Catherine de Medici

topic posted Tue, June 15, 2004 - 11:12 AM by  Mary Anne
Rogov's Ramblings
The Italian Queen of French Cuisine

Although the majority of women who have had famous dishes named after them have been courtesans and whores, there is no historical mandate that a woman has to have a spotted reputation in order to have a major impact on world cuisine. It may even be that innocence was an advantage for some of the women involved with culinary inventiveness. In l533, when Catherine de Medici was fourteen years old, she arrived in France to marry the future King Henry II. Dismayed at the poor quality of French cookery, Catherine decided that for her personal benefit it would be necessary to make some gastronomic changes. Catherine had come equipped with a small army of Florentine chefs and with a sophisticated knowledge of those culinary arts long possessed by the Italians but as yet undeveloped within France.

Catherine introduced the French to such delicacies as truffles, Parmesan cheese, artichokes, quenelles and the succulence of veal, all of which became immediately popular. She also introduced the use of the fork, but this proved too sophisticated for the French who rejected its use for nearly a century longer.

Catherine did far more than merely refine French cookery: she turned it into a cuisine and a tradition. As early as l549, when entertaining fifty guests she served 30 peacocks, 33 pheasants, 2l swans, 20 cranes, 66 guinea hens, 30 capons, 99 quail and a selection of hares, rabbits and pigs. Also offered up were 60 salads and 26 sweet courses. One royal guest commented "that with gifts such as these there should never again be found a reason to go to war with our southern neighbors."

Despite her enormous contributions to French cuisine, only two dishes bear her name today and these are both for desserts. The first is a dish that Catherine is said to have invented herself (because her husband had 22 mistresses, he had little time for her). The second, an ice cream bombe, was prepared in honor of her 70th birthday, and on sampling it Catherine said that "after having tasted something so wondrous, one may be comfortably assured that there is indeed a Paradise that awaits us." Several hours later, Catherine de Medicis died in her sleep. Her physician reported that she died with a smile on her lips.

Pears Catherine

4 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract (or more to taste)
6 - 8 pears
4 cups raspberries or blackberries (may used tinned or frozen)
2 Tbsp. kirsch liqueur
3 Tbsp. almonds, chopped finely

Prepare a syrup by dissolving 4 cups of the sugar in 4 1/2 cups of water and bringing to a boil. Strain, add the vanilla and filter through several layers of muslin. Pour the syrup into a clean saucepan and in this poach the pears until they are soft, but taking care not to cook so long that they become mushy.

In a mixing bowl crush the berries (if using tinned berries be sure to drain and discard the liquids in the tin). Add the remaining sugar, mix well put through a sieve. Stir in the kirsch. To serve, spoon the berry puree over the pears and sprinkle with the almonds. (May be served with sweetened whipped cream in a separate bowl).

Bombe Medicis

Note: There are few dishes of any kind with more cholesterol or calories. Those concerned with such issues can gain solace in the fact that there are few more delicious and, by eating it in rather small quantities, one can avoid most of whatever "harm" these things cause. As to me. No guilt whatsoever!

4 cups pear or orange ices
2 cups peaches, peeled and diced
1/2 cup kirsch liqueur
8 1/2 cups sugar
6 large peaches, halved and peeled
32 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
about 3 cups sweet cream, whipped stiff

Line a bombe mold or earthenware bowl with the ices and place in the freezer until solidified.

In a small bowl steep the diced peaches in the kirsch for 1 - 2 hours.

In a small saucepan dissolve 1 1/2 cups of the sugar in 2 cups of water and bring to the boil. In this syrup simmer the peach halves until soft. Drain and puree the peaches.

In a saucepan dissolve the remaining sugar in 4 cups of water. Bring to a rolling boil, strain and filter. In the top of a large double boiler over, but not in hot water, combine the syrup and egg yolks, stirring regularly with a whisk and when the mixture attains the consistency of thick cream and rub it through a fine sieve into a bowl. Add the vanilla extract and continue to stir until the mixture is fully cool. Add to the mixture the peach puree and diced peaches and then add an equal volume of the whipped cream. Place the mixture in a stone or porcelain container, cover and refrigerate until completely cold (4 - 5 hours).

When the mixture is cold fill the center of the bombe. Seal the mold and let stand in the freezer until solid throughout (2 - 3 hours) before unmolding and serving. (Serves 12 - 16).

© Daniel Rogov


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