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Celebrating the New Year in the French Manner

December 27, 1987|ANNE WILLAN | Willan is president and founder of La Varenne Ecoloe de Cuisine in Paris. She lives in Washington, D.C. and

This year we're celebrating New Year in style--French style. We'll be sheltered in the countryside of Burgundy with vineyards down the road, produce markets at hand and a vegetable garden just outside the back door. For months I've had dinner exactly planned.

We'll start with hot bacon salad made with chewy, succulent curly endive, one of the greens that thrive at this time of year. To toss them with a dressing of hot fried bacon and vinegar, boiled down to deglaze the pan, is simplicity itself. The hot dressing wilts the leaves just enough so they are crisply piquant.

For the festival of New Year, there is bound to be fresh wild venison in the local market. Here in the United States more and more gourmet stores carry raised venison which is guaranteed to be tender--by no means the case with meat from wild animals.

Beef fillet is an alternative if you can't find venison and you'll be surprised by the flavor it develops after marinating with juniper, pepper and red wine as in this recipe. Cream and red currant jelly complete the spicy-sweet sauce.

Cooked Until Mellow

With the meat comes a melting confit or preserve of baby onions cooked until mellow with wine and a little sugar. If sealed in sterilized jars, the preserve keeps well, an excellent accompaniment to duck, ham and cold meats as well as game.

Turning again to the garden, with luck I will find a root or two of celery to puree with chestnuts gathered by a kind neighbor from the trees outside the gate. Wild chestnuts these, a nuisance to peel, but with a delicate floury texture which amply reward the time spent. Or, if I'm feeling lazy, I'll buy canned chestnuts in water, spicing the puree generously with nutmeg.

Last course is a long-time family favorite--a fluffy hot chocolate souffle. The chocolate has sufficient body to need no thickening of flour and I've found to my delight that the completed souffle can be held an hour or two in the refrigerator before baking, thus saving last-minute effort of whisking the egg whites. The souffle bakes in only 15 to 18 minutes, with a soft center that acts as sauce for the crisp outside.

After that, what more could be asked than a glass of good red wine, culled from the Cote d'Or vineyards only a couple of hour's drive away. Surely an auspicious beginning to a happy 1988.

NEW YEAR'S DINNER IN FRANCE FOR 8

Hot Bacon Salad

Medallions of Venison with Onion Confit

Celery Root and Chestnut Puree

Hot Chocolate Souffle

Suggested wine: A vintage French Burgundy from the Cote d'Or, or a California or Oregon Pinot Noir

For the busy cook, this schedule allows for advance preparation, with cooking carried out quickly at the last minute.

Up to three days ahead make onion confit .

Up to one day ahead wash salad greens. Marinate venison.

Up to four hours ahead make celery root and chestnut puree. Prepare chocolate mixture for souffle.

About 20 minutes before serving whip egg whites, then add to souffle.

About 15 minutes before serving saute venison steaks, then wrap in foil to reheat. Make sauce.

About five minutes before serving fry bacon, then finish salad.

After serving salad reheat venison steaks briefly in oven. Reheat onion confit and venison sauce on top of stove. Arrange with venison on plates. Reheat vegetable puree, beating well. Add to plates.

After serving venison cook souffle.

HOT BACON SALAD

2 medium heads curly endive or escarole

2 tablespoons oil

1 slice bacon, diced

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

Salt, pepper

Thoroughly wash greens, drain and dry. Wrap in towel or place in plastic bag and refrigerate up to 24 hours.

To finish, place greens in salad bowl. Heat oil in skillet and fry bacon until lightly browned, but still tender. Discard all but 1/2 cup fat from pan. Pour bacon and fat over greens. Toss well. Heat will wilt greens slightly.

Add vinegar to hot pan, standing back from rising fumes. Boil, stirring, until reduced by half. Pour hot vinegar over greens. Toss well. Taste salad to adjust for seasonings. Serve immediately. Makes 8 servings.

Note: For more substantial salad, saute sliced chicken livers with bacon.

MEDALLIONS OF VENISON WITH ONION CONFIT

8 venison steaks (about 3 pounds)

2 cups fruity red wine

2 teaspoons crushed juniper berries

1 teaspoon crushed black peppercorns

Oil

3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme

Butter

Salt, pepper

1/4 cup brandy

1 cup whipping cream

1 1/2 tablespoons red currant jelly

Onion Confit

1 bunch watercress

Place venison steaks in shallow dish. Combine wine, juniper berries and peppercorns and pour over venison. Spoon 2 tablespoons oil over and set thyme on top. Cover and refrigerate 24 hours, turning meat occasionally.

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