Lessons in French

TIMES STAFF WRITER

One of the first French dishes I ever cooked was estouffat Bearnais. I didn't have a recipe, only the enthusiastic description in Waverly Root's "The Food of France," but I was totally impressed by the way it came out.

How could it have been anything but impressive? It's chunks of beef stuffed with bacon and herbs, tewed with ham, onions and carrots in about a bottle and a half of red wine. I've made it at least once every winter since.

Recently I started wondering what else they might cook in Bearn, the French province that covers much of the northern Pyrenees. Larousse Gastronomique is distressingly terse on the subject, dwelling mostly on heavy, mountain-climate soups and the Bearnaise taste for preserved goose meat. Even Paula Wolfert's wonderful "The Cooking of Southwestern France" doesn't have a lot to say about Bearn.

But I pieced together descriptions from here and there to make this Bearnaise menu. The first course, Ouliat (also spelled ouillat) , is a lively sweet-sour onion soup with one foot in France and the other in Spain. It adds garlic and cayenne, making it a cousin to the Spanish sopa de ajo , which is likewise based on olive oil ( ouli is Bearn dialect for "oil"). That rich, meaty estouffat is multicultural in itself, with its traditional accompaniment of a Basque-style corn meal mush ( broyo ).

For dessert, I liked the idea of the Bearnais prune galette mentioned in some books but couldn't find a recipe. Since a galette can be anything from a big flat cake to a cookie, I substituted clafouti , a sort of fruit souffle from the same general region of France as Bearn. Clafouti is usually made with fresh fruit, but with prunes it makes a fine ending for a hearty, cool-weather meal.

Menu

Ouliat (Sweet-Sour Onion Soup)

Estouffade Bearnaise

Broyo (Cornmeal Mush)

Prune Clafouti

STAPLES

Olive oil

Onions

Garlic

Chicken or veal stock

Thyme

Parsley

Salt and pepper

Brandy

Cayenne

Wine vinegar

Bay leaf

Carrots

Flour

Cornmeal

Sugar

Eggs

Butter

Milk

SHOPPING LIST

2 tomatoes

2 ounces Gruyere or Swiss cheese

3 pounds beef

1/4 pound bacon

2 bottles red wine

1/3 pound sliced ham

20 prunes

1 pint whipping cream

French bread

GAME PLAN

Night or Morning Before Meal: Make herb filling and stuff beef. Cut onions and carrots. Add to beef with wine. If marinating overnight, cover and refrigerate.

5 Hours Before Meal: Fry onions and carrots for stew.

4 1/2 Hours Before Meal: Assemble stew in pot and bring to boil.

4 Hours Before Meal: Cover stew and reduce heat to low.

1 1/2 Hours Before Meal: Fry onions, garlic and tomatoes for soup.

1 Hour Before Meal: Remove meat and vegetables from stew and reduce liquid. Return meat and vegetables to reduced stock and keep warm. Start cornmeal mush.

45 Minutes Before Meal: Add stock to soup vegetables.

30 Minutes Before Meal: Soften prunes. Make clafouti batter.

Just Before Serving: Add bread slices to soup bowls and add soup. Assemble clafouti and set in oven.

OULIAT

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 onions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

6 cups chicken or veal stock

2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

3 tablespoons minced parsley

Salt

Cayenne

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

6 to 8 slices French bread

1/2 cup grated Gruyere or Swiss cheese, optional

Heat oil in soup pot, add onions and saute over low heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes and cook until softened.

Add stock, water, thyme and parsley. Simmer 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt, cayenne and vinegar.

Put slice of bread in bottom of each soup bowl and ladle soup over bread. Sprinkle soup with cheese if desired.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Each serving, without cheese, contains about:

182 calories; 933 mg sodium; 2 mg cholesterol; 9 grams fat; 18 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams protein; 0.71 gram fiber.

ESTOUFFADE BEARNAISE

1/2 bay leaf

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 1/2 tablespoons minced parsley

Black pepper

1 teaspoon brandy

3 pounds stewing beef, such as chuck roast or London broil, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches thick

2 to 3 slices bacon

4 onions, sliced

8 carrots, sliced

1 teaspoon brandy

1 1/2 bottles young dry red wine

2 tablespoons oil

Flour

Parsley sprigs

1/4 to 1/3 pound sliced ham

Cornmeal mushm, optional

To assemble herb filling, crumble bay leaf to fine powder. Combine garlic and bay in small bowl with thyme, parsley, few grindings black pepper and brandy. Mix together.

Trim beef of fat and gristle and cut into 1 1/4- to 1 1/2-inch cubes. Cut bacon in as many 1-inch pieces as pieces of beef.

Using paring knife, make 2 crosswise cuts in each piece of beef, making X-shaped opening. Widen slightly with finger. Place a little of herb filling on each bacon piece. Roll up 1 piece bacon with filling and insert entirely into hole. Repeat with remaining pieces of beef and bacon.

Place beef in non-reactive bowl or pot with 1/2 of onions and 1/2 of carrots. Add brandy and wine to cover. Marinate 2 hours.

Fry remaining onions and carrots in oil until onions are light golden color, about 15 minutes.

Remove beef from marinade and dust lightly in flour, shaking off excess. In bottom of pot, arrange some carrots and onions from marinade, then layer of beef, then layer of fried onions and carrots, then 3 to 4 sprigs parsley, then ham slices. Continue until all ingredients are used up. Add marinade and more wine if necessary to cover top layer.

Set pot over heat, bring to low boil and cook uncovered 30 minutes. Cover pot and set in slow oven, 300 degrees, until meat is tender, 3 to 6 hours depending on cut. Stew can also be transferred to crock pot for cooking.

When beef is very tender, remove meats and vegetables with slotted spoon and set pot over high heat. Reduce liquid until somewhat thick and very flavorful. Return meats and vegetables to pot and stir over medium heat until warm. Serve with cornmeal mush.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Each serving, without cornmeal mush, contains about:

480 calories; 444 mg sodium; 124 mg cholesterol; 20 grams fat; 14 grams carbohydrates; 38 grams protein; 0.90 gram fiber.

PRUNE CLAFOUTI

20 pitted prunes

Water

Sugar

3 eggs

3/4 cup whipping cream

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup flour

Butter

Place pitted prunes in saucepan with water to cover and poach lightly until softened, 10 minutes.

Blend 1/4 cup sugar, eggs, cream and milk in blender or food processor until smooth. Sift flour over mixture and pulse just to mix. Set batter aside to stand 10 minutes.

Butter 9-inch glass pie plate heavily and sprinkle generously with sugar. Arrange prunes on pie plate. Pour batter over and sprinkle with another 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar.

Bake at 400 degrees until puffed and brown, about 40 minutes. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Each serving contains about:

304 calories; 66 mg sodium; 151 mg cholesterol; 15 grams fat; 38 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams protein; 0.60 gram fiber.

* Tableware from Malibu Company and Laguna Colony Company.

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