Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ajo Blanco: the White Gazpacho of Málaga

Whenever I think of cold soups, I think of gazpacho, the “liquid salad” of Spain.  I have been making it and its cousin, white gazpacho forever and love them.

But I write about food and history so I had to ask, what was the history of gazpacho?  I know it is an ancient soup, but I discovered in this case, counter-intuitively, the much rarer white gazpacho came before the red.  No wonder, when you think about it.  Tomatoes and peppers are a gift of the new world.  They weren’t really available to the general population till long after Columbus visited the new world.  Before red, there was Ajo Blanco which first appeared in the Middle Ages when Spain was a part of the Islamic world. 

Food historian, Clifford Wright said in his great book, The Best Soups in the World:

“The emergence of the popularity of gazpacho out of Andalusia into the rest of Spain is said by Alicia Rios and Lourdes March, authors of Spanish cookbooks, to be the result of Eugenia de Montijo, the wife of the French Emperor Napoleon III in the nineteenth century. Gazpacho was unknown, or little known, in the north of Spain before about 1930. And it is not always liquid, nor does it always contain tomatoes. According to Juan de la Mata in his Arte de reposteria published in 1747, the most common gazpacho was known as capon de galera consisting of a pound of bread crust soaked in water and put in a sauce of anchovy bones, garlic, and vinegar, sugar, salt and olive oil and letting it soften. Then one adds "some of the ingredients and vegetables of the Royal Salad [a salad composed of various fruits and vegetables].”

Wright said that originally ajo blanco “contained garlic, almonds, bread, olive oil, vinegar, and salt. Ajo blanco is today associated with Málaga and made with fresh grapes.”

That’s the one I remember and the one I have made although not for a terribly long time, shame on me.
The recipes for it are all very similar –– then I found one from a restaurant in NYC called Dovetail that was particularly compelling.  In addition to the regular ingredients, it had sautéed leeks and cucumbers.  It also had a secret green oil in the gorgeous photograph of the soup (with no mention of what made it green in the recipe).

For some reason, I have been reading about borage lately. I found it used in a pasta filling last week and then it was mentioned as a forgotten ingredient in an article on Extremaduran  Cuisine that I read researching gazpacho history.  If you've never tried it, borage flowers and leaves have a delicate cucumber flavor and are wonderful.

It seemed the borage gods were calling my name so I decided to make my green oil with borage (but dill or chervil would work as well –– something like basil or parsley would be too strong for the dish). 
When I did a little research on the Dovetail Restaurant, I discovered that they had done a few versions of the soup.  One had asparagus and lavender in the mix.  This sounded delicious.  I thought I would add a hint of lavender to the sautéed nuts for a seductive addition to my beautiful soup.  What I discovered is that toasted lavender almonds is one of the best things on the planet.  I am going to make many more and serve them as an elegant snack!

 The recipe did not contain garlic, and that I thought was necessary to making a classic white gazpacho so I put that in.  The result is perfection.  If you can stop yourself from devouring your garnishes (grapes and those almonds are great together too...), you will be well rewarded with a beautiful light summer soup that is pretty simple to make and gorgeous with edible summer flowers.

White Gazpacho (inspired by Dovetail Restaurant)
Yield: 6 portions
¼ cup whites of leeks, sliced thin and washed

1-2 cloves garlic, mashed (optional)
3 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
 then crumbled and soaked in water
10 green grapes, washed

¼ cup blanched almond slivers

1 ½ tablespoons sherry vinegar

2 cups chopped cucumbers
 (if you want the soup to be creamy colored get rid of the peel - I kept it)
½ tablespoon cream or sour cream
¼ cup good quality olive oil

1 ½ cups cold water

salt to taste –– 2 or so tsp.
 a few green grapes sliced
Green oil
Lavender almonds
Borage flowers and/or nasturtiums (optional)
Herbs (borage flowers, chervil or dill)

Green Oil
¼ c oil (a bland oil is best, canola or safflower or grapseed)
2-5 borage leaves, depending on size (or ¼ c loosely packed chervil or dill)
pinch of salt

Lavender Almonds
¼ c sliced almonds
1 T oil
tiny drop of Aftelier’s Lavender chef Essence or a good pinch of  ground lavender
1 T of salt

Cook leeks and garlic in a medium-size sauté pan over low heat until translucent and tender (you don't want them to brown), then chill in refrigerator.

 Combine leeks, almonds and bread (squeeze the water out) and put in a blender.  Start the motor and blend.  Add the oil, vinegar, grapes, cream and cucumbers, blending between each addition and adding water as needed and purée until smooth (if you dump everything in at once the nuts will not grind properly). Add the water as needed till the soup is the thickness you would like.

