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New Fresh and Tasty Menu Ideas

August 27, 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

A few months ago I was one of several hundred members of the International Assn. of Cooking Professionals who attended a showcase of the top chefs in Los Angeles.

The celebrated chefs cooked hors d'oeuvres while we sampled a selection of wines from distinguished California vineyards. We roamed from stand to stand, tasting a tidbit of this and a tidbit of that. With chefs from a dozen culinary backgrounds, the only link in this culinary odyssey seemed to be the freshness and originality for which California is famous.

Here are just a few of the many ideas I encountered, deliberately chosen so they can be made in advance. All hold well at room temperature with one exception--a fritter of cod stuffed with Smithfield ham and seasoned with roasted Sichuan pepper and salt. The cod cubes and batter can be prepared ahead, but like all deep-fried dishes, they are best served fresh and piping hot.

As I bit into a neat little roll of eggplant, I wondered what was inside until I recognized my favorite creamy mozzarella spiced with sweet red pepper and generously drenched in olive oil. The rolls marinate a day or two with seasonings that include balsamic vinegar, ending wonderfully redolent and rich.

Also presented as a roll was an elegant combination of homemade gravlax (raw salmon pickled with salt and dill) filled with a mousse of smoked salmon and cream cheese. A quick dip in caviar adds the final touch of color and luxury.

A simple little skewer of marinated shrimp and mushrooms took a while to re-create until I hit just the right combination of olive oil, wine and lemon juice backed by bay leaf and plenty of garlic. After cooking, the shrimp and mushrooms rest in this marinade, and I'm sure other ingredients such as cauliflower or baby onions would take happily to the same treatment.

This all adds up to quite a feast. In fact, next time we have friends to dinner, I plan to make just one or two of the recipes and offer them as an appetizer.

Serve them with the Cheese Brioche Bread I've added to this menu to balance the impact of so many complex flavors.

Add to them a good California wine or two and you'll have a wonderful party.

CALIFORNIA APPETIZER PARTY FOR 25

Piquant Rolls of Eggplant With Mozzarella

Smoked Salmon Mousse With Gravlax and Caviar

Shrimp and Mushrooms With Lemon

Deep - Fried Rock Cod Fillet With Ham

Cheese Brioche Bread

Suggested wine: White Zinfandel or other blush wine

Up to three months ahead, make roasted salt and pepper, then store in airtight container. Bake cheese brioche, then freeze.

Up to four days ahead, broil eggplant. Marinate in refrigerator.

Up to one day ahead, cook shrimp and mushrooms. Marinate at least 2 hours. Assemble eggplant rolls, then refrigerate. Finish salmon and gravlax rolls, then refrigerate. Finish shrimp and mushrooms, then refrigerate.

Up to six hours ahead, prepare cod for deep-frying. Chill, then make batter. Thaw cheese bread. Chill wine.

About one to two hours before serving, arrange all cold hors d'oeuvres in lines or cartwheels on trays. Cover with plastic wrap. Leave at room temperature. Slice cheese bread. Toast, if desired.

During party deep-fry cod cubes and serve immediately.

PIQUANT ROLLS OF EGGPLANT AND MOZZARELLA

4 small eggplants

1/4 cup coarse salt

1 cup olive oil

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 pound mozzarella cheese

Trim stem and blossom ends of eggplants. Cut lengthwise into 3/8-inch-thick slices. Scatter salt over both sides. Leave eggplant 30 minutes to draw out juices.

Heat grill or broiler. Rinse salt and liquid from eggplant. Pat dry with paper towels. Brush with olive oil. Grill 3 to 5 minutes until browned. Turn, then brush again with oil. Brown other side.

Arrange eggplant slices in layers in deep dish, seasoning each layer with garlic, pepper, vinegar and remaining oil. Cover and let eggplant marinate in refrigerator at least 6 hours or up to 3 days.

To finish, cut mozzarella cheese in 2x3/8-inch sticks. Lift out eggplant, letting marinade drain back into dish. Place mozzarella stick on one end of eggplant slice, then roll it up. Cut into 1-inch rolls. Secure each with wood pick.

Pack rolls back into dish, wood picks upward. Rolls can be assembled 1 day ahead and refrigerated. Let rolls come to room temperature before serving. Makes 50 to 60 appetizer slices or 4 to 6 servings if served alone.

Note: Fruity extra-virgin olive oil is ideal for this dish.

SMOKED SALMON MOUSSE WITH GRAVLAX AND CAVIAR

1 (3-pound) salmon fillet

1/4 cup coarse salt

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

1 large bunch fresh dill

10 ounces smoked salmon

6 ounces cream cheese

1/2 cup whipping cream, about

Salt, pepper

2 ounces caviar

To make gravlax, lay salmon fillet on tray. Season both sides with salt, sugar and peppercorns.

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