A Michaelmas Feast….some ideas

Michaelmas Feast

We had friends to lunch yesterday for Michaelmas. This was the Menu:

Champagne with duck foie gras canapés, vol au vents filled with quails egg mayonnaise and prawns, quails egg and smoked salmon and quails egg and fennel sausage….
Fish Soup with mussels and saffron
Breton Pancakes stuffed with ham and parmesan béchamel
Roast duck with roast potatoes and roast parsnips and watercress, endive and orange salad, gravy made from giblets and red wine, plum jelly and plum jam.
Cheese (various, including wonderful cheddar and a soft Breton cheese.)
Plum Jam and plum wine semifreddo
Nectarines Shirley Verrett
Coffee, chocolates

Fish soup with mussels and saffron.

1 (10zs) pack frozen white fish or fresh white fish to taste
Good quality olive oil
I large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic peeled and finely chopped.
1 large carrot finely diced, two large mushrooms chopped
6 green beans shredded or diced
2 sachets of saffron soaked for 2 hours in warm water
1 bottle of white wine (Burgundy is best)
I kilo of mussels in their shell
Peeled prawns, calamari, cockles or whelks or other shellfish as desired
Juice of two lemons and a lime, bay leaf, oregano or thyme
Fry onion in hot olive oil for three or so minutes until pale and soft. Then add other vegetables and cook gently for several minutes.
Finely chop the white fish – you can cook this from frozen and add to the vegetables and fry once more for several minutes. Add the wine and an equal amount of water bring to a gentle simmer and cook for twenty minutes. Add the saffron and leave over night.
The next day reheat gently without bringing to the boil and then add the herbs and lemon juice salt and pepper to taste. You can add in addition de-seeded chopped tomatoes at this stage. Leave for an hour and then taste and adjust seasoning. If the saffron isn’t quite strong enough add another sachet….don’t stint it makes this soup a transforming experience…
Finally 5 minutes before serving bring reheat and as it comes to simmer turn off the heat and put in the mussels, seafood etc. Leave in the hot water for 5 minutes and serve with French bread or toast.

Nectarines Shirley Verrett

This should ideally be made a least 5 hours before serving. It will be fine overnight.

8 nectarines (white fleshed by preference)
I bottle of desert wine or ordinary white wine and two tablespoons of vanilla sugar.
16 ozs of blackberries, juice of 2 limes and 5/6 ozs of icing sugar
Poach the nectarines in the white wine. You may add a bay leaf, or vanilla pod or orange zest to this. The poaching will differ according to the ripeness of the fruit. The wine will sweeten an unripe fruit. Once the nectarines darken a little and a knife will enter the fruit without any resistance, they are done. You will need to remove the skins from the fruit.
Reduce the remaining liquid by at least 2/3 on a high heat. This should leave you with a small amount of thick juice. You can serve this on the side with a little cream if desired. You can also use it in an ice cream to accompany the nectarines.
Gently cook the blackberries until soft. Do not add sugar. Leave them cool and push the fruit through a nylon sieve with a spoon rather like for a Melba sauce. Put the puree into a Liquidiser and cover with three quarters of the sugar and then wiz at the highest speed until the sauce thickens. Add the remaining sugar and some lime juice. Repeat, the sauce should naturally thicken…to the consistency of well beaten egg yolks.
Put the poached nectarines into a classy dish and cover with the blackberry sauce. Cover with cling-film and leave for several hours or overnight. On a hot day serve from refrigerator or a cool day allow to return to room temperature before serving.
I think this variation on the Peach Melba would have pleased that wonderful Mezzo-Soprano Shirley Verrett who sadly died last year. She was I think one of the greatest exponents of many of the greatest roles of Verdi – Princess Eboli in Don Carlos and Lady Macbeth. I will never forget her rendition of the Desdemona’s scene… The Willow Song and the Ave Maria from Othello.

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