Season with salt, adjusting amount as needed.

Pass through a fine-mesh sieve and scrape the sieve to extract as much as you can of the soup solids.

For herb oil, Process herbs and salt in oil and let sit for an hour then strain, pressing on the solids

For lavender almonds,  Sauté the almonds gently in the oil and add the lavender essence or ground lavender to the salt and toss with the almonds. OR combine the oil with the lavender essence or ground lavender. Toast the almonds using low flame till slightly browned, then toss in the oil with a pinch of salt. You will have some salt/oil left over... make more almonds!!

Ladle the soup into bowls or into 1 serving bowl and garnish with oil, grapes, almonds and herbs and serve cold.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Dining with Verdi, Chicken a la Verdi and Verdi Cream with Cherries

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) by Boldini-1886

My great friend, architect and opera lover, August Ventura, is on a mission.  Next year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi and he is producing a documentary film about Verdi and the unique opera culture that exists in Parma, Italy.  The pull for him was undeniable, “What IS IT about Parma’s infatuation with music and drama?  Parma's Teatro Regio, dating from 1829, is world famous for being Italy's "toughest" opera house and stands at the center of some intriguingly unique operatic sub-cultures." Operatic sub-cultures?  I was unaware of them until August introduced me to the volatile loggionisti –– hard core fans in the nose-bleed seats who dictate the way applause will go for better or worse (their booing can stop a performance in its tracks).  And then there's the legendary Club dei 27,  arguably the world's most exclusive opera club. 

August hired a superb Italian documentary production company to capture the essence of this place during last October's month-long Festival Verdi –– when the Maestro's works are performed before excitable and demanding audiences.  During the 2011 Festival, the ancient Teatro Farnese in Parma hosted a production of Verdi's Falstaff, "the first time since 1739 that an opera performance was presented within these walls."

Being around someone so passionate about a project is intoxicating.  When you see the theatre, you can understand why.

Built in 1618 to celebrate an upcoming visit of Cosimo di Medici II (who snubbed the honor and never showed), Teatro Farnese played host to just a handful of performances before languishing for centuries.  Looking at the place, you can’t imagine why –– there’s nowhere else quite like it.

In his recent article on the Farnese for the May 2012 Opera News, August writes that no less a personage than Charles Dickens was under the spell of Teatro Farnees in 1846 when he wrote in his Pictures from Italy:

“It is a large wooden structure, of the horse-shoe shape; the lower seats arranged upon the Roman plan, but above them, great heavy chambers; rather than boxes, where the Nobles sat, remote in their proud state. Such desolation as has fallen on this theatre, enhanced in the spectator’s fancy by its gay intention and design, none but worms can be familiar with. A hundred and ten years have passed, since any play was acted here. The sky shines in through the gashes in the roof; the boxes are dropping down, wasting away, and only tenanted by rats; damp and mildew smear the faded colours, and make spectral maps upon the panels; lean rags are dangling down where there were gay festoons on the Proscenium; the stage has rotted so, that a narrow wooden gallery is thrown across it, or it would sink beneath the tread, and bury the visitor in the gloomy depth beneath. The desolation and decay impress themselves on all the senses. The air has a mouldering smell, and an earthy taste; any stray outer sounds that straggle in with some lost sunbeam, are muffled and heavy; and the worm, the maggot, and the rot have changed the surface of the wood beneath the touch, as time will seam and roughen a smooth hand. If ever Ghosts act plays, they act them on this ghostly stage.”

Today the ghosts are gone ––although as a Miss Havisham  fan, I can see an intimation of Satis House   in Dickens’ description of the teatro and have always loved ruins. Not everyone shares my affection for noble rot however –– during Verdi’s centennial in 1913, the citizens of Parma decided that sleeping beauty should awaken from her moldering slumbers and they restored the teatro to its former glory.  

Its next reconstruction came thanks to WWII bombings.  Yes, I know, that sounds utterly mad but true, RAF bombs did enormous damage to the square and the theatre and Parma rallied to repair it.  Both times it was not “modernized” –– it was restored to its original form using as many of the original elements as possible.

For those of you who are geographically challenged like myself, the ancient city of Parma is midway between Bologna and Milan on the A1. The city is bisected by a small tributary of the Po River called the Parma River (more like a large stream) and the theatre is close by the right bank of the river in the gorgeous Piazza Farnese –– quite a setting for this dusky jewel.

As for its new life as home for Verdi?  August is hopeful, “Wish as one might, the venerable Farnese proved less than ideal in terms of acoustics and sight-lines.  The 17th century wooden theatre was built for Baroque sounds and performance styles far removed from the emotional heft we associate with 19th Century opera.  But history and the atmosphere had a way of combining to create an unforgettable experience.  In this regard, the "Falstaff" was rapturous in so many ways."  No doubt, the stars will align once again when the Farnese hosts more Verdi here in October 2012 and during the Maestro's bicentennial to follow.

