A Shakespearean love feast

Party: In honor of Will's birthday, for all of you Romeos and Juliets out there, here's a menu for romantics.

April 21, 1999|By ROSEMARY KNOWER | ROSEMARY KNOWER,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Shakespeare was born in April, the Lover's Month, 435 years ago.

The man who wrote "Romeo and Juliet" had the good sense to come into the world in the spring when an extraordinary number of natural aphrodisiacs (if you believe the folklore of love) are at their sensational seasonal peak.

Asparagus, fennel, fresh greens and spring chickens, all traditionally believed to increase the joys of the heart, are plentiful in the market. Young herbs -- the first of the parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme of the old love charm -- are beckoning from garden centers. And violets, one of the most romantic ingredients of the Elizabethan love supper, are flourishing.

FOR THE RECORD - If the Shakespearean love feast that appeared in A La Carte on April 21 wasn't quite as sweet as you expected, it wasn't your imagination. The sugar was inadvertently omitted in the Almond Custard With Violets dessert that was given to The Sun. We're reprinting the recipe to include the 1/4 cup of required sugar. We apologize for any inconvenience. Almond Custard With Violets Serves 2 1 cup milk 1 cup heavy cream 1/4 cup sugar 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon dash nutmeg 1 teaspoon almond extract 3 beaten eggs 1/2 tablespoon butter for custard cups 6 or more fresh violets In a saucepan, scald milk and cream over low heat. Stir in sugar, spices and almond flavoring. Whisk the hot cream mixture gradually into the beaten eggs, whisking constantly to keep the eggs from forming grainy lumps. Pour the mixture into individual, buttered, oven-proof custard cups, and set the custard cups in a shallow pan of hot water. Bake in a 325-degree oven for about 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the custard comes out clean, and the top is golden-brown. Cool and chill. To serve, garnish with fresh, washed violets. (Always make sure, when using edible flowers, to gather them from an area where no one has sprayed chemicals and that nobody you're serving is allergic to them.)

All over London, lovers of language will be raising a glass to Will, especially on Friday, his birthday. If you saw "Shakespeare in Love," you'll have a vivid picture of the rousing, rambunctious city where Shakespeare worked.

At the new Globe Theatre, they'll be celebrating his birthday with Sonnet Walks. As walkers carrying red roses follow a path from Westminster along the Thames to the playhouse, actors of all ages -- from kids on skateboards to elderly pensioners with dogs on leash -- will surprise them all along the way, stepping out of modern London to speak Shakespeare's passionate sonnets in the open air by the river he loved. There also will be a free performance of African dance and music exploring "Macbeth" in 13th-century Southwark Cathedral, whose bells Shakespeare could hear from the Globe.

Join in the birthday party at home with a sensual supper of favorite love bites from Shakespeare's time. The Asparagus and Spring Green Salad With Walnut Oil Dressing, Chicken Breasts With Fennel Cream Sauce, Lover's Knot Herb-Cheese Rolls and Almond Custard With Violets can be prepared ahead of time, leaving you free to give your attention to the soft lights and sweet music aspect of the evening.

The recipes below are for serving two people. If you're inviting friends to join the love fest, increase the quantities.

Set your table with green linen. Put a bowl of spring wildflowers at the center and light candles. Take out your battered copy of "Romeo and Juliet" and get ready for a little reading out loud with the object of your affection.

Add a dash of cinnamon in the dessert coffee (cinnamon was one of the big guns in the lovers' arsenal in the days of Good Queen Bess). Raise your cup to the poet who helped us all understand the nature of love.

Happy Birthday, Shakespeare! Long may love flourish in your name.

Asparagus and Spring Green Salad

With Walnut Oil Dressing

Serves 2

About 3 cups of spring greens (frisee, arugula, baby spinach, red and greenn oak-leaf lettuce, chard, radicchio and mizuna), washed and chilled

1/2 pound fresh, thin asparagus

Rinse asparagus under water. Snap off lower stems and steam over boiling water until just tender. Rinse under cold water to keep color fresh. Chill.

When you are ready to serve the meal, make a bed of the greens in individual salad bowls and arrange asparagus spears on top. Drizzle Walnut Oil Dressing (recipe below) over it. You can eat the salad with a fork, but it's more in the spirit of things to take up dainty bits with your fingers and offer bites to the beloved as the meal goes along.

Walnut Oil Dressing

Serves 2

1 teaspoon dry English mustard

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill weed leaves

1/2 teaspoon each of salt and cracked pepper

1/2 cup walnut oil

1/4 cup tarragon vinegar

Stir dry ingredients together. Add oil, then vinegar, whisking constantly to blend.

Chicken Breasts

With Fennel Cream Sauce

Serves 2

1 bulb of fennel (the smaller, the better)

4 cups water

1 chicken bouillon cube

2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus additional small amount

2 boneless and skinless chicken breast fillets

3/4 cup no-fat sour cream

Cut the upper green stems off the white fennel bulb, saving a few feathery leaves for garnish. Chop the green stems into chunks and put into a saucepan with water, bouillon cube, lemon juice. Bring to a simmer. Add the chicken breasts. Poach the chicken for about 20 minutes, or until the meat is white all the way through. Chill the breasts.

Boil down the broth in which the breasts were cooked to about 1 cup. Strain it and return to the pan. Slice the fennel bulb into thin sections, across the bulb, so the slices are roughly heart shaped. Poach the fennel slices in the reduced stock just long enough to make them crunchy-tender, about 4 minutes. Take them out of the broth, sprinkle with a little lemon juice to keep them from discoloring, and chill.

Cool the broth and whisk in 3/4 cup of no-fat sour cream, beating until smooth. Chill.

To serve, arrange the chicken breasts side by side (to form a heart shape.) Place the fennel slices between the two breasts, making hearts-within-hearts. Gently pour the chilled sauce over the chicken breasts and fennel slices. Garnish with a few feathery leaves of fennel.

Lover's Knot Herb-Cheese Rolls

Makes 12 rolls

2 tablespoons or more olive oil

one package frozen roll dough (24 rolls)

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