Thursday, April 28, 2011

Enter, stage left

Our six-month Paris sojourn last year changed one thing in our eating habits--we now always have an entree with our evening meal, regardless of whether we're on our own or with guests, regardless on what day of the week it is. There's something intensely pleasurable and civilised in the ritual, and we don't at all begrudge the few minutes of extra time it takes to prepare an entree, setting the scene for the 'plat de resistance' or main course as it does. And what's more I think having a light and attractive entree cuts down on the temptation to overeat in the main part of the meal.

Most of the time, we make something pretty simple. A 'salade composee' or salad with extras is the most common entree to appear on our dinner table, usually served on a big plate: sometimes the salad is very simple and cheap indeed, with salad greens, herbs, and tomatoes out of the garden, with the addition of olives and a sprinkling of finely-cut fetta. Other times it's more complex, with salad greens--different types lettuce, rocket, sorrel, very young spinach, etc-- and tomatoes surrounding a centrepiece of, say half a boiled egg sprinkled with herbs and a dab of home-made mayonnaise, smoked fish with a dab of ditto, or marinated anchovies and capers, or good cooked ham, arranged attractively, with a dab of mustard and a sprinkling of herbs, or an Italian-style preserved artichoke opened up like a flower and stuffed with finely-chopped tomatoes and herbs(as in the photo)or chopped smoked ocean trout and finely chopped Spanish onion, or whatever takes your fancy, really! There's no limit to the tasty and pretty salades composees you can, well, compose! And it's light and healthy and nutritious as well, so all good!

Incidentally, I always sprinkle a vinaigrette on the salad greens--a very simple one made of olive oil, white balsamic vinegar or red wine or cider vinegar(if the latter two use less of it than the first, as they are much more acidic) and Dijon mustard, the whole thing shaken up in a jar and then sprinkled on. No need even to add salt and pepper to this dressing, it's seasoned enough with the mustard.

Other ideas for excellent, quick entrees(these mostly served on small plates):

*Fresh seasonal vegetables like snow peas or asparagus, very quickly and briefly stir-fried in olive oil(for less than a minute) and served by themselves on a small plate with a sprinkling of herbs--this is best of all when it's the very first that have appeared in the garden, the taste is sensational and to have them in their own limelight without any supporting cast as it were is a real pleasure.

*Thinly-sliced chips of pumpkin, grilled and sprinkled with a little grated cheese, olive oil and chopped fresh herbs

*Fresh grated beetroot served as a salad entree, with a dressing of a little sour cream or yoghurt, chopped tarragon, mustard, a little oil, and finely-chopped red onion

*Fresh grated carrot with a normal salad vinaigrette(this is one of the most classic and simplest French entrees)

*Fresh grated celeriac, served as a salad with very good mayonnaise and a little vinegar(again a very simple French classic)

*Half a fresh fig wrapped in a thin slice of prosciutto, served surrounded by sliced tomatoes sprinkled with basil and a little balsamic vinegar.

*Thin sticks of haloumi cheese, sprinkled with olive oil and grilled, surrounded by slices of grilled or roast aubergines(eggplants), capsicums(bellpeppers)and tomatoes, and sprinkled with fresh herbs.

*Stuffed eggs--one egg per person, boiled and cut in half, then the yolks scooped out, crushed and mixed with chopped herbs, salt, pepper, a little sour cream or mayonnaise, and some finely-chopped olives or anchovy if wanted. The filling for stuffed eggs can be anything you like, really. they look lovely on a small plate surrounded by chopped rocket or tomatoes.

*Slices of smoked fish served on a bed of finely-chopped young sorrel leaves, with a dressing of a little sour cream or yogurt, a little oil, mustard and dill mixed together

*Pickled rollmop herrings cut fine and tossed in a similar dressing to above, served with small gherkins

*Fresh mussels, simply cooked in a little olive oil and white wine, served with crusty bread

*Simple soup--chicken stock with some chopped rocket added at the end, tomato soup made with fresh tomato and carrot, onion soup, sorrel soup, whatever! Best not to make a big heavy or meaty soup as an entree--that is much better as a hearty lunch, or a dinner main course, even. Light fish soup is fine though, though bouillabaisse or gumbo should be more of a 'plat de resistance'

Any of these can be varied, and we're always trying to think up more. And always open to more suggestions!

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