But there's more to August’s investigations than the delicious histories of venerable architecture. Another Parma treasure that he explored in much detail involved people –– Club dei 27 or the Appassionati Verdiani.

I read all about the club in a wonderful article by Fred Plotkin in Opera News.  Founded in 1958, there are 27 members of Appassionati Verdiani with each member representing one of Verdi’s 26 Operas (plus his Messa da Requiem).  When a member passes on or retires, his opera is then passed on to a new member and the tradition continues.   The members come from all walks of life and political persuasions and meet every Thursday to discuss all things Verdi.  They travel to his birthplace in  Roncole  twice a year on the anniversaries of his birth and death.

As it turns out, Parma's affection for operatic traditions is matched by those of the kitchen.  The cuisine of the Emilia-Romagna enjoys a reputation of being one of the finest in Italy -- which is saying a good deal.  Thus, whenever the Club meets, food and wine are involved in some way. Plotkin discovered that club members often prepare favorite dishes for the meetings so you might partake of pasta made by “Il Trovatore” and a dessert whipped up by “Aida". It is no accident that food and Verdi are a harmonious combination –– Il Maestro, it seems was quite an epicure.

This symbiosis is beautifully captured in a magnificently produced volume called "Dining with Verdi" [Mondadori].   Enormous amounts of material exist on what Verdi ate, enjoyed and shared with his huge entourage. I had no idea of any of this until August lent me his copy of “Dining with Verdi”. The recipes gathered in this sumptuous book may be approximative at best but they are accompanied by stunningly beautiful photographs and illustrations.  The English edition has been out of print for some years; let's hope for a reprint as the bicentennial draws nigh!

Aside from what was prepared for him privately, the book reminded me of the many dishes that famous chefs named after him, most notably, Escoffier.  Escoffier had Consommé Verdi (simple consommé, garnished on the side with little meatballs filled with chicken, cream and spinach sautéed in butter, sprinkled with Parmesan in melted butter and veal stock), there’s also a Filets de sole Verdi (sole on a bed of pasta with cream cheese, lobster meat and truffles covered in a sauce Mornay and glazed in the oven), Oeufs Verdi, (lightly scrambled eggs with Parmesan and cubes of truffles in molds buttered and lined with slivers of truffles, cooked in a bain-marie and served on toast fried in  butter), Poulet Sauté Verdi (Chicken sautéed in butter and placed in the middle of a Piemontase risotto, garnished with sliced of foie gras and truffle and served with a glaze of Asti wine and brown veal stock) and Salade Aida (curly white chicory and tomatoes on a bed of raw, thinly sliced artichokes, small peppers and slices of egg white covered in a grated egg yolk ‘vermicelli’ with a bit of mostarda).

Other than Escoffier’s soup to nuts Verdi menu, my friend Henri Paul Pelliprat (who I wrote about HERE), constructed a wonderful dish in his honor, Risotto Giuseppe Verdi (a risotto with asparagus, mushrooms and tomatoes and cream).

Verdi at table with friends (from Dining with Verdi)

In George Martin’s Aspects of VerdiI discovered when Verdi traveled with his productions, he brought along many provisions to make him feel at home including “rice, maccheroni, cheese, salumi and some French wines.”

1858 Cartoon of Verdi and Baron Genovesi cooking maccheroni and risotto

The maestro even cooked from time to time –– judging from the cartoon above.  It seems he was particularly adept at risotto.  A letter of the period gushes; “ But at the end of the second act of La favorite he was recognized and they began to shout “Viva Verdi” and everyone, from the boxes to the pit, stood up to salute the Great Composer from Le Roncole.  If only they knew how well he composes risotto alla Milanese, God knows what ovations would have showered on his shoulders!” Verdi was proud of his risotto (usually made with saffron, beef marrow and wine – the exact ingredients in Verdi’s culinary masterpiece were his secret), even plotting to eclipse great tragedienne La Ristori’s  tagliatelle when they cooked together in St Petersberg.  He had a special recipe for pork shoulder that he gave out to friends (often accompanied by a gift of the pork as well).

A 1913 edition of Scena Illustrata said that Verdi had other favorite dishes,  “crayfish escalope, minute slices of sea prawns as a side dish for a course of maccheroni prepared with butter and Parmigiano, as well as fine slivers of white truffles sautéed with tomato preserve, poached eggs over a purée of mushrooms and small onions.”

