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Charlotte of Asparagus and Crab

June 3, 2006

A charlotte originally was thought of as a custard surrounded by ladyfingers and eaten for dessert. The French, however, love turning things around and tricking both the eyes and the palate, and so have made this a vegetable dish as well. I have made vegetable charlottes before that were truly tedious and required additional cooking. This variation is welcome for its ease and adaptability.

Charlotte of Asparagus and Crab

Serves 4.

1 pound green asparagus

Salt to taste

Olive oil

1 cup homemade or prepared mayonnaise

2 tablespoons ketchup

1 pound crabmeat, picked over for shells

Juice and zest (no white) of 1 orange

1/2 to 1 cup olive oil

1 shallot, finely chopped

3 ripe small or medium tomatoes, peeled, sliced and chopped


Optional garnishes:

Fennel or dill frond

Lemon, cut up or decorated

If the asparagus is large, or the skin is tough, peel with a knife or a potato peeler, holding the asparagus flat on the board and turning the asparagus as the peeler works down from the top. After you have gone around the entire asparagus, cut off the bottom where the peeler has stopped on the tough stem. Tie the asparagus together, facing the same way, and drop into a pot of rapidly boiling water, salted to taste. Cook 3 to 4 minutes. A knife inserted easily just under the last "flower" at the top of the asparagus indicates it is cooked. Remove , drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Cut off the small, pointed tips of the asparagus and set aside. If the tips are large, cut them in half lengthwise. If the stems are large, cut them in half lengthwise.

Oil a small souffle mold, a charlotte mold or even a straight-sided muffin cup. Insert plastic wrap if you wish to facilitate removal later.

Line the mold with asparagus stems cut evenly to the top of the mold. Thin the mayonnaise, if thick, with a tablespoon or so of hot water. Add enough ketchup to color the mayonnaise. Taste. Stir in the crabmeat. Chop up and add any extra asparagus stems. (May be made a day in advance.) Pack tightly into the molds and chill thoroughly.

Mix the juice and zest of the orange and whisk in the olive oil. Add the shallot and tomatoes. When you are ready to serve, remove the plastic wrap and its contents carefully by putting an oiled plate on top and turning the plate to release the filling onto the plate. Shape, if necessary, with your hands. Garnish with the vinaigrette, fennel or dill and lemon. Alternatively, just pass the vinaigrette.

Small Tomatoes Stuffed With Goat Cheese

Serves 4.

16 small vine-ripened tomatoes

1 eggplant, 1 inch around outside only, insides set aside for another use

1 zucchini

1 green bell pepper

1 red bell pepper

1 yellow bell pepper and/or orange bell pepper

1 onion

1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil

Coarse sea salt

Freshly grated black pepper

1/2 bunch basil, chopped

1/2 to 3/4 pound fresh goat cheese (such as Montrachet, Ile de France, or even herb Boursin)

1/3 cup whipping cream

For base:

3 to 4 small zucchini

Cut the bottoms off the tomatoes so they will stand, not roll, on the plate. Cut a little slice off the top of the tomato to make a "cap" for later. Hollow out the tomatoes with a small spoon. Turn the tomatoes upside down on a rack on a plate.

Finely dice the eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers and onion. Heat a couple of tablespoons of the oil in a heavy saute pan and add the eggplant. (Avoid adding more oil, as it will absorb the oil when cooking, then release it when it is cold.) Cook the eggplant a few minutes until soft. Heat 2 more tablespoons of olive oil in another pan and add the zucchini, bell peppers and onion. Add more oil if you think absolutely necessary. Cook until nearly soft and combine with the eggplant. Cool. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary. When cool, add half the basil, all the goat cheese and whipping cream. Taste again and reseason. Stuff the tomatoes with the filling. Sprinkle more basil on top for color. Top with the "cap."

Meanwhile, slice the remaining zucchini thinly, saute in some of the remaining hot olive oil, remove and set aside. When ready to serve, surround the tomatoes with the zucchini, making a flower.

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The best of traditional Southern cooking, as well as innovative, new cuisine.
This book will be a keepsake for anyone with Southern roots, and a practical book for those who like to cook! A winner of the 1994 James Beard Award.
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