Since today was Easter (see what Easter means to me), my friend Heather hosted a potluck lunch at her cozy Upper West Side apartment.
Lunch felt like an old-fashioned affair. There was no agenda to worry about and no reason to rush. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon shared by a group of friends.
Heather decorated the table with pastel napkins, plates and egg-shaped name tags. Instead of candy, the “eggs” held a different kind of suprise. When it came time to eat, we flipped over the name tags and read Bible verses from the back of them. It was like group theater meets a holiday celebration.
Then we said grace and slowly savored sweet potato vichyssoise (that’s soup for you non-culinary minded folk), salad with raspberry-glazed pecans, spiced potatoes, bread and my baked brown rice pilaf. For dessert, we paired date bars and my pavlova (recipe courtesy Nigella Lawson’s Forever Summer) with tea.
The pavlova had a crisp, meringue crust. The inside was a mixture between squidgy (as Nigella says) marshmallow and creamy, airy mousse. The whole thing was studded with bittersweet chocolate chunks, which gave it little jolts of richness.
It was super easy to make and rustic yet sophisticated. Don’t worry when the edges crack; it adds to the pavlova’s character. Besides, there’s nothing that can’t be repaired (er, covered up) with dollops of whipped cream and elegantly arranged fruit.
You can top the pavlova with any kind of semi-firm fruit, such as raspberries, kiwi, or blueberries. I chose strawberries because one pound is only $1 in Chinatown! (My favorite place to get fresh produce is the intersection of Canal and Walker. There’s lots of food stands, which ensures competitive pricing. Also, the fish so fresh that it’s odorless.)
Do not spread the batter all the way to the edges of the nine-inch circle, because it expands as it bakes.
To lighten the dessert, you can replace the whipped cream topping with yogurt cheese. Simply drain vanilla yogurt (with no gelatin) with a cheesecloth, coffee filter or paper towel fitted over a strainer overnight in the fridge. One cup yogurt yields about 1/3 cup cheese.
Or, if you’re lactose intolerant like Heather, take one 12-ounce block of extra-firm silken tofu (recommended brand: Morinu) , combine with 2 tbsp sugar, and blitz it in a blender till smooth. Refrigerate overnight to firm it up. It’s not the same as whipped cream, but I don’t think anyone knew they were eating tofu today.
The pavlova is extremely sweet, so I recommend adding an extra tbsp of cocoa to make it 1/4 cup. I would also decrease the sugar from 1 1/2 cups to 1 1/4 cups or even 1 cup.
Since the pavlova only has two ounces of chocolate, use the best chocolate you can find to make the flavor stretch further.
It’s easier to separate eggs when they’re cold but easier to beat when they’re at room temperature.