Verdi’s last luncheon (from Dining with Verdi)

"Dining with Verdi" even contained the menu from Verdi’s last luncheon at the Grand Hotel Milan before his stroke and death in 1901 –– printed on his own engraved stationary.

He liked strong coffee, chianti and sweet sparkling wine (Asti) and when he was on his annual winter visit to Genoa, he came to love Genoa’s gnocchi with basil and ravioli Genovese (that Martin, thanks to Elizabeth David, discovered was stuffed with 4 scarole (Batavian endives), a bunch of borage, one pound of lean veal, ½ pound of calf’s udder, ½ a calf’s or lamb’s brain, a sweetbread, butter, four whole eggs and 2 yolks, a handful each of breadcrumbs and grated Parmegiano cheese and seasoning)  He was also fond of  their capon magro (crustaceans, mollusks, fish and vegetables served with a green sauce made of oil, lemon juice, parsley, capers, garlic, salt and pepper).

Villa Verdi

But meals on the road were nothing compared to meals at his home. Verdi owned Villa Verdi, in Sant’Agata from 1848 till his death.  Seats at his table, like those for his operas, were hot commodities.

"Dining with Verdi" quoted poet and Puccini librettist, Giuseppe Giacosa who said: “The dinner table at Sant’Agata is, in my view... truly amicable, that is to say magnificent and perceptive: the cuisine at Sant’Agata deserves the honors of the stage, for its picturesque nature and grandeur, and its diversification as a workshop of the highest Pantagrulian alchemy…. It pleases him to see all around him, with his guests, the keen and sincere joy that accompanies and follows a beautiful and exquisite meal… he believes that each function of life must have its moment of importance; he is an artist, and as such considers, and with reason, a meal as a work of art.”

Villa Verdi’s kitchen (from Dining with Verdi)

Silverware order from Christofle (from Dining with Verdi)

Although I couldn’t find a photo of Verdi’s dining room, the photo of the kitchen table made my mouth water –– what couldn’t you make at a kitchen table like that?  I had to share the flatware order when I found it. It's remarkable that the order from Christofle was saved, a rare prize indeed that shows the expensive tastes of the owner.  I imagine the dinners were beautiful as well as delicious.

Now, what to make from the Verdi kitchen.  The Chicken Verdi is an Escoffier recipe that I’ve wanted to try for quite some time, it is a great combination made easy and not that expensive using D'Artagnan products (the original did call for lots of truffles and foie gras!).  It appears in Escoffier’s 1903 Le Guide Culinaire and is fairly straightforward unlike the recipes of Verdi’s cook.  As I’ve mentioned before, many private recipes are merely meant to jog the memory of the cook and they leave out vital information that would have been unnecessary for the cook like measurements of some ingredients and cooking times and temperatures. 

The recipe for the Verdi cream came from Verdi’s cook, Ermelinda Berni and was evidently a great favorite of the composer. The recipe is sketchy but for some reason I kept coming back to it and thought I would give it a try.  It gave amounts for the butter, sugar and eggs but none for the chocolate.  Such a recipe with those proportions sounded to me like a recipe for an odd sort of truffle so that’s where I went with it. The biscuits soaked in rose oil sounded divine but on further thought ––– they would have been inedible with enough rose oil to soak a biscuit. Since the illustration in the book had the mold served with cherries, I went with that and soaked ladyfingers in rose and cherry juice –– perfect, especially with *Aftelier's Rose Essence.  It is very rich,  much like a giant truffle so tread lightly and invite a lot of people for a taste.

When you cook Verdi it's best to turn up your ipod and waltz to a bit of La Traviata and of course, sing along.  It will inspire to be sure –– or at the very least encourage you to make a lyre-shape out of your chicken breast as a wink to the Maestro.

Poulet Sauté Verdi (Escoffier) serves 2

2 small chicken breast, each sliced into 3 sections but not separated
2 T butter
1 c Asti wine (or a slightly sweet wine or champagne)
4-6 rounds of D’Artagnan foie gras with black truffles (2 -3 for each serving)
parsley or chervil for garnish

Risotto á la Piémontaise

Sauté the chicken in the butter till done and remove from the pan, plate and tent.  Pour the wine in the pan and reduce.  Add the demiglace and swirl to blend.  Remove from the heat and add the truffle butter.  Put the risotto around the plate.  Lay the chicken on the plate, place the ham in the risotto and place the foie gras mousse on the chicken.  Pour the sauce over the chicken and garnish with the chervil and serve.

