One trait many home cooks like us share is discovering a very good recipe and then cooking it so often that it loses its appeal. Eventually we put the recipe aside and it gets lost forever.
The other day I came across soupe de poisson Marseillaise, a great fish soup from the cooking classes that James Beard taught in the early '70s. This French classic from Provence is also known as bouillabaisse. The flavor combination that gives it authenticity is fennel, garlic, bay leaf, oregano and saffron, added to the usual Mediterranean soup base of tomatoes, olive oil and seafood--at least one kind of fin-fish and usually some shellfish as well.
Sometimes a robust, fiery sauce called rouille is served with it. Made of bread crumbs, olive oil, garlic and hot red pepper, Rouille is passed at the table to be spooned into the soup or spread on French bread for dunking into it. The fish broth can be made the day before it is to be served and easily finished within an hour the next day. The rouille can be made the day before too.
If you feel a salad is necessary, leeks vinaigrette would go well either before or after the soup.
Dessert should be pumpkin bread pudding. This is a pudding a child can make. Simply mix custard and pumpkin puree, pour it over buttered bread and bake it in a water bath for about 30 minutes. It is delicate, creamy and exceptionally good with warm caramel sauce.
The only danger in making this dish is overbaking. Remove it from the oven while it is still a little soft in the center. Custards and puddings become coarse and thick when overbaked and lose their charm.
SOUPE DE POISSON MARSEILLAISE (Fish Soup) 1/4 cup olive oil 2 medium yellow onions, chopped 2 leeks, coarse green leaves removed, chopped 1/4 cup fennel seeds 4 bay leaves, broken into pieces 3 tablespoons dried oregano leaves 1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest 2 tomatoes, finely chopped, about 1 1/4 cups 3 cloves garlic, cut into thirds 3 quarts water 1 1/2 pounds frames (skeletons), heads or any parts of fresh, non-oily fish Salt 2 pounds fresh, non-oily fish flesh, cut into large bite-size pieces Dash saffron, optional Pepper Rouille
Heat olive oil in soup pot over medium heat. Stir in onions and leeks and saute until tender, but not browned.
For bouquet garni, combine fennel seeds, bay leaves, oregano and orange zest in 4-inch-square piece of cheesecloth. Secure ends of cloth with kitchen string. Add tomatoes, garlic, bouquet garni, water and 1 1/2 pounds fish frame to pot. Stir and lightly season to taste with salt. Simmer 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Strain fish broth into container, pressing down on all ingredients to extract flavors. Discard content of strainer. (If desired, cool and refrigerate broth overnight before proceeding.) Bring broth to simmer and add 2 pounds fish and saffron. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer about 5 to 7 minutes, or until fish is cooked. Spoon into bowls and serve with Rouille. Makes 6 servings.
Each serving contains about: 287 calories; 178 mg sodium; 62 mg cholesterol; 14 grams fat; 15 grams carbohydrates; 27 grams protein; 1.78 grams fiber.
Rouille 5 cloves garlic 1 small hot red pepper, seeded, deveined and finely chopped, or hot pepper sauce to taste 1/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs 1/2 cup fish broth 1/4 cup olive oil 3 tablespoons tomato paste
Puree garlic, hot pepper, bread crumbs, fish broth, olive oil and tomato paste in blender or mini-chopper. Or mash and blend in bowl using back of soup spoon.
LEEKS VINAIGRETTE 8 medium leeks 8 butter or Bibb lettuce leaves Vinaigrette
Trim away roots and green tops of leeks. Cut each leek lengthwise but not completely through, leave about 1/2-inch base intact. Rinse each leek carefully under cold water to get rid of dirt or sand between leaves.
Bring saute pan filled with salted water to boil. Add leeks. Cover and simmer until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain and wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Place 2 lettuce leaves each on 4 salad plates. Arrange leeks on top and drizzle 2 tablespoons Vinaigrette over each serving. Serve chilled. Makes 4 servings.
Each serving contains about: 334 calories; 198 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 21 grams fat; 36 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 3.83 grams fiber.
Vinaigrette 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar 1/4 teaspoon salt 6 tablespoons olive oil 1 tablespoon cold water 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
Place wine vinegar in small bowl. Stir in salt and mix well. Slowly add olive oil, whisking to blend. Add cold water and parsley and stir well. Makes about 1/2 cup.
PUMPKIN BREAD PUDDING WITH CARAMEL SAUCE 1/4 cup butter, softened 6 slices fresh white bread (dense-textured type), crusts removed 3 eggs 2 egg yolks 3/4 cup sugar 1 cup pumpkin puree 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg 2 cups milk 1/2 cup whipping cream Boiling water Caramel Sauce or warm heavy whipping cream
Butter 1 side of each bread slice and set aside.