a pregnant repast

I quite enjoy taking the dietary foibles of my dinner guests into consideration when planning a menu. Although I only have a few vego friends, I really love the challenge of planning a meal that will satisfy both carnivores and green tongues alike. Recently, however, I took on a challenge that for a while threatened to overwhelm me: dinner for Sam, my pregnant, vegetarian, Jewish friend, her husband, Michael, (whom I since found out doesn’t like black pepper) and my dear friends Colette & Kieran.

Obviously I wasn’t going to be serving any succulent oysters or creamy fresh goats cheese to a pregnant lady. And while I did have a vague recollection of Sam mentioning that she had begun to eat red meat again due to her dangerously low iron levels…. I wasn’t about to risk a juicy lamb cutlet or a spicy merguez sausage. I was pretty sure that we’d shared a few seafood dishes last time we’d been out for Thai but with my limited knowledge of the rules of Jewish people and fish I decided that the best course of action would be to stick to vegetables.

Lately my mentor in the vegetable department has been the truly genius Claudia Roden and her beautiful book Arabesque, but for some reason the thought of a grand mezze feast just didn’t have the right ring to it.  Perversely I found myself reaching for the least loved in my cookbook collection: Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry. There are many reasons why this gorgeous  book has long been on the bottom of the pile. Firstly, it was given to me by my ex while we were living in California in anticipation of a meal that we were never to have (in spite of having managed to snag a reservation). Then my first (and only) venture into cooking from it resulted in a phone call to willow st pizza rather than the planned ‘yabba dabba do’ (roasted rib steak with golden chanterelles, pommes anna & bordelaise sauce…..Keller has a weird habit of making up cutsey names for his creations). Finally the majority of the dishes call for caviar, truffles or foie gras, taking them well out of my price range.

Yet flicking through the beautifully photographed pages, thinking vegetarian thoughts, the possibilities began to open up. Globe artichoke salad?…no…too late for artichokes…haricots vertes with tomato tartare & chive oil?…mumm summer tomatoes…close…slow roasted tomato tart with olive tapenade, mixed field greens & basil vinigarette?…bingo!

The very next page yielded the inspiration for our starter: salad of black mission figs with roasted sweet peppers and shaved fennel. Rather than serve a formal, plated salad, I decided to deconstruct it and go with a more antipasto style vibe adding a current favourite: Jamie Oliver’s crushed peas with mint and pecorino, and some rustic olive & rosemary bread from those master bakers at the bourke st bakery.

Now choosing dessert was easy.  I had been bragging to Sam and Michael about my recent icecream maker aquisition last time we met….. so an icy delight was definitely in order.  A recent restaurant review of the fabulous Bistrode in Surry Hills provided the inspiration: a duo of sorbets: one a fresh and punchy pineapple with mint, the other a seductively sweet and creamy coconut milk.  It seemed only fitting that if the beginning of the meal was inspired by a temple to haute cuisine that the final course draw inspiration from a not so humble French bistro…all good things..

A pregnant lady’s sunday dinner menu.

olive & rosemary bread
black figs with thyme & shallots marinated in olive oil & balsamic vinegar
charred red capsicum marinated with oregano, olive oil & red wine vinegar
smashed peas with mint & pecorino
shaved fennel with fennel oil, fennel seeds & lemon juice
slow roasted oxheart tomato tart with olive tapenade, wild rocket & basil vinigarette.
Two sorbets: coconut and pineapple & mint .

slow roasted oxheart tomato tart with olive tapenade, wild rocket & basil vinigarette.
serves 6
Instead of following the recipe implicitly and risking a repeat of my previous disaster, I decided to play it safe and just use Keller as inspiration, but draw on my trusty favourites for the details. So puff pastry became Maggie Beer’s legendary crispy sour cream pastry

10 medium ripe oxheart tomatoes
2T olive oil
handful thyme leaves, picked
250g plain flour
200g unsalted butter, chilled & diced
125mL sour cream (or crème fraiche)
½ cup basil leaves, packed
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3T aged balsamic vinegar
3 handfuls baby wild rocket leaves, washed.
olive tapenade to serve.

Slice tomatoes into 1cm thick rounds and place in a single layer on an oven tray. Drizzle with oil and thyme and season with s&p. Roast at 130C for three hours or until mostly dry.

For pastry: pulse flour and butter in a food processor until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add sour cream and pulse again until just starting to be combined, being careful not to over work.  Pat dough into a log, wrap with clingwrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.  Divide dough into 6 pieces and roll each piece between two sheets of floured baking paper. Line 6 12cm tartlet tins and trim edges. Rest for another hour in the freezer.  Line with baking paper and dried beans or pastry weights and bake at 200C for 15 minutes. Remove weights and bake until pastry is dry, crisp & golden, approximately 10-20mins.

For basil vinigarette, blanch basil leaves in boiling water for 30seconds. Drain and refresh under cold running water, then squeeze dry and drain on paper towel. Place leaves in a food processor and process until chopped. Add oil in a slow steady stream until all incorporated. Oil can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days.  When ready to serve bring basil oil to room temp, whisk in vinegar & season with s&p.

Place tart cases on each plate. Fill with overlapping slices of warm tomato. Top with a teaspoon of tapenade. Toss leaves through a few spoonfuls of vinigarette and place on top of the tarts. Drizzle some remaining vinigarette around the plate & serve.

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{ 1 comment }

mustang5829 November 14, 2009 at 10:32 pm

Wow, what great comments and stories! So glad that I?m not the only one going through all of this! Thanks for sharing your stories with me too!

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