Risotto á la Piémontaise (Escoffier) serves 2-4

1 onion, chopped
2 T butter
1 c Arborio rice
1 quart chicken stock
1 large pinch saffron.
¼ c parmesan cheese
2 small pieces of ham, swirled

Fry a medium size onion in butter till softened and add rice. Add some saffron to it and stir it until it is well saturated with butter.  Add stock to the rice 7 or 8 times and as fast as it becomes absorbed about ½ c at a time, more should be added.  Stir the rice with a wooden spoon. Save some stock to add just before serving.

Add the truffle butter to the rice and the cheese.  Stir in the last ½ cup of stock and serve with the ham garnish.

Latte alla Verdi (Verdi), serves 8-10 at least

2 sticks butter
1 c sugar*
5 egg yolks
7 oz. grated chocolate

syrup from Marenata
2 T kirsh (my addition)
1 or 2 drops Aftelier rose essence or 2 t rosewater

Mix sugar and butter, add the yolks one at a time, add the grated chocolate.
Place everything in a mold well covered with biscuits soaked in rose oil and chill.
*I thought this was way too much sugar… I think 1/3 to ½ cup would suffice.

Roll the ladyfingers in a mixture of the cherry syrup, kirsh and rose.  Line the bottom and sides of a bowl with the ladyfingers and pour the chocolate mixture into the bowl and refrigerate till firm.  Top with the cherries and serve.

This recipe would make 2 small or one large.  I show the smaller one that uses 8 ladyfingers to cover the sides and bottom of the dish.  It is easy to half the recipe if you do not want to be tempted to eat the whole thing!

Marenata (Verdi recipe)

1 pound sour cherries (pitted)
½ pound sugar sugar
peel of 1 lemon

Boil a quart of water with sugar and lemon peel.  When it boils, pour it over the cherries and cook slowly till a syrup forms

Ladyfingers (From Delicious Days)

Preheat oven to 390º

3 eggs, divided
90 g/3.17 oz sugar
1 t vanilla
60 g/2.12 oz flour
2 T confectioners sugar

Beat the yolks with the sugar till creamy and yellow then add the vanilla.  Beat the whites till glossy and holding stiff peaks.  Sift the flour into the egg yolks and fold in.  Add the egg white and fold… do not over mix

Use a piping bag (or a baggie with the end cut off and make the ladyfingers 4” long x 1” on parchment-covered sheets.  Leave space for them to expand. Dust with confectioner’s sugar then bake 8-13 minutes (keep an eye on them, they have a mind of their own) and then remove. Take off the parchment and set on damp towel to release then cool on a rack

August is hard at work completing his passion project just in time for Giuseppe Verdi's 200th birthday.  

Click to see the wonderful 22-minute promo reel HERE   
or visit his website HERE   

I encourage all of you film or opera buffs, lovers of all things Italian, and champions of the cause of musical education to support "27" if you can.  Great passions should always be nurtured and supported, don't you think??

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Dinner of the Three Emperors, Berry-Caramel Ice Cream Bombe and other delights...

On June 7, 1867,  a dinner was held at Café Anglais in Paris that came to be known as the "Dinner of the Century".  It was called the Dîner des Trois Empereurs  (Dinner of the Three Emperors). Those emperors were:  Tsar Alexander II  (1818-1881), his son Alexander, the Tsarevitch
(1845-94), Kaiser Wilhelm I  (1797-1888), and the powerful, if not royal, Otto von Bismark (1815-1898).

The great men had come to Paris for the Exposition Universelle –– a world’s fair put on by Napoleon III  that was meant to impress (he was inspired by England’s Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851). It showcased exotic cultures (the Japanese exhibit had an enormous influence on artists of the day, especially van Gogh), and new achievements in science and industry and of course fashion and food of the 2nd Empire of France.

So what was this Café Anglais that it should host such a dinner?  Aside from being the restaurant mentioned in my favorite food movie, Babette’s Feast, it was one of the great restaurants of L’Age d’Or of the 2nd Empire, mentioned in Proust, Dumas, Zola, Oscar Wilde –– even Edward VII of England was a fan –– well, everyone went there or wished they had.
Café Anglais may have had humble beginnings as a tradesmen's stop at the opening of the 19th century, but as the century wore on, it became one of the most fashionable restaurants in Paris (it was located at the corner of the Boulevard des Italiens and the Rue de Marivaux). It was noted in the article I read on the restaurant that it was not impressive on the outside, but within there was to be found over-the-top red velvet, gilded-mirrored opulence and 22 exclusive, private rooms.

The most prized location in the restaurant (if not all Paris) was the private dining room called “Le Grand Seize” (sadly, the restaurant was demolished in 1913 and the only photo of the interior that I could find was from 1912 –– past its prime). It was in Le Grand Seize that the dinner was held.

