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Mountain Home Magazine

Dinner at the Kennedy White House

Jan 12, 2015 06:06PM

I was browsing through some almost elderly cookbooks the other day and came across a recipe and—“bing”—I knew that I’d be making it for a holiday dinner. Not only will it be a perfect side dish for roast beef but I could see it with roast pork or veal or seafood and what about chicken? It’s practically perfect.

The recipe in question is for a rice dish and I found it in a 1998 book by Letitia Baldrige called In the Kennedy Style, Magical Evenings in the Kennedy White House. The book’s recipes are by the White House Chef René Verdon.

I call the recipe “Holiday on Rice” because I cannot resist a pun, but Mrs. K. (or her staff) called it Couronne de Riz Clamart.

I’ve varied the ingredients and used brown rice instead of the long-grain white version. Actually, using basmati rice will be my first choice. Both of these are very 2014; and I suggest two canned tomatoes or even sun-dried babies, minced and seeds removed instead of the plum tomato in the original. I mean, a good tasting tomato in December? It’s not happening.

Use a Bundt pan or ring mold, lightly buttered, for this, and unmold and fill the center with the baby peas for the final presentation.

Couronne de Riz Clamart

  • 2 tsp. unsalted butter, plus more for the dish
  • ½ c. each red and green bell peppers cut in tiny cubes
  • 3 c. cooked brown rice or basmati rice (or long-grain white)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • ¼ c. (or a bit more) freshly grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1 c. low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 2 canned plum tomatoes (Muir Glen fire roasted), chopped (note: you could also use the equivalent fine chopped sun-dried tomatoes)
  • ¼ tsp. each kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1 c. frozen baby peas*

In a skillet, melt half the butter over medium heat and add the peppers. Cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes or until softened and very lightly brown. Alternatively steam or microwave the peppers until they soften. Reserve. (Do this ahead.)

In a bowl, gently stir together the rice, eggs, Parmesan cheese, chicken stock, and parsley. Stir in peppers, tomato, salt, and pepper. Generously butter a 1-quart tube mold or Bundt pan, packing down gently with a spoon.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let stand 2 minutes. Invert serving platter over the top of the mold and turn out rice mixture. Toss peas with the remaining butter; spoon into the center of the ring.

Makes 6 servings.

*Place frozen peas in a small sieve and run very hot water over them until they defrost and warm.

Need a Present for a Friend who Cooks? 

For many years the food writer in me would compile a list of cookbooks that readers might consider buying for relatives and friends who enjoy their time in the kitchen. Of course one can always ask Santa and hope you’ll find the volume of choice under your tree.

This time around I’m keeping my recommendations down to two books that I literally flipped over. (You should see the scuffmarks on the ceiling.)

First, there’s the new Mark Bittman book (he of the New York Times) called How to Cook Everything Fast and subtitled A Better Way to Cook Great Food. It’s a shame that the flowers have gone to bed for the winter, as the heft of this book would make a great place to press your favorites. Soon-to-be favorite recipes fill the—wait for it—1,000-plus pages. Each recipe is complete on facing pages, and even without my specs I can read them. And the pages lie flat. Glory be!

As with Mark’s many other books, the ingredients seem to be available at a good supermarket. And the instructions are clearly presented. Many recipes combine oddly appealing twists on old favorites. I cite Tortilla French Toast as one example. He has written it with the classic combination of egg dip, sugar, and maple syrup and then added two variations: Rosemary-Parmesan and Cinnamon-Orange. And, as one who’d like to make French toast for a crowd, I liked his suggestion for using a roaster over two burners to make eight slices of toast at a time. But the book is filled with tips, making this not only a good source of ideas for quick meals, but a dandy book to read. But not in bed.

A Classic Food Writer 

Here’s a name that—in England at least—is as revered as James Beard, Julia Child, and Marcella Hazan—and from about their same era. Elizabeth David was an Englishwoman who spent WWII in Egypt and before and after the war in many countries surrounding the Mediterranean. She returned to a Britain where food and ingredients were severely rationed. Her first cookbook, not surprisingly titled Mediterranean Food, was published in 1955 despite the rationing and was quickly followed by French Country Cooking, French Provincial Cooking, Italian Food, and Summer Food. All of them are still in print. Penguin eventually published them in paperback, and I snapped up these inexpensive gems. But these were the quirkiest recipe books I’d ever seen. The titles of the recipes were followed by a paragraph listing the ingredients. Notice the word paragraph. No easy-reading listing here.

No matter that I had to make my own listing and double check to make sure I listed everything. The recipes, most of them easy for the beginning cook that I was, were inspirational. I’d often tuck a book in the glove compartment or in a jacket pocket for reference as I roamed the aisles of the market.

I opened the mailbox the other day to find the latest mail-order book catalog from Daedalus books. Smack on the front cover was a book I didn’t know existed: At Elizabeth David’s Table, first published by Ecco in the U.K. in 2010. I was on the phone ordering it in minutes. It’s the best $10-plus-shipping I’ve spent in a long time. And I couldn’t agree more with Jill Norman (another respected English food writer), who opined in the introduction: “Elizabeth’s recipes make you want to cook. The aroma of a dish and its colors spring from the page.” All this without smell-a-vision or, back when the books were first printed, photos. This new volume has beautiful, luscious illustrations of most of the dishes. Hurrah!

I’ve already spent many happy hours reading the book. The preface is by ex-Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl, obviously a fan of Ms. David. And, as you skim through the book, I think you or your gifted friend will become instant fans. And between the recipes are some great essays by the author who has been dubbed by many to be the Greatest Food Writer of the 20th Century. Who wouldn’t be seduced by such little miracles as her “cheap and comforting” lentil soup (two versions included)?

My Dinner with Elizabeth 

I can’t resist a story about my one and only meeting with Elizabeth. She was not a good traveler in her later years, and would come to the States and only stop in Manhattan and in San Francisco, where she stayed with an old friend. Another San Francisco friend invited Elizabeth, her host, a couple of other food-folk, and yours truly to a dinner at his place high on a precarious hill overlooking the Golden Gate.

To get from the street to Alan’s front door was a climb best left to a mountain goat, but the house and the view was worth the effort. And so was the dinner. The guests arrived breathlessly, and they marched into the kitchen and were given a libation. Ms. David knew the others, but not this Corningite. Alan made the introduction and then remembered he had a copy of the recipes we gave away at store demonstrations. She opened the folder to a recipe I had for bruschetta—essentially a piece of toast rubbed with a cut clove of garlic and brushed with olive oil, then toasted. We made it in the microwave using a specially treated piece of Corning Ware cookware. When this was preheated, empty, in the ”zapper,” the coating on the underside of the dish became very hot and made the upper surface a griddle. In my book, bruschetta could also be topped with finely chopped morsels of red ripe tomato and a sprinkle of Parmesan, which I did.

It’s Not Bruschetta! She Exclaimed 

“Bruschetta is simply garlic toast,” she pronounced, in an I-suffer-fools-badly voice. Her outrage was mitigated by a second glass of Alan’s wine, and by the end of the evening, sitting next to me, she was purring like a well-fed pussycat. I was captivated.

Consider the suggestion and, who knows? You may get a bowl of David’s lentil soup to clear away the cobwebs on New Year’s Day.