Saturday, March 22, 2008

Food Stories

It has become somewhat a tradition in my house to serve as the salad course on Easter a tomato aspic. To mold the aspic, I use a form meant to produce round individual bunt cakes. The pan has six forms, exactly enough to make six personal tomato aspics. These I present with appropriate garnish on a salad plate. It's a very simple, rather pedestrian salad, I know, but quite tasty and rich in history. My tomato aspic, as do many of my recipes, has a story attached. Tomato gelatin is not something I remember eating as a child, really. I had eaten it in restaurants before and at church potlucks, but had never even thought of wanting to produce it at home, until my penultimate employer requested it for a luncheon one day. His cooks went to work, yet I had warned that the gelatin would not set properly in only a few hours, that it would be better to let it set over night. They didn't have over night, and the aspic was runny. I suggested that the salad should receive a couple squirts of hot sauce and should be announced not as aspic but as "Louisiana Tomato Compote". That worked. The next time, I made the aspic myself, with the disclaimer that aspic is a food that must be ordered at least 24 hours in advance. Otherwise, the result is "Louisiana Tomato Compote". The kitchen staff were wonderful and very good and inventive cooks. It was always fun working with them on projects like this. And it was even more fun coming up for a solution for what may have gone wrong somewhere in the experiment -- that's when the inventive part came in. Some weeks after the second go-round with the aspic, which I produced in my mini bunt cake form, each guest receiving his own gelatinized bloody mary, we got word at around 8:00 in the morning that luncheon that day would be started off with a tomato aspic. There were to be three guests. Barbara called me on my cell as I was driving to the church. "Jason, he has three for lunch. We need aspic." There's no time for aspic, I replied. The voice on the other end of the phone rewound its tape and replayed, this time with more urgency: "Jason, he has three for lunch. We need aspic." By the grace of God, my own Sunday lunch had included tomato aspic. Four of the little molds had been consumed. I still had two in my frig at home. I told this to Barbara. "Bring 'em!" she declared. I reversed the land yacht and snatched my chilled aspics from the ice box and set them on the passenger seat. When I reached the church, I unloaded the goods. The sight of two whole tomato aspics was cause for rejoicing! The cooks had been sweating bullets watching the minute hand make its course around the clock face. We were safe. Here's what we did to multiply the fishes: I unmolded the two aspics and cut each in half. Two become four. Three guests and one host. The flat side of the mold where the cut was made was set onto the plate, molded ornamental side up. Lettuce was arranged around the aspic half to make it look like the salad was meant to be that way. It was, after all, aspic, and not the Louisiana Tomato Compote. A little went a long way. Here's how to make it:

4 cups diced tomatoes
1/2 cup celery
1/2 cup onion
2 Tbl. Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 tsp (or more) minced garlic
2 packets unflavored gelatin
1 cup cold water

In the food processor, puree 1 cup of the tomatoes, the celery and the onion. In a sauce pan, combine the puree with the remaining diced tomatoes and the water. Simmer 10 minutes. Add Worcestershire and garlic.

Dissolve gelatin in 3 Tbl. water and add to tomotoes. Simmer until gelatin is completely dissolved.

Pour into molds. Chill OVER NIGHT!


1 comment:

Motherhen said...

I know tomato aspic is a Southern dish, but I've never had it! I've never had this at my maw-maw's house, nor at my own mother's house, never in a restaurant, nor at my mother in law's house either! These are all old Southern ladies. You'd think they know about this tomato aspic tradition!

Do you eat this cold? Is the texture like regular jello? I despise jello. Maybe that's why my mom never made aspic?? LOL