Cold Omelet Loaf

Gâteau de Crespèus

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

Appears in

Simple French Food

By Richard Olney

Published 1974

  • About

A crespèu (or crespéou, the Provençal tongue lending itself to a certain orthographic freedom) is, traditionally, a flat omelet containing pieces of fried salt pork, sautéed potatoes, or both—identical to an omelette à la Savoyarde. By extension, other flat omelets are often called crespèus. The Provençal crespèu and the Italian frittata are twins.

This gateau of multi-tiered omelets was chosen from the repertory of a regional restaurant for demonstration purposes in the Avignon summer classes.

The original contains, in addition to those omelets in this recipe, artichoke, Gruyère, caper, and sorrel omelets, and the tomatoes, sweet peppers, and onions are conceived as separate omelets rather than being grouped together in a hamless pipérade. Parsley, tarragon, chives, and chervil are added to all of them and each is spread with a reduction of anchovy, canned tuna, shallots, and white wine, mashed into a paste. The original gateau contains only one omelet of each flavor and the whole thing is bound with a fines herbes omelet mixture.

Such an orgy of different and sometimes contentious savors had, tastewise, pretty much the same effect as mixing together all the colors on a palette—a muddy grayness. And to the eye the cross-sectional pattern was only confusing: The presence of tarragon in all the omelets lent a sameness to everything; the fish paste dulled the clarity of the other flavors; the capers and the cheese lent disruptive support to the fish; the tomatoes, onions, and peppers, which fuse so beautifully into a single Mediterranean note, were senseless apart; the artichoke omelet, lovely in itself, was completely lost in the jungle and, although the whole business badly needed the sharp, clean relief of sorrel, the single little sorrel crêpe in the midst of all that was only frustrating. There were far too many things and not enough of any single thing.

I resolved to limit the flavors, repeating each; to eliminate the oppressive fishy presence, and to replace the repetitious fines herbes egg binder with a sorrel cream. As it stands now, I think the dish cannot fail to please, and the cross-sectional ribbons of repeated red, greens, beige, and black afford a very pretty presentation.

Use a small 7-inch omelet pan for the confection of these omelets. You will need an approximately 2½-quart receptacle of about the same diameter; a large charlotte mold or a round cocotte—a round, enameled ironware casserole—should be perfect. You will also need kitchen parchment paper.

Be organized: Prepare the five basic apparels plus the sorrel purée and line them up in bowls near the stove. Before preparing the omelets, line up five plates or a couple of large platters so as to be able to stack omelets of different flavors separately. Keep the salt and the bottle of olive oil within arm’s reach, a small ladle in the mixing bowl of beaten eggs, a fork in a soup plate for mixing the individual omelets, and a small flexible spatula at hand just in case an omelet should stick (should this happen—and even though the omelet has been successfully turned out and the pan appears to be clean—rub the pan with salt before continuing to the next omelet). Count about 1 tablespoon of olive oil for the confection of each omelet and reheat the pan for a few seconds each time before beginning another. The omelets should be from ¼ to ½ inch thick, depending on the material (the zucchini and spinach omelets will be thicker than the olive and mushroom omelets; the tomato mixture is more flexible). Individual mixtures should be salted separately (the zucchini will need no salt; the quality of the olives will determine their seasoning . . .).

The recipe will serve 12 to 15 people. It is impractical to prepare it on a smaller scale, but it may be kept for more than one meal, protected in plastic wrap.

Ingredients

(1)

  • 1 pound small, firm zucchini
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon fresh marjoram flowers, finely chopped (or a pinch of dried marjoram or a bit of crumbled fresh oregano)

(2)

  • 1 medium sweet onion, halved and finely sliced
  • 3 to 4 ounces sweet peppers (the elongated light green Italian variety, if possible), halved lengthwise and sliced finely crosswise
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium tomatoes, ripe and firm, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped (out of season, use canned tomatoes, juice strained off)
  • 1 large clove garlic, crushed, peeled, and sliced thinly
  • Salt, pepper, large pinch sugar, small pinch cayenne

(3)

  • 1 pound spinach, stems removed, washed in several waters
  • Salt

(4)

  • 4 ounces firm, fresh mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Salt, pepper

(5)

  • 6 or 7 ounces natural black olives (no vinegar)

(6)

  • 10 ounces sorrel
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Salt

(7)

  • About 20 eggs
  • Pepper, salt
  • About cup olive oil (for making omelets)
  • cup heavy cream
  • About 1 tablespoon butter (for buttering mold and parchment)

