Fast and French

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It seems impossible to produce an elegant French menu for a party without hours, even days, of labor. But when Colette Daunay came all the way from Toulouse in southern France to cook a French dinner for friends in Los Angeles, she needed only half an hour to make everything but the dessert, an apple tart.

Staying at the home of her niece, Carol Sauvion, in Beverly Hills, Daunay took on the challenge of an unfamiliar kitchen and cookware that refused to behave like her own well-seasoned cast-iron pots and pans.

Never mind that the potatoes stuck or that the pears didn't cook properly. The guests didn't care about such matters. They were too busy relishing the sort of French food that is hard to find in Southern California.

Daunay prepared duck breasts with a sauce of green peppercorns, raspberry vinegar and raspberry jam, accompanied by potatoes browned in duck fat, oven-roasted pears seasoned with olive oil and sweet wine, a pretty green salad, a fat round of French country cheese and an apple tart that filled a jellyroll pan. And, of course, there were wines wines from the South of France: 1996 Domaine de Moulins Merlot and 1994 Pic-St.-Loup, a Grenache-Syrah blend.

Surprisingly, Daunay criticized the rare, pink slices of duck breast as overcooked. In Toulouse, she explained, people prefer duck even rarer. She brought the big, meaty breasts from New York, where she had been visiting another niece.

The duck breasts were vacuum-packed and frozen, making them easy to transport. But they weren't the source of the fat in which Daunay sauteed the potatoes. She used commercially packed duck fat, which is sold frozen in fancy markets.

Making her first visit to Los Angeles, Daunay was delighted with a Sunday excursion to the Hollywood Farmers' Market. It was just like markets at home, she said. And she even found a fellow countryman with whom she could discuss tomatoes in French. With the market as one source, there was no shortage of fresh, fine ingredients for her dinner.

Daunay's menu can be served either as a sit-down dinner or a buffet. The duck breasts are sliced into strips, the potatoes are cubed and the pears quartered, making it easy for guests to serve themselves, if necessary. The oversized apple tart ought to be presented whole, then cut and served--it's that tempting.

MENU

Sliced Duck Breast With Raspberry Sauce

Oven-Roasted Pears

Pan-Fried Potatoes

Tossed Green Salad With Shallot Vinaigrette

Apple Tart

Red Wine

Coffee

SLICED DUCK BREAST WITH RASPBERRY SAUCE

2 whole boneless duck breasts, about 2 1/2 pounds

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup raspberry vinegar

1 cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam

1 teaspoon green peppercorns

2 tablespoons butter

Cut each duck breast in half lengthwise. Score skin on each half crosswise 1/4 inch deep and about 1 inch apart with sharp knife. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Heat large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until drop of water dances in pan. Cook duck breasts skin side down until browned and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Turn skin side down again and bake at 425 degrees, 5 to 6 minutes, turning once. Remove skillet from oven and place breasts on warm platter. Cover loosely with foil to keep warm.

Pour excess fat from pan. Add vinegar and deglaze pan, scraping up any brown bits. Cook over medium heat until vinegar is reduced by half, 1 to 2 minutes. Add broth and cook until liquid is reduced by half, 5 to 6 minutes. Add jam, peppercorns and butter and swirl pan to incorporate into sauce. Stir in any juice that has accumulated on platter with duck.

Cut duck at 45-degree angle into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange on platter. Spoon sauce over.

4 generous servings. Each serving:

340 calories; 448 mg sodium; 179 mg cholesterol; 15 grams fat; 5 grams carbohydrates; 44 grams protein; 0.16 gram fiber.

OVEN-ROASTED PEARS

4 pears, peeled, cored and quartered

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup sweet white wine, optional

Place pears, oil and wine in baking dish large enough to hold pears in single layer and toss to coat pears. Arrange pears cut side up and bake at 425 degrees 5 minutes. Turn pears cut side down and bake 5 minutes. Turn cut side up again and bake 10 minutes. Turn cut side down again and bake until pears are browned and tender, about 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

8 servings. Each serving:

79 calories; 0 sodium; 0 cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 13 grams carbohydrates; 0 protein; 1.16 grams fiber.

