Reviewed by Gordon Nary
Babette's Feast (Babettes gæstebud) is a classic 1987 Danish film written and directed by Gabriel Axel. that won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The film is based on a short story by Isak Dinesen, the author of Out of Africa. In this exquisitely haunting film, food is a metaphor for overcoming anti-religious prejudice with acts of kindness and a reminder that the needs of the flesh often reflect the needs of the spirit. An interesting note about this film-it is one of Pope Francis three favorite films (the other two are La Strada and Rome, Open City).
Two elderly single twin sisters, Martine and Philippa, live in a remote seaside village on Denmark's Jutland peninsula and carry on their deceased father's conservative Lutheran ministry to a dwindling elderly population. A French Catholic, Babette Hersan, whose husband and son have been killed during the Paris Commune, arrives from France to work for the sisters as a cook and housekeeper and soon becomes an indispensable member of the household, even though she is Catholic which is anathema to the conservative Lutheran sect. After several years of service, Babette wins 10,000 francs in the French lottery and decides to use all the money for the preparation of a magnificent banquet in honor of the minister's 100th birthday.
Soon the ingredients for the feast arrive by boat and include a cage of live quail, a calf's head, a live sea turtle, several cases of wines, champagne, and liquor, as well as the candelabra and silverware, elegant china and table linens for the table We watch Babette prepare the spectacular feast consisting of turtle soup with Madeira, blinis Demidoff with caviar, quails stuffed with foie gras and truffles in puff-pastry cases, a salad, cheeses, tropical fruits, and a baba au rhum, all accompanied by champagne and fine wines.
At first, the austere sisters are reluctant to participate in the banquet which they fear will turn into a "witches' Sabbath", but eventually relent and along with the guests enjoy Babette's sumptuous feast which renews many friendships, and restores lost love. It is then revealed that Babette once was the head chef of the famous Café Anglais in Paris (the restaurant that is also mentioned in Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. in Umberto Eco's The Prague Cemetery, and in The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook).
Potage a’la Tortue (Turtle Soup)
o 2 lb boned turtle meat
o 2&3/4 tsp salt,
o 3/4 tsp cayenne, in all
o 6 cups water
o 1 stick butter
1/2 cup flour
1& 1/2 cup chopped onions
2 tablespoons minced shallots
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp dried leaf thyme
1/4 cup chopped green bell peppers
1/4 cup chopped celery
2 TB minced garlic
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
3 TB fresh lime juice
1/2 cup Madeira
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 cup chopped green onions
Put the turtle meat in a large saucepan with 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne, and water. Bring to a boil. Skim off any foam that rises to the top. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes.
With a slotted spoon transfer the meat to a platter. Cut the meat into 1/2-inch dice and reserve the liquid. In another large saucepan, combine the butter and flour over medium heat, stirring constantly for 6 to 8 minutes to make a dark roux.
Add the onions, shallots, bell peppers, and celery. Stir occasionally and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until the vegetables are slightly tender. Add the bay leaves, thyme, and garlic, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the turtle meat. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes stirring occasionally. Add the Worcestershire sauce, the remaining salt and cayenne, the turtle stock (about 6 cups) lime juice, and Madeira. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the parsley, green onions, and eggs and simmer for 45 minutes.
Note" Babette used green turtle which is now an endangered species,. You can order commercial boned turtle meat from STEAKS-USA. com (1-877=398-0152)
Blini Demidoff au Caviar (Buckwheat cakes with caviar)
1 large egg yolk 2 egg whites 2 oz buckwheat flour A pinch of Salt 1 oz plain Flour vegetable oil 2 oz. beer 6 oz. caviar (ideally Beluga) 2 TB milk 20.oz. crème frâiche
Place the flours in large mixing and mix well.
Place the egg yolk, beer, and milk in a measuring jug, whisk together then gradually add to the flour, beating well until you have a smooth batter.
Beat the egg whites until quite stiff then fold them into the batter.
Heat enough oil in a large frying pan to just cover the base and once hot drop tablespoons of the batter into the oil making |sure they are well spaced apart.
You’ll probably only be able to cook 3 or 4 at a time.
Cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side until golden brown.
Serve topped with a spoonful of crème frâiche and garnish with caviar.
Note: Although Russian in origin, this recipe was later refined at the Maison Doree a famous restaurant in Paris frequented by Count Demidoff
La Salade (Belgian Chicory and Walnuts in a Vinaigrette)
Les Fromages (An Assortment of Cheeses including Blue Cheese, Papaya, Figs, Grapes, Pineapple, and Pomegranate)_
Cailles en Sarcophage (Quall in Puff Pastry)
1 pound frozen puff pastry, defrosted 20 minutes at room temperature 4 quails, boned 1& 1/2 ts0salt Freshly ground white pepper to taste 12 ounces foie gras, of which is cut across in 8 slices, the rest cut into 2/3- inch cubes
1 1-oz black truffle, sliced as thinly as possible, at least 12 slices 1 TB unsalted butter 1 cup white wine 1/2 cup chicken stock 1/2 cup demi-glace * 16 black figs, quartered
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut 4 5-inch rounds from the pastry. Make a 3-inch circle in the center of each round, being careful not to cut to the bottom of the dough. Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 22 minutes, or until puffed and golden . Carefully lift out the 3-inch round from the center to create a nest with a top. Set aside to cool.
Raise the oven to 450 degrees. Season the inside of the quails with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Lay 1 slice of foie gras in each quail cavity followed by 3 truffle slices and top with the remaining foie gras. Truss the quails. Season the outsides with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Melt the butter in an ovenproof skillet over high heat. Sear the quails, 20 to 30 seconds per side. Place the pan in the oven and roast for 10 minutes. Turn the quails and roast for 5 minutes more. Remove and keep warm in a covered dish.
Place the skillet over high heat on top of the stove. Pour in the wine and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Simmer for 1 minute. Pour in the stock and demi-glace and simmer for 3 minutes. Stir in the figs and simmer for 1 minute. Stir in the 1/4-inch cubes of foie gras and simmer, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes, until the sauce is reduced to 2/3 cup. Season with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, put each quail in a pastry nest. Drizzle with sauce, top with the pastry round and surround with the figs.
*See Appendix A or order from Amazon.com
Baba Au Rhum
1 package of dry yeast 1/2 cup lukewarm milk 1/2 cup sugar 4 eggs 1/2 cup soft butter 1 TB grated lemon zest 1 TB grated orange zest 3 cups flour 1/2 tsp salt
3 cups flour 1/2 tsp salt 1 cup white raisins 2 cups sugar 2 cups rum 1 cup apricot jam, forced through a fine sieve 1 cup orange juice 1 cup orange juice 6 maraschino cherries, halved
Sprinkle yeast over lukewarm milk in a mixing bowl and allow 5 minutes for it to dissolve. Add sugar, eggs, butter, and zest. Mix well. Add flour and salt and beat mixture until dough is smooth. Fold in raisins.
Add orange juice and sugar in a saucepan. Cook over high heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and cool. Add rum.
Beat down dough and fill greased muffin cups about 1/2 full. Cover and place in a warm place to rise for about 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350º F. 5 Bake babas for 15 to 20 minutes until they brown.
Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing from muffin cups. Place babas in a shallow pan and spoon on rum syrup. Turn babas several times so that they will absorb syrup from the bottom of the pan.
Glaze with strained apricot jam.
When ready to serve, whip cream for the topping and add a half cherry.
© 2017 Gordon Nary