Holiday foods: a few surprises among the traditional

When John Clancy was a young man he baked 750 cookies one Sunday afternoon in preparation for the family holidays.

''I admit I wasn't eager to bake any more cookies for a while, but the experience helped me decide that I really wanted to be in the food business,'' he said.

Today, whether he's cooking for a small group or hundreds, it's no problem. And his teaching, his cookbooks, and cooking activities range in subject from serious breadmaking, international cooking workshops, and fish and seafood specialties to elaborate pastry creations.

But of all these areas he has one undeniable favorite - he likes best of all to do holiday cooking for Christmas.

And it's a happy coincidence that he happens to own a brownstone home in the Chelsea area of New York City that sits on land once owned by Clement Clarke Moore, the author of ''A Visit from St. Nicholas.''

So it is only natural that he has written a book on holiday cooking, titled ''John Clancy's Christmas Cookbook, Menus and Recipes for Holiday Entertainment'' (Hearst Books, New York, $17.50).

Some recipes are for traditional dishes such as Lobster Newburg, Roast Goose, and Plum Pudding. Others are more unusual, such as Pickled Shrimp and Ratatouille Egg Cake.

Instructions tell you how to plan ahead and prepare ahead, to figure out the number of servings, and to serve all kinds of festive foods the appropriate way, with tips and ideas gleaned from this cook's years as a professional chef.

John Clancy's career started with James Beard, as chef at Chillingsworth restaurant on Cape Cod in Brewster, Mass. Later he was chef at the Coach House Restaurant in New York.

As a cooking teacher he taught for eight years with Beard and then established his own cooking school, John Clancy's Workshop, in his New York brownstone.

Here are some recipes from his holiday book that will help capture the festivity of the year-end holidays and enable you, the cook, to share fully with friends and family. Pickled Shrimps 2 pounds medium-size shrimps 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt 2 large yellow onions, peeled,thinly sliced 4 lemons, thinly sliced, with rind 1 cup loosely packed bay leaves Salt Freshly ground pepper 3 cups olive oil, approximately 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Cover shrimps with cold water in large saucepan over high heat. When water just starts to come to a boil, drain shrimps in a colander. Immediately place them on several thicknesses of newspaper and sprinkle with 11/2 teaspoons of coarse salt. Wrap in the newspaper to steam for 10 minutes. Remove from paper and peel and devein shrimps.

Spread a layer of sliced onions in a deep glass serving dish, top with a layer of shrimps, sprinkle with a little salt and a few grindings of pepper.

Cover with a layer of sliced lemon, then add a layer of bay leaves. Repeat layers, starting with onions, until all ingredients are in serving dish.

Pour enough olive oil to cover the contents, then let the pickled shrimps marinate in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours. Serve at room temperature, sprinkled with chopped parsley. Yields about 8 servings.

This colorful ratatouille egg cake is at its best when served at room temperature. Sliced in wedges and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, it makes a perfect brunch dish that can be prepared hours in advance. Ratatouille Egg Cake 2 large yellow onions, peeled, coarsely chopped 2 medium-size eggplants, in 1-inch cubes 4 medium-size zucchini, in 1/3-inch-thick rounds 1 large green pepper, seeded, cut in 1/2-inch dice 1 large red pepper, seeded, cut in 1/2-inch dice 6 very ripe tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded, coarsely chopped, or canned plum tomatoes 1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic 4 teaspoons dried, or 1/4 cup fresh, basil 2 teaspoons salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 1/2 cup olive oil 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place all vegetables in a large ovenproof casserole, season with garlic, dried basil, if you are using it, salt, and pepper, and pour the oil over them. Stir the vegetables with a large spoon to coat completely with oil.

Cover casserole, place on rack in middle of oven, and bake vegetables 11/2 hours. Remove cover and continue to bake an additional 15 to 30 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Remove casserole from oven and, when ratatouille has cooled to room temperature, stir in the fresh basil, if you are using it, and parsley. Yields 10 to 12 cups. Egg Cake 12 large eggs 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup water 6 to 8 tablespoons butter 3 1/2 cups ratatouille, at room temperature

With a wire whisk, beat eggs, salt, and water together in a large bowl until well blended. Pour mixture through a fine wire sieve into another bowl.

Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in an 8- to 9-inch skillet over high heat until very hot but not brown. Reduce heat to medium, and pour one-fourth of egg mixture into pan.

Cook until it sets and turns light brown on the bottom; lift edge with a metal spatula to check it. Turn the layer of egg over and cook about 1 minute on other side. Slide the egg layer onto a large plate.

Repeat process, using as much butter as necessary to keep skillet well greased, until you have 4 layers of egg.

Place one layer of egg on a large serving plate and spread evenly with 1 cup ratatouille. Repeat until all egg layers are used, mounding the last one with 1/ 2 cup of the ratatouille. Yields 6 to 9 servings.

This festive-looking dessert is particularly easy to serve to large groups of people. Both the cake and the custard can be prepared several days in advance. Trifle Cake 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 9 large eggs 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract 8 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Generously butter the entire inside of a 10-inch layer cake pan. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of flour around the pan, tilt the pan from side to side to coat it evenly with the flour, then invert the pan and tap it to remove any excess flour.

Using an electric mixer, beat eggs, sugar, and vanilla extract together until the mixture triples in volume and runs off the beater in thick ribbons.

Add 1/3 cup of the remaining flour at a time, sprinkling it over the egg mixture and then folding it in with a large rubber spatula. Watch carefully for any pockets of dry flour and fold them in. Fold in the melted butter 2 tablespoons at a time.

Pour and scrape cake batter into the prepared pan and bake on the middle rack of the oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cake is a light golden brown and shrinks slightly from the sides of the pan. Remove from oven. Cool 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Custard 2 tablespoons granulated sugar 1 tablespoon cornstarch 2 large egg yolks 2 1/4 cups milk 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the sugar and cornstarch in a small heavy saucepan (not aluminum) and mix them together. With a small wire whisk, beat in the egg yolks until you have a smooth yellow paste. Gradually whisk in milk in a thin stream.Place saucepan on medium heat and stir with whisk util milk comes to a boil and thickens. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla extract. Pour into a storage container, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Filling and decorations 1 cup raspberry preserves 1 cup sliced almonds, toasted 2 cups chilled heavy cream, whipped and flavored with 2 ta blespoons confectioners' sugar 8 to 10 strawberries, washed and hulled

Slice the cake into 3 layers and let them dry out for a few hours. Spread the layers with the raspberry preserves and reassemble them, gently pressing them together.

Cut the filled layers into large cubes and put them into a deep glass serving bowl. Mix in the toasted almonds, then the custard. Decorate the top with the whipped cream and strawberries. Yields 8 to 10 servings.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.