PAN-FRIED POTATOES (LOW-FAT COOKING)

6 large baking potatoes, about 3 pounds

2 tablespoons duck fat or olive oil

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup chopped parsley

Peel potatoes and cut into 3/4-inch cubes. Place in bowl and cover with water if not using immediately. Drain and pat dry with paper towels when ready to cook.

Heat large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add fat and heat 30 to 40 seconds. Add potatoes and stir to coat evenly with fat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender inside and browned and crisp outside, 18 to 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss. Garnish with parsley.

8 servings. Each serving:

154 calories; 47 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 28 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.68 gram fiber.

SHALLOT VINAIGRETTE

2 tablespoons minced shallots

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon cider or tarragon vinegar

Mix shallots, salt and pepper in small bowl. Let stand 5 minutes to release juices from shallots. Whisk in mustard. Add 3 tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon at a time, whisking constantly until incorporated. Whisk in vinegar. Gradually whisk in remaining 1 tablespoon oil.

About 1/2 cup. Each 1-tablespoon serving:

64 calories; 193 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 7 grams fat; 1 gram carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0.02 gram fiber.

APPLE TART

4 cups sifted flour

Pinch salt

2/3 cup softened butter, plus 2/3 cup chilled

10 to 12 tablespoons cold water

3/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

8 large or 10 small apples

Sift flour again with salt. Cut softened butter into flour with pastry blender or work in with fingertips until mixture has consistency of cornmeal. Cut in chilled butter until pastry forms pea-sized pieces. Add 10 tablespoons cold water or enough to hold pastry together. Shape into ball and refrigerate 1 hour.

Combine sugar and cinnamon. Peel, core and quarter apples, then thinly slice.

Roll out dough large enough to fit 15x10-inch jellyroll pan and extend up sides of pan. Place dough in pan. Arrange apple slices, each slice overlapping, in rows on pastry. Sprinkle evenly with sugar-cinnamon mixture. Bake at 375 degrees until apples are tender and crust is browned, about 1 hour.

16 servings. Each serving:

312 calories; 170 mg sodium; 41 mg cholesterol; 16 grams fat; 41 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.43 gram fiber.;

INGREDIENTS

SHOPPING LIST

8 large or 10 small apples

2 boneless duck breasts, about 2 1/2 pounds

1 (7-ounce) container frozen duck fat

Salad greens

1 bunch parsley

4 pears

Green peppercorns

6 large baking potatoes

4 shallots

Raspberry vinegar

STAPLES

Chicken broth

Butter

Cinnamon

Flour

Raspberry jam

Dijon mustard

Black peppercorns

Olive oil

Kosher salt

Table salt

Sugar

Cider or tarragon vinegar Sweet white wine

COUNTDOWN

2 to 3 hours before: Make dough for apple tart. Peel, core and slice apples. Assemble tart and bake.

45 minutes before: Mince shallots. Wash and dry salad greens; chill to crisp.

40 minutes before: Peel and cube potatoes and place in bowl with cold water to cover.

35 minutes before: Score and season duck breasts.

30 minutes before: Begin cooking duck breasts. Make vinaigrette and set aside.

25 minutes before: Peel, core and quarter pears. Toss pears with olive oil and wine and begin baking.

20 minutes before. Dry potatoes and begin cooking.

15 minutes before: Remove duck to platter. Deglaze pan and begin making sauce.

5 minutes before: Slice duck and arrange on heated large serving platter. Spoon some of sauce over duck. Place any remaining sauce in heated bowl. Surround duck with pears. Put potatoes in separate bowl and garnish with parsley.

Just before serving: Toss salad. Pour wine.

After dinner: Serve coffee. Slice and serve apple tart.

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