A charming book, Paris: the Turbulent City 1783-1871,  by Andre Castelot, said that Ludovic, Duc de Gramont-Caderousse was the king of the “Great 16” from 1855 to 1865 as well as being “the sovereign of the boulevard and the dandies.” He oversaw a group that included Prince of Orange, Prince Paul Demidoff, Prince d’Arenberg, Duc de Rivoli, Marquis de Modéne, Prince Galitzine, Prince Lubomirski, financier Raphael Bishoffsheim, Khali Bey and Mustapha Pasha, Duc de Brunswick, the ruby-covered Comte Germain.
“When King Gramont-Caderrousse and his “court” left their Great Sixteen and crossed the rooms papered in red with gold hieroglyphics, the clients of Café Anglais watched them with respect and envy.  The lorettes would be there with their “apprentices’ the biches being taken out by rich lovers.  There were also the fops (petits crevés), degenerate dandies, their faces anointed with cream and their beardless chins nestling in their wide collars.  There were also the cocodés –– a more distinguished variety of petit crevé –– and their companions, the cocodettes, who were to the cocotte what the amateur is to the professional.”
Le Miroir Parisien, 1867, Women at a Ball

Worth day dress, 1867

As you can see, the women of the day (newly freed from stiff hoop skirts) were like bare-shouldered floating clouds of gorgeous fabric in the evening (dressing more conservatively in the afternoon) and even the men of the day had a great flamboyance of dress, influenced by artists, writers and wealthy eccentrics).

Charles Worth in Costume –– his calling card

Englishman Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895) came to prominence during this time, virtually inventing the idea of the Parisian couturier and selling dresses to the upper classes of Europe and America as well as French clientele, all in the thrall of his magnificent design and workmanship. 

He was the first to sew his label into his clothes and fit everyone from the Empress Eugenie to the queen of the courtesans, Cora Pearl (he was very popular with the reigning ladies of the evening).

Cora Pearl
His gowns started at 300 francs and went up from there (as he created jeweled coronation gowns, I imagine some gowns cost 1000s of francs).
You can imagine the dining rooms at Café Anglais would have been a riot of colored silk –– bright in the reflected fire of diamonds and crystal, candlelight and mirrors –– what a show it must have been.

Copy of the Original Menu at the Tour d’Argent Museum

Adolphe Dugléré, the chef of Café Anglais and student of the great Câreme,  pulled out all the stops for the the dinner.
In honor of the Emperors,  Dugléré served a banquet consisting of 16 courses with 8 wines served over eight hours at a cost of 400 francs person, around 8,800 today (when an Australian chef tried to recreate the dinner in 2002, he found it cost around $7500 per person with comparable wines).

It was expected that the meal would be one for the history books –– and it was –– accompanied by the greatest wines in the world arranged by the owner of Café Anglais, Claudius Burdel.

A standout on the heavenly wine list was Roederer’s champagne, served in a custom-made clear crystal bottle for the occasion so that the color and bubbles could be seen.  Alexander II loved it so much he was nearly reciting love poems to the champagne at the dinner and then ordered it to be sent to Russia made in the same way (although with a flat bottom so that explosives couldn’t be concealed in the hollow of the base –– he was already concerned for bomb threats).  This is where Roederer Cristal was born.
Although Dugléré would not permit smoking while a guest was eating, there were cigars between courses and music was played… it was an 8-hour dinner, after all.
Evidently, the only hitch to the proceedings came when the Tsar complained at the dearth of foie gras for the dinner.  Burdel responded “Sire, it is not the custom of French gastronomy to serve foie gras in June, if you can wait until October, you will certainly not regret it.” Alexander II was appeased.  In October, the 3 emperors received a gift of a truffled terrine that became known as Foie Gras des Trois Empereurs.  It is still served at La Tour d’Argent with scoops of port and sauterne aspic with brioche.

Petit Musée de la Table photo by Flicker

Restaurant La Tour d’Argent inherited many things from Café Anglais when it closed its doors in 1911 since there had been a marriage between the daughter of Café Anglais owner, Claudius Burdel,  and a son of the Terrail family, the new owners of La Tour d’Argent.  The vast wine cellar came over of course, and Dugléré’ s recipes, but some of Café Anglais’ table dressing was also saved. It found a new home in a charming mini-museum at the base of La Tour d’Argent called Petit Musee de la Table (15-17 Quai de la Tournelle).  In it, the table dressing that would have been used at the dinner of the 3 Emperors is on display (many thanks to Virginie Guyonnet at La Tour d’Argent for sending me some photos for this post). I also include an original menu from the restaurant.

And what did they eat?  As you can see from the menu below, it was quite a dinner. I included descriptions of the courses from Wikipedia at the end of the post so you have an idea of the meal since many of the dishes are unfamiliar to those of born in the 20th century (I had to look up quite a few!). 

