Lush picnic fare abounds in British cookbook 'Alfresco'

July 22, 1992|By Peter D. Franklin | Peter D. Franklin,Contributing WriterUniversal Press Syndicate

When it comes to dining alfresco, many folks would just as soon eat outdoors.

Me? I'm not in favor of sharing any well-prepared meal with the summer swarms of God's little flying creatures, especially those which take fiendish delight in camping out on the very morsel I'm about to devour.

Many do enjoy eating outside -- alfresco, as it were. Consequently each summer a number of new cookbooks aimed in that direction are published.

At the head of the picnic table this year is an oversized, pricey volume titled (surprise!) "Alfresco," by Linda Burgess and Rosamond Richardson (Potter, $35). Ms. Richardson is the writer DTC and author of several cookbooks; Ms. Burgess is a photographer of still life, flowers and food. Both are British, as is "Alfresco."

Given the often sorry state of the weather on the isles, it's a wonder anyone there would consider an entire cookbook devoted to eating outdoors. But the British revel in "eating summery food in the long grass of a leafy glade [or] on a patio that catches the early morning sun." In fact, it's almost a ritual to set out the proper alfresco breakfast, lunch, tea or dinner, regardless of the weather.

Ms. Richardson believes "alfresco meals make vivid impressions that linger long after the day is over." From experience I can vouch for that, especially when it rains.

The recipes in "Alfresco" have been adapted for American kitchens and are grouped according to the time of day: breakfasts and luncheons first, followed by teas, drinks and dips, barbecues, light suppers and "dinner at dusk."

"Alfresco" is lovely to look at, and there are some nice recipes -- all of which may be served indoors, I might add. This is special-occasion food of the kind that could make you king for a day at a Labor Day picnic. Few, however, would want to cook every day from "Alfresco;" it's not everyday fare.

Cheesy chicken in filo pastry

Makes 4 servings.

4 chicken breasts, skinned and boned

1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced

8 slices of mozzarella cheese

8 sheets of filo pastry, each about 7 1/2 by 15 inches

4 tablespoons olive oil

small bunch of fresh herbs, such as tarragon, chives and marjoram, finely chopped

2 tablespoons white wine

salt and pepper

Slice the chicken breasts almost in half horizontally, and insert 2 or 3 avocado slices. Place 2 slices of the mozzarella cheese on top of the avocado, then close the chicken breast.

Put each chicken breast on 2 sheets of filo pastry lightly brushed with olive oil, then sprinkle each with the herbs, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the white wine and salt and pepper.

Wrap the filo around the chicken, tucking in the edges securely. Make 4 parcels. Brush the tops with remaining oil and place on a baking sheet.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until the filo pastry is golden and crisp, and the chicken is cooked through.

Personally, I don't agree with the author that this radicchio dish can be served as an hors d'oeuvre, but it does make an unusual yet nice salad-like side dish to an entree.

Hot radicchio Italian style

Makes 4 servings.

2 heads of radicchio, trimmed

1/4 cup butter

1 1/2 cups dolcelatte cheese, finely diced

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon chopped chives

salt and pepper

Cut each radicchio head in half lengthwise. Melt three-quarters of the butter in a large, shallow pan and add the radicchio, cut side down. Cook over a moderate heat for 4 or 5 minutes, turning each one over to cook the uncut side too, until the leaves have wilted.

Sprinkle the cheese over the cut side of each radicchio half. Place under a very hot broiler until it melts. Transfer to 4 warm plates.

Add the vinegar to the pan with the remaining butter and the chives. Shake the pan until the butter has melted, then cook over medium heat for 1 minute.

Spoon the mixture over the radicchio and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

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