My favorite thing to do on New Year's Eve is cook for friends – because I love to cook, I love my friends and I don't really like going out on New Year's Eve, especially to a restaurant. If I entertain at home I can spend a luxurious day in the kitchen chopping and slicing and baking, enjoying the smell of something warm in the oven and the sizzle of onions and shallots on the stove. Then I get to enjoy the company of people I love best, spending hours at the table, sipping wine and eating and talking and laughing, and – bien sûr – popping a bottle of Champagne at midnight.
And it has to be Champagne. It just wouldn't be New Year's Eve without it.
And every New Year's Eve, I think of Judy Rodgers, the late great chef-owner of Zuni Cafe in San Francisco. Her Zuni Cafe Cookbook, published in 2002, is one of my favorite volumes of all time. One of the many recipes I love to cook from it is her New Year's Eve Gougères.
Gougères – French cheese puffs, served warm just out of the oven – are wonderful anytime, particularly with a glass of light red wine, maybe a village Beaujolais or a Côtes du Rhônes.
Sliced open and stuffed with great bacon, arugula and pickled onions, as Rogers suggests, they're a spectacular, and very festive, hors d'oeuvre – on New Year's Eve or any other eve. Rodgers, who died two years ago this month, wrote in the recipe's headnote,"This was the most successful New Year's Eve hors d'ouevre of the last decade, outselling foie gras, oysters, caviar, crab salad, and little truffle-laden pizzas."
There you go. They are a real treat – definitely something to consider whipping up on the last day of the year.
I treasure my copy of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, not just because there are so many great recipes and ideas in it, but also because Rodgers signed it for me when I bought it at the restaurant many years ago. "For Leslie," she wrote, "always cook with heart." Rest in peace, Judy Rodgers. You will always live on through your recipes.
Happy New Year!