- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2003

MONTPELLIER, France

Much depends on what is in the glass. Not the wine, but the food. Glasses of multiple shapes and sizes are appearing as individual serving dishes on the table. For years, we’ve served chocolate mousse in stemmed wine glasses and shrimp cocktail in a coupe glass. This is different.

Now tumblers, highball glasses, shot glasses, liqueur glasses, any small receptacles you can see through are fair game. I’ve even come across a few decorated numbers that look suspiciously like tooth mugs.

My attention was first drawn to this trend at one of France’s great restaurants, the Jardin des Sens (Garden of the Senses), in Montpellier on the Mediterranean. As its name suggests, the chefs, twin brothers Laurent and Jacques Pourcel, focus on aromas, textures, flavors and presentations to capture all the senses.

They love ingredients such as zucchini flowers, passion fruit, spice bread and syrup from perfumed Muscat grapes. A jelly of beets contrasts with cream of cauliflower topped with caviar.

My eye is caught by the amuse-bouche, a tapering glass of white, red and green layers, colors of the Italian flag. Insalata Caprese, I am told. Caprese? My favorite combination of fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil? Is it possible?

Sure enough, as I dig in with a teaspoon through successive layers of pesto, tomato coulis and soft buffalo mozzarella, I encounter all the flavor elements of the classic salad brilliantly concentrated in a single small glass.

Without thinking about it, I had encountered a similar witty play on a familiar theme just the week before. A soft mousse of foie gras had been poured into a shot glass, left to set and then impaled with three cooked asparagus spears in echo of a flower vase. Bread sticks were provided for dipping.

Now that I look around, glass containers seem to be everywhere. A simple dip of creamed fresh tuna is served in a small tumbler, my roast beef comes with a glass of concentrated spiced bouillon for sipping, instead of gravy.

Dessert adapts particularly well to similar fantasy treatment in glass. Besides, at the end of the meal, we all enjoy a joke. Dessert ingredients — berries, chocolate and coffee, browned cookies — are often colorful. Here’s the perfect place to pour cognac or a liqueur over fruit salad or a sorbet without danger of a spill.

Cold souffles, mousses and soft custards are easily poured into glasses when solid ingredients are less accommodating. You can build quite a skyscraper in a tall glass, as soda fountain operators knew well.

As it happens, I like to collect old glasses, the more chunky and robust the better. This is an ideal way to use them: for serving dips, chutneys and the side dishes of condiments that are so popular right now.

Never mind that they do not match. A minor challenge is how to extract the contents with a spoon, fork, knife, bit of bread or the fingers, so it’s important to supply the right tool. The only taboo is to actually drink the stuff; that’s cheating.

Chateaux with red berries

Chateaux or satou is Romanian, a frothy wine custard sauce that is delicious poured over tart berries such as strawberries and raspberries. I pile red berries of my choice in large martini glasses and pour the custard over. It sets as it cools to a flat golden surface, with hints of fruit peeping through the glass. Serve chateaux with cake, poached fruit or berries, as here.

The choice of wine for the custard is wide open. With a relatively dry sauvignon blanc, the sauce will be light and fresh. With a sweet Muscat or Sauternes, the effect will be richer — ideal for tart fruit.

1 quart raspberries

1 quart strawberries

8 egg yolks

3/4 cup sugar

Finely grated zest of 1 orange or 1 lemon

2 cups white wine, such as sauvignon blanc or muscat or Sauternes

Set aside 8 raspberries and 4 strawberries, halved, for decoration. Hull remaining strawberries and cut them in chunks. Pile them with raspberries in 8 large martini glasses, taking care they do not rise above the rims.

To make the chateaux, beat egg yolks, sugar and orange or lemon zest in an electric mixer at high speed for at least 5 minutes until light and very thick. (Beating also helps develop the citrus flavor.) Meanwhile bring wine just to a boil in a heavy-bottomed pan.

With mixer on low speed, stir hot wine into egg yolk mixture. Return it to the pan and cook the custard over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it thickens and lightly coats the back of the spoon, 3 to 4 minutes. A clear trail should be left when you draw your finger over the spoon.

Note that unlike custard made with milk, there is no danger of chateaux curdling if you let it come just to a simmer.

Remove custard from the heat and pour it into a cold bowl. Set the bowl over ice and let custard cool, stirring occasionally. When tepid, pour it over berries in martini glasses, filling to the rims so the fruit is completely covered. Air bubbles will rise to the custard surface, so pop them with a knife point.

Leave custard until set. It holds well for up to 8 hours in the refrigerator, loosely covered with plastic wrap. Top with reserved raspberries and strawberries before serving. Makes 8 servings.

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