Two nights ago, I gave a small dinner party at my house. Although the style of my cooking has become rather simple, the aggregate of dishes and the worry behind cooking for the man who is writing Julia Child's newest biography (to coincide with her 100th birthday next year) and the general manager of what-will-surely be one of New York's hippest hotels, the Hotel Williamsburg (in Williamsburg!), the pressure was on. Along with their wives, we were a group of six, chatting about world events, the mystery of Mustique, how courses on the Beatles have became mainstream in American colleges (our guest Bob also wrote the definitive book on the Beatles), and the journey of finding a chef for the hippest new hotel in New York. We sipped those apple ginger-pear martinis I keep talking about, ate white hummus, and "devilled pecans" and tried to guess what-the-heck was in the tea cup I served in the living room before sitting down to dinner. More about that in a moment. Dinner began with a dish of "tiradito" the Peruvian equivalent of sashimi but with a shimmering sauce of lemon, garlic and oil. It was accompanied by a tiny timbale of potato salad vinaigrette, a handful of lightly dressed arugula and bits of radicchio (remember when that was exotic?) and a drizzle of beet vinaigrette. The main course was "My Opinionated Way to Roast a Chicken!" with (a foaming chive-garlic butter sauce), Moroccan carrot puree, steamed spinach and a roasted garlic custard. Dessert? A slice of my Venetian Wine Cake (with rosemary, red wine and olive oil -- and it is the ONLY recipe I don't divulge), with lemon-buttermilk sorbet, pineapple flan and creme fraiche. To drink? Rose champagne with the first course and a bottle of almost-impossible-to-find Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 1986 with the chicken.
But the real intrigue centered around the soup in the tea cup. I called it "Tomato-Anisette Cappuccino." Dearly loved, everyone took a guess at identifying its ingredients. But no one would ever make a soup from V8 juice, anisette, and fish sauce, but me. It was topped with salted whipped cream and snippets of fresh tarragon. And it takes only five minutes to make.
You can make this with "original" or spicy V8. If using the original, you might want to add a few splashes of chipotle Tabasco for more intrigue.
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 cups V8 (or other tomato-vegetable juice cocktail)
1/4 cup anisette liqueur
1 teaspoon Thai fish sauce
snippets of fresh tarragon for garnish
Using a wire whisk, whip the cream with a large pinch of salt until thick but not stiff. Set aside. Put the V8 in a large saucepan. Bring to boil, lower heat to medium and add the anisette. Simmer for 3 minutes. Stir in the fish sauce, salt, pepper and hot sauce, if using. Pour into soup cups and top with whipped cream and tarragon. Serves 4 to 6
Note: And speaking of fish sauce, tomorrow morning I will give you the world's simplest recipe for fabulous "devilled pecans" -- perfect for Super Bowl munching. Make sure you have Thai fish sauce, pecan halves, and sweet butter at the ready.