Cold Lobster Presentations

Meat Presentation
Fowl Presentation

Remember, dishes were presented rather differently in those days… there was a lot of pomp and circumstance for a dinner like this.  Urbain Dubois’ 1864 La Cuisine Classique's engravings will give you an idea of what was being done.

Ice Cream Bombe

Madère retour de l'Inde 1810
Xérès 1821
Châteaux d'Yquem 1847
Chambertin 1846
Châteaux Margaux 1847
Château Latour 1847
Châteaux Lafite 1848
Champagne Roederer frappe

                    La Duchesse de Fontanges
I wanted to try a few things from this menu and decided to start with the soup, named after a mistress of Louis XIV, Marie Angelique de Scorailles, La Duchesse de Fontanges (1661-81).  Her other claim to fame was a loose hairstyle that was the rage for a time that was created by a happy accident. Her hair had been caught in a branch during a hunt in the forest of Fountainebleau and her coiffure came undone. She left it down, tied simply in a ribbon for the rest of the day and Louis found the "rustic" style charming, the next day everyone was doing it.  Perhaps it is the green of the forest that made her a fashion icon that connected her to the soup.  Whatever the connection, Potage Fontanges is made of fresh peas and sorrel for a lyrically green beginning to my mini-feast.  It takes about 5 minutes to make with a blender. 

Next, I thought the Poulet a la Portugaise would be a perfect entrée.  Knowing about his famous Sole Dugléré, it was obvious the chef was known for his skill with tomatoes and this dish shows them off nicely. You may think it is a bit pedestrian for such a meal since it is a sort of proto-barbeque sauce but remember tomatoes would have been rather rare in June in Paris.   I found quite a few recipes for the dish, and discovered that they vary considerably. I could find none in the old recipe books like the one mentioned in the descriptions at the end of the post –– certainly not in Escoffier. Also, most of the old recipes call for the chicken being cut into pieces –– not a whole chicken. Tomatoes are always there and usually rice somewhere but the rest is up to the chef. I used a combination of recipes from Escoffier, Adolphe Meyer and Charles Ranhoffer.  It's a killer sauce, enriched by demiglace... the rice-filled tomatoes are perfect foils for the dark sauce.
As for the bombe glacée… the world was my oyster, Escoffier has a million combinations for them in his cookbook.  I decided on a mulberry-lavender/caramel with Benedictine bombe.  It’s truly an iced dream of subtle flavors and gorgeous to boot (reminded me of the colors of Worth’s lovely lavender dress above). I had a bag of mulberries but the recipe would be great with blueberries or blackberries.  May I say, Benedictine is really a forgotten treasure, it is delicious and this caramel ice cream has the most voluptuous texture imaginable.

Potage Frontanges
4 c peas, cooked in salted water for a few moments and sieved
3 c chicken stock
salt to taste (I used a few pinches)
4 T butter (optional)
4 T fresh cooked peas
1/4 c cream (optional)
1/2 c chiffonade of sorrel cooked in1 T butter till soft
handful of chervil leaves for garnish

Add the peas to the chicken stock and boil for a moment with salt, add 4 T fresh butter and  puree the peas, using only enough stock to allow the blender to do its job for a smooth puree.  Add the puree back into the pot with the stock and combine, add the peas and the sorrel and warm though.
To the fresh pea soup, add the chiffonade of sorrel and warm, garnish with chervil leaves and dots of cream if desired.
Poulet à la portugaise
1 4 lb chicken cut into serving pieces
salt and pepper
1 T butter
2 T olive oil
small onion diced
2 cloves garlic
¼ c white wine
1 t paprika
1 t brown sugar
½ c demi-glace or very reduced chicken stock (you can get the demi-glace from D'Artganan HERE)
1 c diced tomatoes
parsley, herbs for garnish (marjoram, chervil and chives)
2 tomatoes halved and baked until softened (350º for 20 min to ½ an hour)

1 c salted cooked rice, tossed with 1 T butter (bread crumbs, parmesan and butter, optional)

Sauté the chicken in the butter and oil until browned then turn and cover and cook through.  Remove from skillet and pour off extra oil.

Sauté the onion and garlic in the oil until translucent.  Add the wine and reduce to a syrup.  Put in the paprika and brown sugar and stir.  Add the stock and tomatoes and cook until reduced to a thick sauce.

Put the chicken back in the pan and heat through.

After removing some of the pulp from the tomato, put the rice in the roasted tomato halves and warm in the oven if necessary. You can also top the rice with bread crumbs and parmesan and a pat of butter and place in the oven for 20 minutes to crisp the crumbs.

