Thanksgiving and Christmas have come and gone, and whew, boy if I haven't cooked my little butt off. Between the roasts and the pies and packaging cookies and homemade jams and crackers, it has been quite the season. I am almost ready to settle into a cold January of soups and stews and comfortable armchairs. Almost. But first, there is New Years, or better yet New Years Eve.
A New Years Eve fete is my favorite kind of party- the kind where you can make all sorts of beautiful little bites and nibbles, get away with not serving a main course, and then have some gorgeous desserts. And did we mention champagne? I adore little canapes, each one a mouthful of flavors, and tiny enough to be picked up with the fingers or speared with the weapon of choice- a toothpick. Best for the cook, there is no main dish to worry over and since you can do most of the work ahead of time, you can spend the party out of the kitchen and actually relaxing (yes!) and enjoying your guests' company.
I fully realize that deep frying something is not in line with my "easy small bites" idea, but if I'm just doing canapes I like to have one showstopper piece, and that's what these fritters are. I fell in love with salt cod fritters while in Barcelona- the soft salty insides much like the French brandade de morue, which when fried, become irristible. I would not recommend standing near a big platter of these at a party, as they are so addictive you will find your self popping one after another. I've updated the fritters by adding a touch of herbes the Provence, the mixture from Southern France that includes parsley, rosemary, basil, lavender and savory. I usually prepare the batter ahead of time, then I fry them as the party's going- people literally start lining up at the door to get the next batch. The other option is to do them a few hours ahead of time and reheat them in a hot oven.
I also made a pear and blue cheese tart that was a revelation- no wonder pears and blue cheese are considered a classic pairing! I reached into the back of my freezer and pulled out the last of my homemade puff pastry (which didn't puff as much as it should because I was trying to stretch the last bits by rolling them out as much as possible), but store bought is just as good. Either way, you should make it, because it is so festive cut into little squares and such a nice compliment to that glass of bubbly in your hand. And let me take the chance to wish everyone an early happy new years!
Salt Cod Fritters with Herbes de Provence
Look for salt cod at international markets or well-stocked fish shops. You can also make a variation of these using fresh cod: simply cook the fresh cod in water until it is well done, then proceed in the recipe as directed.
1/2 lb salt cod, boned and chopped
1 tbl olive oil
1/2 cup milk
2 starchy potatoes, like Idaho, peeled
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tbl herbes de Provence
salt and pepper
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal (optional)
oil for frying
1. Soak the salt cod for 24 hours in plenty of cold water, changing the water every 8 hours. Drain the cod and bring to a boil in water to cover. Reduce the heat and simmer until the fish is tender, about 20 minutes. While the cod is cooking, dice the potatoes and cook in boiling salted water until tender, about 25 minutes.
2. Drain the cod and put in a bowl with the oil. Use your fingers to flake the cod, then crush it with a fork, discarding any skin and bones.
3. When the potatoes are done, drain them and put the potatoes through a ricer directly into the bowl with to cod. Mix the cod with the potatoes, add the crushed garlic, herbes de Provence, and season with salt and pepper. Add the eggs, stirring to combine, and add just enough milk so that you have a stiff paste (you may not need all of it). Stir thoroughly and let cool completely before continuing.
4. Prepare a deep pot with several inches of oil and heat the oil to 370 F. Scoop the cod mixture by spoonfuls, if you want a bit of extra crunch you can sprinkle them with a bit of cornmeal. Fry the balls until they float and are browned, turning them so they cook on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Best when served immediately, but can be done a few hours a head of time and reheated in the oven.
Aioli (Garlicky Mayonnaise)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 egg yolk from the freshest egg possible
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
In a medium bowl combine the garlic, egg yolk, lemon and mustard. Begin beating the mixture with an electric mixer, then slowly stream in the olive oil until the mixture is thick and emulsified.
Pear and Blue Cheese Tart
1 piece of puff pastry or your own pastry of choice
splash of olive oil
1 red onion, halved and sliced
1 teaspoon allspice
1 large ripe pear, sliced
1 cup blue cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Roll out your puff pastry to form one large (16x8) rectangle, or divide into two smaller rectangles. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet a chill in the refrigerator.
2. Heat a bit of olive oil in a saute pan and add sliced onions, cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the onions soften completely and turn a bit golden, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, get your chilled pastry and score the center of the rectangle(s) in a cross-hatch pattern to prevent the center from puffing. Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes.
3. Remove pastry from the oven. Stir allspice into onions, then spread over the pastry, pressing down slightly. Arrange pear slices over onions, then scatter blue cheese on top. Bake another 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and the tart shell is firm. Serve immediately.