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In a Colorized World, Try Black-and-White Menus for Change of Pace

September 22, 1988|ANNE WILLAN | Willan, cooking teacher and author, is founder and president of La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in Paris. and

No, you need not rent a tuxedo. The black and white accents for this dinner are provided entirely by the food. For centuries, cooks have been intrigued by stark contrasts of color. This menu is simply an update of the all-black and all-white banquets that were fashionable at the court of Louis XVI.

The main course is white fish--mahi-mahi, cod or sole--marinated in a little olive oil and lemon juice and gently steamed in its own juices. With it comes Provencal tapenade , a punchy puree of black olives, anchovy and garlic bound with the best olive oil. Such a combination invites an Italian accompaniment of fresh fettuccine, now so conveniently available even in the supermarket. A sprinkling of pine nuts completes the picture, adding a touch of crunch.

You may feel this substantial main course needs no appetizer, but I would be tempted to add a bowl of vichyssoise--hot or chilled depending on the weather. A topping to the soup of sour cream with a spoonful of black caviar will firmly establish the black and white theme. Inexpensive lump fish caviar is widely available and quite acceptable here.

Blancmange means literally "white eating" and dates back to the Romans. The best blancmange is perfumed with almonds infused in milk, fluffy, meltingly rich and molded in a shimmering white peak. For contrast, I suggest a seasonal sauce of pureed fresh blackberries or blueberries, spooned in ribbon around the blancmange to emphasize its impact. The fruit is simmered with sugar until very tender so it can easily be worked through a sieve to remove the seeds.

DINNER IN BLACK AND WHITE FOR 8

Vichyssoise with caviar and sour cream

Mahi-Mahi With Fettuccine, Tapenade Sauce

Blancmange With Blackberry Sauce

Suggested wine: Lively white such as Italian Verdicchio or domestic white Zinfandel

This is a well-spaced menu with half the cooking done ahead and the rest completed shortly before serving.

Up to three days ahead, make tapenade.

Up to two days ahead, prepare blancmange and blackberry sauce. Make vichyssoise. Chill wine.

Up to two hours before serving marinate fish.

Up to one hour before serving unmold blancmange and add sauce.

About 15 minutes before serving cook fish. Boil water for fettuccine. Reheat soup, if serving hot.

After serving soup cook fettuccine. Reheat fish and serve immediately.

MAHI-MAHI WITH FETTUCCINE, TAPENADE SAUCE

3/4 cup pitted black olives

8 anchovy fillets

1/4 cup capers, drained

5 cloves garlic

Olive oil

Pepper

3 mahi-mahi, cod or sole fillets

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt

1 1/2 pounds white fettuccine

Water

1 1/2 cup pine nuts

For tapenade, place olives, anchovy fillets, capers and garlic in food processor. Using pulse button, gradually pour in 1/2 cup olive oil to form coarse or finely choped mixture, as desired. Season to taste with pepper. Tapenade may be refrigerated, tightly covered, 3 days.

To marinate fish, place filets in shallow dish and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours, turning once or twice.

To finish, transfer fish to nonstick skillet (or grease regular pan with 1 tablespoon oil). Cover tightly and cook over very low heat until fish flakes easily, 10 to 15 minutes depending on thickness. Turn fish once during cooking and do not allow to brown.

For fettuccine, boil large pan of salted water. Add fettuccine and boil, stirring once or twice to prevent sticking, 2 to 5 minutes or until pasta is al dente.

Drain, rinse with warm water and drain thoroughly. Toss fettuccine in pan over heat with 2 tablespoons oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pile fettuccine at one side of 8 individual plates. Set piece of fish along side. Spoon tapenade on top of fettuccine, sprinkle with pine nuts and serve immediately. Makes 8 servings.

BLANCMANGE WITH BLACKBERRY SAUCE

2 cups milk

1 1/2 cups ground blanched almonds

1 1/2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin

Water

Sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups whipping cream, lightly whipped

1 quart blackberries

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Scald milk with ground almonds. Cover and leave to infuse over very low heat 10 minutes. Sprinkle gelatin over 1/4 cup water in small pan and leave until spongy, about 5 minutes.

Strain almond milk through cheesecloth into bowl. Squeezing tightly to extract all liquid. Stir in 1/2 cup sugar and vanilla. Melt gelatin over low heat and stir into milk.

Set bowl over ice and chill, stirring occasionally, until mixture is cold and starts to set. At once fold in lightly whipped cream. Work fast as milk mixture sets quickly.

Transfer mixture to 5-cup mold, cover and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours, or up to 2 days.

For blackberry sauce, pick over and rinse blackberries. Combine in saucepan with 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, 8 to 12 minutes until very tender.

Work through strainer. Add lemon juice and more sugar to taste to sauce and thin if necessary with little water. Can be refrigerated 2 days.

Not more than 1 hour before serving, unmold blancmange by dipping mold in warm water 10 to 20 seconds. Tip mold sideways and with fingers gently pull almond mixture away from sides of mold to loosen.

Set platter on top of mold, turn mold upside-down and jerk sharply to release blancmange. Spoon little blackberry sauce around edge, serving rest separately. Makes 8 servings.

Note: Blueberries may be substituted for blackberries.

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