Method

The Preparations

  1. Rinse the zucchinis, wipe them dry, trim the ends but don’t peel them. Grate them coarsely or pass them, cut into sections, through the medium blade of a Mouli-juliènne, arrange in layers in a mixing bowl, each layer sprinkled with salt, leave to stand for about ½ hour, press the mass together, squeezing to release the water, pour the contents of the bowl into a sieve and, taking the mass in both hands, squeeze tightly and repeatedly to rid it of all the liquid possible. Sauté in olive oil over a relatively high flame, tossing regularly, for 6 or 7 minutes. Add the marjoram after removing from heat.
  2. Stew the onions and the peppers gently in olive oil until soft, stirring regularly—10 to 15 minutes. Add tomatoes, garlic, and seasonings, toss for about a minute over a high flame, then cook gently at a simmer, tossing occasionally, for about 15 minutes. Toss another couple of minutes over a high flame until all liquid is evaporated.
  3. Parboil the spinach in a large quantity of generously salted, rapidly boiling water—2 or 3 minutes only. Drain, rinse in cold water, squeeze tightly and repeatedly with both hands, and chop.
  4. Rinse the mushrooms rapidly or, if clean in appearance, simply wipe each with a damp cloth. Slice them as finely as possible and sauté in butter, seasoned, over a high flame, tossing repeatedly, until their liquid is completely reabsorbed (3 or 4 minutes—or more, depending on the size of the pan).
  5. Pit the olives or remove the flesh with a small knife and chop them coarsely.
  6. Pick over the sorrel, pulling the stems off backwards to remove stringy veins from the leaves, and wash in several waters. If young and tender, cut into a fine chiffonade and put directly to stew, salted, in the butter over low heat, stirring from time to time, for about 20 to 30 minutes, until all liquid is evaporated and the sorrel is reduced to a purée. If the leaves aren’t tender, parboil first, plunging them into boiling water and leaving only long enough for the water to return to a boil. Drain in a sieve and stew in butter as before.
  7. Beat the eggs and pepper (no salt—or very little) with a whisk, only enough to mix them well. Make two omelets from each of the preparations, excluding the sorrel, putting half of the preparation into the soup plate and stirring in enough egg to bind well; the zucchini will take little—the equivalent of something less than 1 egg for each omelet; the tomato mixture will require about double that of the zucchini, etc. Salt each to taste, bearing in mind the amount of seasoning in the original preparation—it is possible that only the spinach will require additional salt.

    Cut 2 rounds of kitchen parchment paper to the dimensions of the top and the bottom of the casserole or chosen mold, butter the mold liberally, butter both sides of 1 round of paper for the bottom and press it carefully into the bottom of the mold, leaving no air spaces or unstuck edges where the egg might run beneath.

    Whisk together the sorrel purée, the cup cream, and the remainder of beaten eggs, adding more eggs if necessary—there should be the equivalent of about 5 eggs in the mixture. Salt and pepper to taste.

    Pour a small ladle of sorrel cream into the bottom of the mold and stack the omelets in alternating colors and flavors, pressing each gently into place and pouring a small bit of sorrel cream over each before placing another. Pour in enough sorrel cream to barely submerge the omelets, tap the bottom of the mold smartly against a muffled tabletop (a couple of folded towels to soften the blow) to settle the contents and chase out any trapped air bubbles, and add more of the sorrel cream if necessary for the top omelet to be only just covered (if any is left over, it can be poached in a small mold apart). Butter the other round of paper and place it, buttered side down, on the surface.

    Cook in a bain-marie, the mold immersed to about two thirds its height in boiling water, in a medium (375°) oven for 45 minutes, making certain that the center of the loaf is firm and elastic to slight pressure before removing from the oven. Leave to cool for about 1 hour—until only just tepid. Lift the paper off the surface, run a knife all around the sides, and unmold onto the serving dish (placing the dish upside down over the mold and turning it and the mold over together). If not to be served immediately, press plastic wrap over the entire surface to protect it from contact with air and refrigerate. Just before serving, decorate it simply (a ribbon of chopped parsley or fines herbes strung around the edge and a rosette of finely sliced tomato in the center, for instance. Pitted black olives sliced into rings or chopped hard-boiled egg yolks are also good decorative elements). To serve, cut into approximately ½-inch slices, using a spatula to transfer them to individual plates.

    A salad of cucumbers in a dill-flavored lemon and cream sauce is an exquisite accompaniment.