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October 22, 2012: Timbale de Riz et Epinard

October 22, 2012

I found more gold in treasure-trove that is my favorite library (the Hudson Public Library) this week with the complete series (eight DVDs) of the A&E TV show from the early 90’s “Jeeves and Wooster” starring Stephen Fry as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie as Wooster. Any readers unfamiliar with the P. G. Wodehouse short stories could use this series as an excellent introduction. If you, like I, adore British humor you should give it a go.

One could almost feel sorry for Bertie Wooster. Although he seems to have the free-wheeling, financially secure, devil-may-care life of an upper-crust British bachelor, in reality his life is fraught with danger…mostly of his own creation. No, poor Bertie is plagued by an ocean of social impediments to his happiness. In Bertie’s world, aunts are purse-tightening tyrants intent on seeing him married off; his many, many fiancee-wanna-be’s are alternately enticing and controlling, their fathers threatening and dangerous; friends are “Right-Ho”-ing, limp-chinned bubble-headed nincompoops; romantic rivals are rugby-playing “bounders;” children are monsters;  It is testimony to Wodehouse’s writing that we actually want this slightly-potty, often inebriated, romantically challenged, man-child protagonist to do well, but we somehow do want him to do well…he just needs serious help.

Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster & Stephen Fry as Jeeves in A & E’s Jeeves & Wooster”

That help comes in the form of Wooster’s butler, Jeeves, who is Bertie’s polar opposite: well-mannered, smooth, controlled, erudite, cunning, and totally composed, Jeeves is the puppeteer to Bertie’s puppet. The most charming thing about Jeeves is that he genuinely seems to care about Bertie and goes to great lengths to see that Bertie’s life is improved, or at least steered in the right direction. Jeeves’s solitary chink in his formidable armor is that he can’t stand to see his charge in terrible clothes. The sight of a tie with a horseshoe design is enough to make him blanch and step back in horror.

The icing of this most tasty cake, for me, is that the series often features good food. In the episode “Jeeves Makes a Omelette” Bertie’s aunt threatens to deprive him of her chef Anatole’s cooking to get him under control. The chef has made Bertie’s favorite dish, “Timbale de Riz de Veau Toulousaine.” I was intrigued with the look of the dish, but I knew that the original recipe was made with meat, so I wondered if I could come up with a vegetarian version of it. Dishes like these need practice to construct, and if I am ever going to be able to make this for friends, I needed to try it out.

Timbale de Riz et Epinard:  [This recipe makes two timbales]
Cook 1 C. long-grained rice and cool [rinse rice in cold H2O until clear, bring to boil in 2 C. veggie broth, cover and simmer until dry.] Blanche 6oz. fresh spinach for no longer than 1 minute, drain, immerse in cold H2O, drain again and squeeze all H2O out and then dry on paper towel. When dry, scramble 1 egg and mix with spinach with a little salt and pepper. Coat two, 1 C. Pyrex dishes with melted butter. Sprinkle a little ground pepper, French Thyme and Herb de Provence on the bottom of the dish and cover with fine bread crumbs (I used slightly ground Panko) and Parmesan cheese. Place a form inside dish (I used a Japanese teacup) and firmly pack the spinach around the form. Remove form and add rice to center. Bake at 325°F until bottom is browned (about 30 minutes.) Let set for a minute, but while still hot, use a butter knife to scrape around the Pyrex bowl and tip (using the knife to balance) over onto a plate of Bechamel Sauce. Serve.

I make my Bechamel Sauce slightly different each time. This time it was 2 Tblps. melted butter+2 Tblps. flour, whisking as it browned slightly over low-medium heat. I added 1/2 a bouillon cube and 1 C. milk and a sprinkle of ground white pepper and tarragon to taste, continuing to heat and adding more milk, as needed, to get the consistency of a good sauce.

Jeeves and Wooster are one of the best comic parings of literature and film. A funny, reversed Holmes and Watson. Despite the manic trials that Wooster is put through, each episode is almost magically reset by virtue of Jeeves’ genius, and we find a serene and oblivious Bertie blissfully playing at the piano, martini ready…expertly constructed by Jeeves’s steady and controlling hands.

I’d like to think that Jeeves would approve of my creation. In my imagination I hear him say, in his characteristic way, ‘Hmm…mmm, very good, sir.”

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