in the oven. You can forget the chickens for at least 30 minutes. The chickens will keep moist cooking in their own juices.

This leaves generous time to mix a dip or two to serve at the table or with drinks. One suggestion is a quick version of the olive, anchovy and caper puree called tapenade ( tapeno means "caper" in Provencal dialect). The other is a combination of cream cheese and red salmon caviar. Pita bread or sticks of vegetables such as carrot, cucumber and zucchini are the perfect accompaniment.

So opens an agreeable meal for eight, which can be cooked in less time than it took me to describe it.

DINNER IN 1 HOUR FOR 8

Tapenade Dip

Caviar - Cream Cheese Dip

Chicken en Cocotte With Lemon

Boiled Pasta

English Almond Pudding

Suggested wine: White Gewurztraminer or a zesty red Zinfandel

About one hour before serving, chill the white wine. Brown the chickens, then place in the oven.

About 45 minutes before serving, mix the pudding, then bake in the oven with the chickens.

About 30 minutes before serving, boil water for the pasta. Mix Tapenade Dip. Mix caviar dip. Cut the vegetables for dipping.

About 15 minutes before serving, boil the pasta, then drain. Keep warm in warm water. Set the table.

About 5 minutes before serving, remove the chickens from the oven. Keep warm. Make the sauce.

After serving the dip, drain the pasta, then toss in butter. When pudding is done, turn the oven to low to keep warm.

TAPENADE DIP

3/4 cup pitted black olives

6 anchovy fillets

1/4 cup capers, drained

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 cup olive oil

Pepper

Pita bread

Vegetable sticks

Puree olives, anchovy fillets, capers and mustard in food processor. Work in olive oil, 1 teaspoon at a time. Season to taste with pepper. Serve with pita bread or vegetable sticks. Makes 1 cup or enough for 8 servings.

CAVIAR-CREAM CHEESE DIP

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 cup sour cream

Juice of 1 lemon

Dash cayenne pepper

Salt, pepper

4 ounces red salmon caviar

Pita bread

Vegetable sticks

Beat cream cheese and sour cream until smooth. Beat in lemon juice, cayenne pepper and season to taste with salt and pepper. Fold in caviar. Taste to adjust for seasonings. Serve with pita bread or vegetable sticks. Makes 2 cups or enough for 8 servings.

CHICKEN EN COCOTTE WITH LEMON

2 (3 1/2- to 4-pound) chickens

Salt, pepper

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon oil

Zest of 3 lemons

1 1/2 cups whipping cream

Cooked pasta

Season chickens to taste with salt and pepper. Heat butter and oil in large oven-proof casserole. Add chickens. Brown thoroughly on all sides, 10 to 15 minutes. Add lemon zest. Cover and bake at 375 degrees 35 to 45 minutes or until juice poured from cavity of chickens runs clear, not pink.

Remove chickens. Keep warm. Boil cooking juices until reduced to sticky brown glaze. Discard all fat. Add cream. Boil, stirring to dissolve pan juices. Strain sauce into small pan. Bring just back to boil. Taste to adjust for seasonings. Carve chickens at table. Serve sauce separately. Serve with pasta of choice. Makes 8 servings.

ENGLISH ALMOND PUDDING

3/4 cup butter

2 1/2 cups ground almonds

Almond extract

3 tablespoons whipping cream

2 tablespoons brandy

1/2 cup sugar

3 eggs

3 egg yolks

Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

Butter 1 1/2-quart shallow baking dish.

Melt butter and pour into bowl. Stir in ground almonds, a few drops almond extract, whipping cream, brandy and sugar. Beat in eggs and egg yolks.

Spoon mixture into baking dish. Bake at 375 degrees 25 to 35 minutes or until pudding is crusty and lightly browned but still soft in center. (Do not overcook pudding or it will be dry.) Serve pudding warm with whipped cream or ice cream. Makes 8 servings.

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