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Christmas Memories with Recipes:
Jacques Pépin


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La Belle Cuisine


Recipe Source

Christmas Memories
with Recipes
1994, Wings Books, a division of
Random House Value Publishing, Inc.


In our opinion, this is one of the very best Christmas cookbooks around,
and it is most definitely a bargain not to be passed up. It contains excellent
recipes and well-written nostalgia by some of the world's best cooks. To name
but a few: Julia Child, Craig Claiborne, Marcella Hazan, Lee Bailey,
Julee Rosso, Martha Stewart, Robert Finigan and Maida Heatter.

Jacques Pépin -  A Family Christmas: Mixed Traditions

"For us the Christmas Holidays are always one of the most festive times of
the year – a time for our scattered family to come together…It is a time of togetherness and serenity, and nothing expresses our joy in these happy
times more than a table laden with great food.

Some of our Christmases have been very elegant, black-tie events, replete
with Baccarat crystal and fine linen on the table; this fit our mood and went
well with the guests we had on those occasions. However, I remember just as
fondly more casual Christmases when everyone enjoyed hot wine and an
earthy menu around a roaring fire. Whatever the menu for the holiday, we
always thinks its main purpose is to satisfy and make people feel happy
and comfortable.
The food of Christmas or the holidays for me has to be savory. It is family
food, well accented with taste and a certain panache. It has to be presented
nicely but, more important, the food should carry the smell and taste of the
holidays. It must have taste memory, to bring back happy times as well as to
enrich and sustain the memories of children as they grow up.
The dishes in my Christmas menu must please everyone – children as well
as older people. This cooking of love has more to do with taste than with
presentation and it is not a time for experimentation with new dishes but
rather a time of recollection."


Oyster and Spinach Soup

"Fresh oysters are much better in this dish than preshucked oysters, which
tend to be washed and less flavorful. There is also less liquid when you buy
the oysters already shucked, and in addition the shucked oysters are usually
the very large ones. The fishmonger can shuck the oysters for you or you can
shuck them yourself.
The oyster stock is brought to 4 cups with the addition of water and clam juice
if there is not enough oyster juice. If you have some fish stock handy, you can
add that instead of or in addition to the water and clam juice.
The leeks and garlic are sautéed with the juice; this can be done ahead.
However, the final cooking of the spinach and oysters should be done at the
last moment. The oysters will toughen and the spinach yellow if they are
prepared too far ahead. Their finishing takes only a few minutes and the
result is much better."

Serves 8

3 dozen freshly shucked oysters
(about 1 1/2 pints), juice reserved
Clam juice, mussel juice, or fish stock, if needed
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon good-quality virgin olive oil
1 large leek, cleaned and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3/4 pound spinach, with stems removed,
cleaned and dried
(about 8 ounces when completely cleaned)
2 cups heavy cream
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the oysters with their juice into a large pot and "wash" the oyster
in the juice. Lift the oysters up out of the juice and, if they are very large,
cut them in half with scissors. (Medium-size oysters should not need
cutting.) Place the oysters in a bowl and refrigerate until needed. Strain
the oyster juice through paper towels into another bowl. (You should
have approximately 2 cups of juice; if not, supplement with clam juice,
mussel juice, or fish stock.) Add 2 cups of water to the juice to make
4 cups of stock; set aside.
Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan. When hot, add the leeks
and sauté over medium to high heat for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic
and sauté for about 30 seconds, then add the 4 cups of stock, bring to a
boil, and remove from heat. Set aside until serving time. (This can be
done up to 8 hours ahead of serving.)
At serving time, bring the stock back to a boil, add the spinach, and
return the stock to the boil. Boil over high heat for 1 minute, then add
the cream, salt, and pepper. Bring back to the boil, add the oysters, stir
gently, and heat to just under the boil. Divide among 8 soup plates and
serve immediately.


Field Salad with Mushrooms and Walnuts

Serves 8

"This is an excellent winter salad, as the expensive but quite flavorful salad
(mâche, lamb’s tongue, doucette) is a winter green. If unavailable, a mixture
of other greens could be substituted, from arugula to Romaine lettuce or
Boston lettuce.
The mushrooms can be prepared up to 8 to 10 hours ahead in the marinade.
The dressing for the salad can also be prepared in advance and the greens
washed ahead of time, but the salad should not be tossed until the last
moment so that it doesn’t wilt.
The roasted walnuts can also be prepared up to 8 to 10 hours ahead but
should not be done any sooner, as they taste much better when fresh."

6 cups field salad, or a combination of greens (see above)
4 tablespoons good-quality virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon good-quality red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups sliced mushrooms (about 4 or 5 ounces),
preferably large
3 tablespoon peanut oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 cup walnut meat pieces
1 tablespoon butter

Thoroughly wash and dry the greens. Mix the olive oil, vinegar, and
1/4 teaspoon each of pepper and salt and set aside.
Slice the mushrooms, stack the slices together, then cut slices into sticks. Combine the oil, lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and
the mustard and toss with the mushrooms. Set aside.
Place the walnuts in a roasting pan with the butter. Heat on top of the
stove until the butter melts, then toss with the walnuts. Sprinkle lightly
with salt and place in a preheated 400-degree oven until lightly browned,
about 12 to 15 minutes.
At serving time, toss the dressing with the greens and arrange them on individual plates. Spoon some mushrooms into the center and arrange
some of the walnut pieces on top. Serve immediately.


