La Bohème was one of my parents’ favourite operas and I grew up to the smell of oil paints and turps and the notes of one or other of Puccini’s beautiful songs wafting around our house. The plot, with the evocative music, is so sad though that I can hardly bear to watch a full performance, but recently some very generous friends took a party of us to see it at The Grange, in Hampshire.

During the dinner interval they provided a magnificent meal in one of the tents which surround the poetically crumbling opera house and which look out over some stunning countryside.

The starter was the pièce de resistance of this memorable repast. It was, in fact, made using local Hampshire smoked trout, but salmon will do just as well.

It’s quite a convenient dish as you can make it ahead of time, and keep it, wrapped in foil, in the fridge for a couple of days. Then simply reheat gently for ten minutes or so in a lowish oven – 150°C. It’s also quite good cold.

 

This is how to make it.

 

For 10 (about 1½ slices each)

 

  • 280g/10 oz cream cheese
  • 25g/1 oz chives, chopped
  • 3 stems of dill – stems removed, feathery fronds chopped
  • 100g/4 oz watercress, coarsely chopped
  • 200g/8 oz smoked salmon, chopped small with a knife
  • 1 small cucumber
  • 200 ml crème fraiche
  • 2 tbsp capers – if at all possible use those conserved without salt. If with salt or brine rinse thoroughly, soak in milk for about half an hour, rinse again and leave to dry for a little.
  • 50g/2 oz/one fifth of a brick of butter
  • 5 tbsp plain flour
  • 360ml/1½ cups milk (room temperature – if you have an aga put it on the warming plate)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp cream of tartar – why do you need this? Because it stabilises the egg whites and increases their tolerance of heat
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper – really minimal
  • 6 large eggs, separated, also at room temperature
  • 200 ml of crème fraîche

 

  1. Take the milk and eggs out of the fridge and put somewhere warm
  2. Preheat the oven to 180°C
  3. Grease a swiss roll baking sheet
  4. Line with baking paper and grease this too – or use silicon paper
  5. Gently melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan
  6. Add the flour, and cook for a couple of minutes, moving the paste around with a wooden spoon to prevent it burning (you are making a roux)
  7. Mix in the milk and bring to the boil, stirring all the time – it will thicken
  8. Add the salt and cayenne, make sure there are no lumps, and take it off the heat
  9. Using an electric whisk, whisk the egg whites and the cream of tartar in a large, metal if possible, mixing bowl – slow at first, then fast, until the mixture is stiff.
  10. Beat the egg yolks in a medium sized mixing bowl and then, using the electric whisk, mix in about a third of the white sauce. Why can’t you just add the whole lot of sauce at once? Because if you add a hot sauce to room temperature eggs the eggs will begin to cook and you’ll get scrambled eggs in your roulade. What you are aiming to do is to slowly bring up the temperature of the eggs. This technique is known as tempering.
  11. Whisk in the rest of the sauce.
  12. Using a metal spoon lightly incorporate about a quarter of the stiff egg whites into the white sauce.
  13. Then incorporate the rest of the whites, again, lightly, as if you were making a soufflé
  14. Then spoon (if you pour the air will go out of the mixture) the mix onto the swiss roll sheet – spread it out, again, gently.
  15. Bake for about 15 minutes until golden
  16. Mix together the cream cheese, the crème fraiche, and the herbs
  17. Peel and deseed the cucumber, and chop the cucumber, the smoked salmon, the watercress and the capers
  18. Take the roulade out of the oven, leave for a couple of minutes, then run a blunt knife around the edge to loosen any baking paper. Turn down the oven to 150°C
  19. Then cover it with a long piece of silicon paper. Turn over the whole lot, and lift off the swiss roll tin.
  20. Remove the baking paper or silicon paper which is now exposed.
  21. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the roulade
  22. Sprinkle over the smoked salmon, the watercress, the cucumber and the capers
  23. Stand in front of the long edge of the roulade and, using the silicone paper underneath, roll it up carefully.
  24. If you are aiming to eat immediately put it back into the cooler oven for about five minutes.

 

This post is dedicated to E and M P

 

In The Grange production Mimi was played by Susana Gaspar – but below you can hear Maria Callas singing the famous aria, Si. Mi Chiamano Mimi.