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GOOD COOKING

French Informality

June 04, 1997|ABBY MANDEL | Mandel is a cookbook author. Her latest book is "Celebrating the Midwestern Table" (Doubleday & Co., 1996)

This menu for an informal Sunday supper showcases a straightforward Provencal soup and a simple French pastry classic. Everything can be done ahead.

The colorful Provencal vegetable soup gets its depth of flavor from the rind of a piece of Parmesan cheese. Never throw Parmesan rind away--use it in soups and pasta sauces.

The cheese itself goes into a French version of pesto without the pine nuts. The pistou is swirled into the soup and is also good spread on hot crusty bread.

When buying Parmesan, try to get Parmigiano-Reggiano. Its flavor is well worth the price. Freeze the rinds until you are ready to use them.

Profiteroles, small cream puffs made from pa^te a choux dough, are so easy to make that they seem almost undeserving of the great response they always get. Fill with vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt and sauce with hot fudge.

PROVENCAL VEGETABLE SOUP

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 leeks, split, tough green leaves discarded, chopped

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 (15-ounce) can unsalted white beans, rinsed

2 slender carrots, thinly sliced

2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans vegetable broth

3 to 4 cups water

1 Parmesan rind

2 small zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch dice

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 cup capellini pasta, broken into 2-inch lengths

1 (8-ounce) package frozen cut green beans

1 (10-ounce) package frozen tiny peas

Pistou

Red pepper flakes, optional

Use more than one Parmesan rind if available.

Heat oil in 4-quart pot over medium heat. Add garlic and leeks and cook until softened and fragrant, about 4 minutes.

Add tomatoes, white beans, carrots, broth, 3 cups water and Parmesan rind. Simmer uncovered 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add zucchini, salt and pepper to taste and pasta. Simmer, stirring often, 10 minutes. (Note: Soup can be made to this point and refrigerated up to 3 days or frozen for 3 months. Reheat before proceeding.)

Add green beans and peas and simmer 8 minutes, stirring often. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed; add water if soup is too thick. Remove rind. Serve with Pistou and red pepper flakes if desired.

8 servings. Each serving:

224 calories; 815 mg sodium; 1 mg cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 39 grams carbohydrates; 11 grams protein; 3.69 grams fiber.

PISTOU

2 large garlic cloves, minced (about 2 teaspoons)

2 cups basil leaves, minced

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Pinch salt

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Combine garlic, basil, cheese, salt and oil in small bowl and stir well. (Note: Pistou keeps for several weeks in refrigerator, covered airtight. Let come to room temperature before using.)

3/4 cup. Each 1 tablespoon serving:

91 calories; 170 mg sodium; 6 mg cholesterol; 8 grams fat; 1 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.01 gram fiber.

PROFITEROLES AND VANILLA ICE CREAM IN HOT FUDGE SAUCE

5 tablespoons butter, plus extra for greasing baking sheets

1 tablespoon sugar

1 cup club soda or water

Salt

1 cup flour

5 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 pint vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt

Hot fudge sauce

Bring butter, sugar, club soda and pinch salt to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat and briskly beat in flour until mixture forms mass. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until film forms on bottom of pan, about 1 minute.

Put hot dough in food processor fitted with metal blade and let rest 5 minutes. Turn processor on and add 4 eggs, 1 at a time, until dough is smooth. Add vanilla and pulse 1 second.

Grease 2 baking sheets, sprinkle with water and shake off excess. (Note: Steam that develops during baking keeps puffs from sticking.) Transfer dough to pastry bag fitted with 1/2-inch tube and squeeze 1 1/4-inch rounds onto baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Or use 2 tablespoons to form puffs.

Whisk remaining egg with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Use finger to dab glaze onto puffs, smoothing out uneven edges.

Bake at 400 degrees until browned, about 25 minutes. (Note: Rotate baking sheets on rack if puffs are baking unevenly). Turn off oven and let puffs rest in oven 15 minutes to dry out and crisp up. Transfer to rack to cool. (Note: Puffs can be baked ahead and kept in paper bag at room temperature for 1 day or frozen up to 1 month, wrapped airtight. To reheat, bake, uncovered, in single layer on baking sheet at 300 degrees until just warm, about 5 minutes. If reheated when still frozen, bake slightly longer, 7 to 8 minutes.)

Cream puffs should be just warm when filled. Split each puff, remove soft, doughy center, and fill bottom half with ice cream. Put top back on puff and serve with hot fudge sauce.

20 cream puffs. Each puff, with 1 1/2 tablespoons ice cream and 1 teaspoon fudge sauce:

116 calories; 244 mg sodium; 67 mg cholesterol; 6 grams fat; 13 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.18 gram fiber.

* Mirrored window shutter from Biaggio's Evergreen Co., Los Angeles; serving bowl and platter available by special order from Tesoro, Beverly Hills.

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