Monday, November 23, 2009

Our Dinner with Toulouse-Lautrec

B found for me the most wonderful of cookbooks: The Art of Cuisine, by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Maurice Joyant. The recipes are good, and the book is littered with artwork, including full-page reproductions of the invitations that Toulouse-Lautrec would send — apparently, he was quite the gourmand. The book was put together shortly after his death by Maurice Joyant in homage to Toulouse-Lautrec; the English-language version was translated in 1966, and the artist's voice survives (indeed, may have been amplified) by the translation. Check out in particular such recipes as "How to make chicken tender" (chase it around the barnyard) and "Grilled saint" (find one like St. Lawrence, who will tell you when it's time to rotate the spit).

A Francophile friend was coming over, so we made two recipes from Toulouse-Lautrec: caramelized onions and pumpkin gratin (we used butternut squash rather than pumpkin). Heat the oven very hot.

For the onions, put together a bed of butter, salt, and pepper at the bottom of your smallest cast-iron pan. Peel onions, one or two per person, and pack tightly into the pan, halved, with the cut side down for the prettiest presentation. Cook on extremely low, just enough to melt the butter. Let it simmer for a long time, then cover with red wine. Let the wine reduce. Sprinkle the onions liberally with sugar, and transfer the cast-iron to the oven to finish.

For the gratin, de-seed, peel, and slice thin (1/4 inch) a medium squash. Coat each piece with flour, and lightly sauté the squash in olive oil, working in batches so that the squash pieces do not overlap. Place half the squash in a baking dish. Sauté sliced onions and then add tomatoes to make a sauce (don't add other ingredients besides salt and oil: Toulouse-Lautrec is very insistent), and pour it into the casserole. Finish with the second half of the squash. Move the baking dish to the oven.

Finally, finish dinner with a tarte tatin, not from Toulouse-Lautrec. We had only persimmons handy, so a French purist would not approve. But never mind them. Melt butter in a large cast-iron pan, turn off the heat, and arrange 1/8 wedges of fuyu persimmon (the non-astringent type), making a few layers (for a ten-inch pan, we used eight fruit). Sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice, and put on high heat. Meanwhile, make a pastry dough with flour, sugar, lots of butter, and cold water. Roll the dough out on a floured surface until it is the size of the pan and place on top of the persimmons. Move the pan to the very hot oven, cook ten minutes, and then finish in the broiler to brown the crust. Let the tarte cool just a bit, then invert onto a large plate.

In addition to providing a lovely French dinner, this meal had the benefit of using every cast-iron pan I own.

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