I remember the dinner well - soup of oseille, a sole quite simply cooked in white wine sauce, a caneton à la presse, a lemon soufflé. At the last minute, fearing that the whole thing was too simple for Rex, I added caviare aux blinis. And for wine I let him give me a bottle of 1906 Montrachet, then at its prime, and, with the duck, a Clode de Bère of 1904.
Living was easy in France then...
Charles Ryder is having dinner with Rex Mottram at a restaurant in Paris called Paillard's. He has chosen both the place and the menu. Charles would like to be able to devote his attention to the food, but Rex wants to talk. That is why he has sought Charles out. The two men talk, but they don't communicate.
The soup was delicious after the rich blinis - hot, thin, bitter, frothy...
The sole was so simple and unobtrusive that Rex failed to notice it...
Presently he began again on the Marchmains:...
Lord and Lady Marchmain, and their children: Brideshead (Bridey), Julia, Sebastian and Cordelia. Rex's interest is in marrying Julia. Charles became close friend with Sebastian at Oxford. The novel is Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh. I had read it years ago, then, fairly recently, my husband and I watched the TV mini-series, starring Jeremy Irons as Charles Ryder, Lawrence Olivier as Lord Marchmain and John Gielgud as Mr. Ryder, among others. This year, a new movie came out and, though I have not yet seen it, it has prompted me to read the book again.
I closed my mind to him as best I could and gave myself to the food before me, but sentences came breaking in on my happiness, recalling me to the harsh, acquisitive world which Rex inhabited. He wanted a woman; he wanted the best on the market, and he wanted her cheap; that was what it amounted to.
At this point, the connection between Charles and the Marchmains is his old friendship with Sebastian. Later, it will be his love for Julia, now the object of Rex's greed.
After the duck came a salad of watercress and chicory in a faint mist of chives. I tried to think only of the salad. I succeeded for a time in thinking only of the soufflé. Then came the cognac and the proper hour for these confidences.
Charles has a fine sensitivity. Rex has no use for nuances. Later on, Julia would say that Rex
isn't a real person at all; he's just a few faculties of a man highly developed; the rest simply isn't there.
The description of the dinner of disconnect at Paillard's inspired me to make lemon soufflé. I had never made a sweet soufflé and wanted to try. The one I chose as inspiration (in Italian), allowed me to use my homemade ricotta. (I know, I have already hinted at this: I will soon talk about it in more details in a future post.)
I had not read the recipe carefully before embarking in my interpretation of it and I paid for such lapse when I found myself with 4 beaten egg whites and a recipe that talked about the egg white. I ended up using roughly half of the beaten egg whites. Notwithstanding the little crisis, the end result was very good, its texture not quite as airy as one expects from a soufflé, in favor of a delicious creaminess contributed to by ricotta. The use of only grated zest of lemon makes for a lemony nuance, versus a strong lemon flavor. This way, one can taste the ricotta.
- 150 g ricotta (a bit more than 5 oz.)
- zest of 3 organic lemons
- 4 egg yolks
- one egg white
- 1/3 cup vanilla sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon corn starch
Preheat the oven to 400 F and pour one inch of water in a baking pan. In a bowl, whisk ricotta, lemon zest, egg yolks, sugar and corn starch until creamy. Beat the egg white until stiff peaks form and fold it into the cream. Pour into four 3" ramekins and bake in the pan for 15-20 minutes, until soufflés are golden. Because I used two egg whites instead of one, my soufflés puffed up more than the recipe desired, and, since I served them cold, as the recipe suggests, signs of deflation are clear on the surface. I served the soufflés paired with my most recent version of sorbetto alle more (blackberry sorbet). Charles Ryder would have appreciated.
This post contains my portion of the roundup and a link to Lisa's portion.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the soufflé di ricotta al limone audio file [mp3].