Gratin of Pumpkin

Serves 8

"A savory rather than sweet gratin of pumpkin may seem unusual, since
pumpkin is generally used as a dessert in the United States. The flesh of
pumpkin is excellent in a gratin, however. If pumpkin is not available,
butternut squash, acorn squash, or the like can be substituted. Although
the same recipe can also be made with frozen or canned pumpkin purée,
it is better when done with fresh pumpkin.
The mixture of purée, cream, milk, nutmeg, salt, pepper, eggs and Swiss
cheese can be assembled a few hours ahead or even the day before, but the
gratin should not be cooked more than a few hours before it is served.
This recipe can also be cooked in individual gratin dishes. The same
preparation technique applies but the small gratins will cook in about
20 minutes."

3 1/2 cups pumpkin purée (see below)
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 eggs
1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese
2tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

In a large mixing bowl, combine the pumpkin purée, cream, milk,
nutmeg, salt and pepper. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and stir in
the Swiss cheese. Pour into a buttered 6-cup gratin dish.
Place the gratin dish in a pan containing enough boiling water to come
halfway up the sides of the dish. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on
top. Bake at 375 degrees F. for 40 to 45 minutes. Serve immediately, spooning the gratin onto individual serving plates.

Fresh Pumpkin Purée

Makes 3 1/2 cups

4 pounds fresh pumpkin 

Seed, peel off skin, and cut pumpkin flesh into 2- to 3-inch chunks.
Place in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and boil
gently, covered, until tender, 25 - 30 minutes. Drain well while still hot
and purée in a food processor.


Bacalao Gloria

Serves 8

"This traditional Spanish recipe reflects my wife Gloria’s Caribbean
background. Although Gloria was born in New York, her mother is
Puerto Rican and her father Cuban. Traditionally served at Christmas,
bacalao is cooked both with potatoes, as I have done it here, and in
a lighter version served on toast."

1 pound salted codfish
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons good-quality
virgin olive oil
2 onions, peeled and sliced thin (2 cups)
4 to 5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
very thin (about 3 tablespoons)
1 potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (1 cup)
1 pound plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded,
cut into 1/2-inch dice (2 cups)
1 yellow pepper, peeled with a vegetable peeler
and cut into 1/2-inch strips (1 1/4 cups)
(see Note)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt to taste
About 18 oil-cured olives, pitted and cut into
1/2-inch pieces (about 1/3 cup)
8 slices whole-wheat bread
1/2 cup fresh coriander leaves

There are different types of codfish and some are dried than others. The
drier and more salted the codfish is, the longer it must be soaked. Wash
the codfish under cold water to remove any salt from the surface, then
place it in a bowl with 8 to 10 cups of cold water. Let soak for 6 to 8
hours or up to a full day. Taste a small piece of the codfish to test for
saltiness; it should taste just mildly salty when it has soaked long enough.
Wash the fish under cold water, plate it in a pot with 4 cups of cold water,
and bring to a vigorous boil. Remove from heat, drain in a colander, and
cool under cold water. Flake the fish, trimming and discarding any pieces
of sinew or skin. One pound of codfish should yield about 2 1/2 cups
(about 14 ounces) of flaked fish. Set aside.
Heat 1/4 cup of oil in a saucepan. When hot, add the onions and cook
over high heat for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook about 30
seconds longer, then add the diced potato and the fish and stir about 1
minute over high heat to raise the temperature. Lower the heat to very
low, cover, and cook slowly for 15 minutes. (The dish can be done a
couple of hours ahead up to this point.)
Just before serving time, reheat the ingredients in the saucepan and add
them to the tomato and yellow pepper, the 2 tablespoons of olive oil,
black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Heat the mixture until it boils, then
cover and cook over low heat for 4 to 5 minutes. Taste for salt, adding
it if needed. Add the olive slivers and stir them in.
Toast the bread and trim off the crusts. Arrange the toast on individual
plates and top with a scoop of the bacalao. Garnish with coriander leaves
and serve immediately.

NOTE: Yellow pepper tastes much sweeter when the skin has been removed. Although the skin is removed conventionally by blistering it under the broiler
and then peeling it off, raw peppers (especially thick-fleshed varieties) can be
peeled with a vegetable peeler. To remove the skin from the pleats or recesses
of the pepper that you can’t reach with the peeler, cut directly through the
center of the recesses of the partially peeled pepper to separate it into wedges.
Then peel the skin from the areas that were not accessible before. Discard the
seeds and cut the pepper into thin strips. Prepared in this manner, the peppers
don’t have to be cooked very long and are very mild in taste.

More from Jacques Pépin:
French Potato Salad
Poached Red Snapper Provençal
Salmon en Papillote

More Christmas Memories:
Robert Finigan
Edward Giobbi
Marcella Hazan
Jenifer Lang
Julee Rosso
Helen Witty


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