Serve the tomatoes with the chicken, have the sauce poured over the chicken.
Berry Caramel Benedictine Bombe
Berry Lavender Ice Cream
1 c milk
1 c cream
4 egg yolks
½ t vanilla
¾ c sugar
2 c pureed berries with 1 t lavender flowers (mulberries, blueberries or blackberries) strained, pressing/scraping hard on the solids to get as much as possible (save some puree for the bombe and for serving if you would like, ½ c to a cup- I sweetened my extra puree with lilac jelly for serving, you can use sugar to taste).
Heat the milk in a saucepan and whisk the cream and egg yolks.  Pour the hot milk into the egg mixture and then return to the pan with the sugar.  Heat gently till the mixture coats the back of a spoon (around 180º over low heat - never get above 185º or it will curdle), remove from heat and add the berries.  Taste for sugar and add if necessary.  Refrigerate till chilled and then put into ice cream maker.
Caramel Benedictine Ice Cream  (with a little help from Epicurious)
1 ¼ c sugar
2 ¼ c heavy cream
½ to 1 t flaky sea salt
½ t vanilla
1 c whole milk
3 large eggs.
1-2 T Benedictine
Heat 1 c sugar in skillet, stirring till it melts.  Then stop and let it turn to dark amber… do not overcook, it turns quickly.  If you are using a cast iron skillet it will retain heat.  Add  1 ¼ c cream slowly, stirring.  Add the salt and vanilla
Bring milk, the rest of the cream and ¼ cup sugar just to a boil. Whisk eggs and pour the hot milk in a stream.  Pour back into a saucepan and heat to 180º over low heat never get above 185º or it will curdle).  Strain.  Add to cooled caramel and Benedictine and chill 3 hours. Use in ice cream maker… it will still be a soft ice cream.

To make Bombe
Pour some of the berry ice cream into the mold and freeze.  Pour some of the reserved puree into the mold and freeze.  Pour the caramel into the mold and freeze.

Unmold the bombe when frozen by using a warm towel over the mold, you may have to rewarm the towel but usually holding it with your hands will help release the cream-- do not warm too long or the ice cream mold will lose its sharp edges, just long enough to release the ice cream onto a sheet of parchment on a plate. Wipe off any melted ice cream and put back in the freezer till ready to serve (so that you don't have to do it with your guests waiting at the table and can smooth out any ruffles in the mold before serving). Carefully remove the ice cream from the parchment and serve with additional sauce.

Descriptions of Menu Dishes from Wikipedia:

"Potage impératrice consists of a chicken stock thickened with tapioca and finished with egg yolks and cream to which poached rounds of chicken forcemeat, cockscombs, cocks' kidneys and green peas are added.
Potage fontanges is a purée of fresh peas diluted with consommé with the addition of a chiffonade of sorrel and sprigs of chervil.
Soufflé à la reine is a chicken soufflé with truffles

Sauce vénitienne is a sauce of white wine, tarragon vinegar, shallots and chervil, mounted with butter and finished with chopped chervil and tarragon.
Selle de mouton purée Bretonne is saddle of mutton with a purée of broad beans bound with Breton sauce.
Poulet à la portugaise is whole chicken roasted with a covering of adobo paste consisting of tomato, red bell pepper, garlic, origanum, paprika, cayenne, brown sugar, lemon juice, white wine, chicken stock and olive oil, stuffed with tomato flavoured rice.
Pâté chaud de cailles is warm pâté of quail.
Homard à la parisienne is lobster cooked in court bouillon, cut into slices and glazed with aspic, with a garnish of tomatoes stuffed with a macédoine of vegetables, dressed with a mixture of mayonnaise and aspic and garnished with sliced truffle.
Canetons à la rouennaise is a dish of roast duckling stuffed with forcemeat. The legs and breasts are removed, the legs are grilled and the breasts are thinly sliced and arranged around the stuffing. The remaining carcass is pressed in a poultry press to extract all the juices and this is added to a Rouennaise sauce (a Bordelaise sauce with the addition of puréed duck liver) which is poured over the sliced duck. (This dish is today the speciality of the house at La Tour d'Argent [although it is no longer stuffed, there have been more than a million sold –– each with a numbered card].)

Ortolans sur canapésOrtolans (now a protected species) on toast.
Aubergines à l'espagnole is a dish of aubergine shells filled with chopped aubergine, tomato and ham, gratinéed with gruyère.

Cassolette princesse, (a.k.a. Cassolette argenteuil), A cassolette with a border of duchesse potatoes and an asparagus filling in cream sauce.
Bombe glacée is an ice-cream dessert."

This is part of Castles Crowns and Cottage's trip to Paris, visit her blog to see many other interpretations of the city of lights!!