I have been a faithful follower of all of Julia Child’s recipes for a long time. Every one of them works well if you follow the instructions. As Julia and her collaborators Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle devised Mastering the Art of French Cooking, nothing was left to chance. Each recipe was meticulously tested and refined. When volume two of their book came out, sans Louisette Bertholle, both Julia and Simca (as Simone Beck was affectionately known) scored another fine publication. But, by this time, tempers were flaring between the two dear friends. Simca was very opinionated about the superiority of French cuisine and argued with Julia about cooking methods needed to translate recipes to the American kitchen. She was also beginning to feel slighted by the popularity and recognition that Julia was receiving because of The Mastering books and her television show. Simca had her own way of doing things and felt that many of her recipes were left out of the second volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
One of the recipes that she wanted included in Mastering II was a Pork Roast that she had developed. Julia, knowing that the book was too far along in the publication process, had to veto the recipe. There was no time for testing and preparing it for inclusion. After Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume II was published, in part to placate Simca, she was offered the opportunity to publish her own cookbook called simply Simca’s Cuisine. One of the first recipes in the book is Pork Braised with Bourbon and Prunes. I am assuming that this was the recipe that she had wanted to include in The Mastering volume.
I made this pork roast recipe last week. I give Simca high praise for the flavor combinations in this dish. The pork is slathered with Dijon mustard and rolled in brown sugar before being sauteed and then braised in bourbon that is first flamed in the dish. The prunes are a perfect accompaniment. But I did not lard the dish with pickled tongue as suggested. Who of us home cooks has a larding needle or has easy access to pickled tongue? She did offer the alternatives of prosciutto or smoked ham, but I was still put off by this step. I also found the cooking time of 1 3/4 hours much too long for the pork. It was dry. Maybe the larding would have made a difference. The sauce made with the bourbon juices offset the dryness. To me it was a good recipe that needed tweaking. You can find my version of the dish here.
The second recipe that I tried, Molded Casserole of Ham and Mushrooms with Macaroni, Cheese, and Cream, did not work at all. It had such promise. I was excited about cooking the quiche-like filling in my charlotte mold. It was supposed to be unmolded onto a plate and then drizzled with a tomato cream sauce. One of the instructions was to cook the macaroni and then chop it up, after draining well. This made absolutely no sense to me, but I did it anyway. After baking everything in the charlotte mold, I flipped it over onto a plate and it had not set up. Everything just puddled out. Since this was supposed to be dinner last night, I just put it all into a casserole, rewarmed it and served it. The flavors were great. I would make this again as a casserole. It is like a sophisticated macaroni and cheese with ham, mushrooms and Gruyere cheese.
So I guess the moral of this story is that Julia Child knew what she was talking about. When you publish a cookbook it is best to test and retest. Simca’s recipes are inspiring. They have great flavor, but the techniques do not always work. Here is my version of her macaroni and cheese. I hope my techniques and flavors work for you.
HAM AND MUSHROOM MACARONI AND CHEESE
1 cup Macaroni
2 cups diced ham
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
Juice of 1/2 a lemon, strained
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup half and half
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
Nutmeg, freshly grated
Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter a heavy casserole dish. Cook the macaroni in a large quantity of boiling salted water until barely tender. Refresh under cold running water, drain, and dry on paper towels. Combine with the diced ham.
Clean the mushrooms and slice. Sprinkle them with the lemon juice. Melt the butter in a large frying pan, add the mushrooms, and saute, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes. Salt lightly, pour in the light cream, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the mushrooms are tender and the cream has almost evaporated. Drain if necessary.
Beat the eggs thoroughly with the heavy cream and the grated cheese. Add the mushrooms, macaroni, and ham, and season highly with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Mix thoroughly and put mixture into casserole. Cover casserole with lid or foil.
Bake casserole for about 30 minutes.