Lenten Dinner: Beet Soup and Eggs Florentine
(c) Dorine Houston 2009, all rights reserved
Easter eggs became a tradition in the days when even eggs were forbidden food during Lent. Nowadays, they are accepted by Roman Catholics and other Western Christians as a suitable substitute for meat during Lent. Tonight's dinner keeps Lent beautifully today, and is also good the week after Easter when you have so many colored, hard-boiled eggs to use. The beautiful colors in the beet soup course and in the bright green spinach if you have used fresh spinach bring sensual joy to an otherwise simple meal. This hot meal will warm you inside on a chilly Lenten evening.
Cream of Beet Soup
1 bunch beets
1 bay leaf
4 whole black peppercorns
Water to cover
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped
1 shallot, peeled and chopped
Tiny pinch cinnamon
A few gratings nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup plain yogurt
Chopped fresh mint leaves to garnish
Remove leaves and stems from beets; reserve greens for another use. Wash beetroots thoroughly in several changes of water to remove all sand. Cut the tail of the beetroot down to about an inch from the end o the bulbous part.
Gently boil beetroots with bay leaf, peppercorns and enough water to cover them until the beets are tender through. Depending on their size, it may take 15-30 minutes. With a slotted spoon, plunge cooked beets immediately into ice water. This shocks the skin loose so it is easy to peel the beets with your fingers. Chop peeled beets and place them in a blender or food processor.
Strain the beet cooking water into a 2-cup glass measuring cup. If necessary, add cold water to reach 2 cups. Pour about 1/2 cup of the water into the blender. Process until the beets are smooth. Pour into a clean saucepan. Add another 1/2 cup of the water to the blender and add the apples, shallot, cinnamon and nutmeg. Process until smooth. Add apple mixture and remaining water to the saucepan with the beets. Bring to barely a boil and turn the heat off. Whisk in the salt, pepper and yogurt until smooth.
Pour into a tureen and sprinkle with the chopped fresh ,mint. Depending on where you live, it may already be making its presence known in your garden!
2 bunches fresh spinach (about 2 lbs./900g)
1 medium yellow onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T./15ml unsalted butter
2 T./30ml unsalted butter
2 T./30ml all-purpose flour
3 cups/725ml whole milk
Several gratings nutmeg
Pinch mustard powder (try Coleman’s for quality)
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
12 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
Additional unsalted butter
Fresh tarragon sprigs
Wash spinach thoroughly in several changes of cold water, until no more sand shows in the bottom of the basin. Discard tough stems. Place the spinach in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with only the water clinging to the leaves. Cover and turn heat to medium. Cook about 3 minutes, until the spinach is tender but still bright green. Plunge in ice water to stop cooking and preserve color. Place in a colander to drain.
Melt the 1 T./15ml butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet until it foams. Add the onion and garlic; cook until tender and beginning to brown.
Preheat oven to 350 F/180 C.
Wrap spinach in a linen tea towel and squeeze dry. Remove to a cutting board and chop. Toss with onion mixture and set aside.
In a clean saucepan with a heavy bottom, melt the 2 T./30ml butter. When it starts to foam, whisk in the flour. Cook over medium flame, whisking well, for 2 minutes to cook out raw taste. Still whisking, slowly add milk. Bring to the barest boil and cook, whisking, until you can draw the whisk through the béchamel and leave a line, or until it coats the whisk. Add nutmeg, mustard, salt and pepper; taste to assure correctness of seasoning.
Butter a rectangular casserole dish.
Toss half the béchamel with the spinach mixture. Put it in the buttered casserole. Arrange the eggs on top. Pour the remaining béchamel over all. Scatter on bits of cold, unsalted butter.
Bake about 20 minutes, until small brown flecks appear on the surface of the béchamel. Remove from oven and garnish with sprigs of fresh tarragon.
Fresh oranges or other seasonal fresh fruit
Oatmeal and raisin cookies