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An Elegant French Dinner

by Lou Seibert Pappas

For an intimate dinner party showcasing wine, consider this easy-to-handle party meal. If the night is nippy, a warming soup makes a choice starter. The attractive French pizza, flavored with the wonderful taste of smoky chestnut flour, can accompany or serve as an appetizer starter with wine. It is easily made in advance and freezes well. Follow with an entree plate of meaty Portobello mushrooms partnering chicken in a tangy cream. A pretty salad of persimmon, pear, and avocado follows. For dessert, a frozen Grand Marnier souffle makes a sumptuous finale.

For wine, a sauvignon blanc is delightful with the first course and entree. Or follow with a light red with the entree. Candidates include Clos du Bois Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County 1996, Sanford Sauvignon Blanc Central Coast 1996, Voss Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 1997, Byron Pinot Noir 1996, and Rosemount Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon South Eastern Australia 1998.

Cook Ahead Hints: Plan to do the soup a day ahead. The souffle may be made two weeks in advance and frozen. The other elements are best prepared the day of the dinner.

Pistachio-Olive Chestnut Galette
Makes 1 pizza-size bread

1 package active dry yeast
6 tablespoons warm water (105°F to 115°F))
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 2 teaspoons
2 tablespoons honey
1 egg
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/3 cup chestnut flour
1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup pitted black salt-cured olives
1/3 cup pistachios
1/3 cup golden raisins

In a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast into the warm water and let stand until bubbly. Beat in 2 tablespoons oil, honey, egg, rosemary, salt, lemon zest, and chestnut flour. Gradually add enough flour to make a soft dough. Beat well with a heavy duty mixer or wooden spoon. Turn out on a floured board and knead until smooth and satiny. Place in a bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled in size. Punch down the dough and turn out on a floured board. Knead lightly. Roll out into a 15-inch circle and place in a greased 14-inch pizza pan or on a baking sheet. Form a rim around the edge. Spread with the remaining 2 teaspoons oil and scatter over the olives, nuts, and raisins. Let stand in a warm place for 30 minutes to rise slightly. Preheat the oven to 475°F. Bake in the oven for 6-8 minutes or until golden brown.

Note: Chestnut flour is available in specialty gourmet markets and by mail order. Contact Maison Glass at 1-800-822-5564.

Crostini with Chevrè and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Makes 12 appetizers

12 thin slices sourdough baguette
Olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and split
3 ounces chevrè
12 sun-dried tomato halves in oil
12 leaves basil or flat-leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Brush the bread with olive oil on both sides and rub with garlic. Toast in the oven for 8 minutes or until golden brown. Spread with cheese, top with a tomato half, and dollop with an herb leaf.

Roasted Garlic Soup
Makes 6 servings

1 head garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cups chicken stock
4 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 teaspoons fresh lemon thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup low-fat yogurt
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped chives or flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup shredded Gruyère or Jarlsberg cheese (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut the top from the garlic and rub with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Wrap in foil and place in a baking dish. Bake in the oven 35 to 40 minutes or until soft; let cool. Squeeze the pulp into a bowl and reserve. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, and sauté the onion until tender. Add the garlic pulp and sauté 1 minute. Add the stock, potatoes, and thyme; bring to a simmer, reduce heat, cover and simmer until the potatoes are very tender, about 25 minutes. Puree with yogurt in batches in a blender. Serve warm in bowls and top with fresh chopped chives or parsley. Sprinkle with cheese.

Tarragon Chicken in Wine Cream
Makes 4 servings

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1 lb.)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon butter or oil
1 shallot, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons dry Vermouth
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 medium tomato, peeled and diced
2 teaspoons fresh tarragon or 1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried tarragon
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives or flat-leaf parsley

Place the chicken between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and pound lightly to an even thickness. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper to taste. In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté the chicken in butter or oil, turning to brown both sides. Add the shallot, garlic, and wine. Cover and simmer 6 to 8 minutes, or until just cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a heated platter and pour off the pan juices, reserving them. Pour the vinegar into the pan and cook down until reduced by half. Add the tomato and tarragon and cook until hot. Pour in the cream and the reserved pan juices, stir, and cook down the sauce slightly. Spoon it over the chicken and sprinkle with chives or parsley.

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms
Makes 4 servings

4 3-inch Portobello mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Remove the stems from the mushrooms and use for another purpose. Toss the mushrooms with oil and vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Place gill side down on a broiling rack and broil, turning once, allowing about 3 to 4 minutes, or until cooked through. Or roast in a 425°F oven for 4 to 5 minutes.

Broccoli Flowerets Balsamic
Makes 4 servings

1 1/2 pounds broccoli flowerets
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a saucepan, cook the broccoli in boilng salted water until crisp tender, about 8 minutes; drain and toss with oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper.

Pear, Persimmon, and Avocado Salad

Dress a green salad with a shallot vinaigrette and top with sliced Anjou or Comice pears, sliced Fuji persimmon, and avocado slices.

Frozen Grand Marnier Souffle
Makes 6 servings

3/4 cup sugar plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup water
4 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 1/4 cups whipping cream
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or Cointreau
Toasted slivered almonds or cocoa powder

Combine the 2/3 cup sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil until the temperature reaches 238°F on a candy thermometer (soft ball stage). Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with an electric mixer until thick and pale yellow. Continue to beat and slowly pour the hot syrup over them in a fine, steady stream. Beat until the mixture cools to room temperature, about 7 minutes. Mash the orange zest with 1 teaspoon sugar to bring out its oils; stir into the yolk mixture. Whip the cream until stiff and beat in Grand Marnier. Fold into the yolk mixture. Spoon into individual souffle dishes. Cover and freeze until firm. Garnish with nuts or sprinkle cocoa powder through a wire strainer, dusting the top lightly.

Lou Seibert Pappas is a former food editor of the Palo Alto Times Tribune and a home economist with Sunset Magazine. She currently writes food, home, and travel-related articles for national magazines and newspapers and is the author of more than 30 books.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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