Food and Drink: Rich beyond the dreams of epicures - Why stop at pancakes? Shrove Tuesday is a traditional excuse to plunder the larder for goodies

Why is it traditional to gorge ourselves on pancakes on Shrove Tuesday? The usual explanation is that, in the days when religious fasting was taken rather more seriously, it was a way of using up all the good things in the larder before the beginning of Lent. In other parts of Europe the traditional foods might be omelettes or doughnuts, but the principle is said to be much the same.

I will be tossing pancakes along with the best of them on Tuesday, but I must admit that the 'why' of it seems pretty weak to me. It must have been a depressingly under-stocked larder if the best it could provide was an egg or two, some flour and a slurp of milk. What about a bit of cream, some rich golden butter, honey, spices, candied or dried fruits?

I am taking Shrove Tuesday as an excuse to throw all caution to the wind and really pig out on some of the best, most indulgent, highest cholesterol and calorie dishes I can come up with - and that is on top of the pancakes. It is just a one-off, a singular orgiastic blip on an otherwise average, not-too-holy but not-too-sinful way of eating.

My starting point is, of course, ingredients. Dairy fats have to feature prominently, so much so that I make them the mainstay of all four recipes. Double cream is a natural contender, though French creme frache beats it hands down on the fat front. Butter scores highly, too, and that Italian newcomer, mascarpone, heads the field with an outrageous 40 per cent fat and 404 calories for 3 1/2 oz (100g). With foundations laid, the rest is easy.

Escalopes de veau aux fines herbes

This is a quickly made, pan-fried plate of escalopes with a heavily herb-strewn sauce. It is just the kind of thing for Valentine's Day, also on the horizon this week - as long as your loved one is not on a diet. Choose veal that has a good, rosy colour, and that is guaranteed British. Very white flesh is a possible indication of imported, crate-raised veal. It may be more tender, but the production method is barbaric. If you prefer, you can substitute turkey escalopes - not at all the same but a good deal cheaper.

Serves 2

Ingredients: 2 veal or turkey escalopes

seasoned flour

1oz (30g) butter

2tbs dry white vermouth

5tbs creme frache, or double cream with a squeeze of lemon juice

1tsp each of finely chopped parsley, chives and chervil

salt and pepper

Preparation: Make a few snips round the edges of the escalopes to prevent them curling up as they are fried. Sandwich each one between two sheets of greaseproof paper and use a rolling-pin to beat and roll them out until about half their original thickness. Do not go overboard - you are not aiming for a web of meat, but tender, hole-free, even escalopes. Dust with seasoned flour.

Melt the butter in a wide frying- pan over a medium-high heat. As soon as it is foaming, add the escalopes and fry for about 3-4 minutes on each side, until lightly browned and just cooked through. Transfer to a warm serving dish, cover and keep warm.

Pour off excess fat, return the pan to the heat and add the vermouth. Bring to the boil, scraping in the brown residues stuck to the bottom of the pan, and reduce to a scant tablespoonful. Stir in the creme frache or double cream, and bring to the boil. Draw off the heat, stir in the herbs, salt and pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice if you used double cream. Taste and adjust seasoning and pour over the escalopes. Serve immediately.

Beurre rouge

Beurre rouge is the less common version of the classic French sauce for freshwater fish, beurre blanc. As the name indicates, this one is made with red wine, and it goes particularly well with grilled or poached salmon, or other robustly flavoured fish. Like hollandaise, it is not an easy sauce to make, as it can separate in mid-production. Be aware, too, that overheating thins it out. The finished sauce should be warm, not hot, and it should be creamy, thick and luscious. Take it slowly, be patient, and with luck you will pull it off.

Serves 4

Ingredients: 2 shallots, very finely chopped

1 tbs red wine vinegar

2 1/2 fl oz (75ml) red wine

8oz (225g) chilled, unsalted butter, diced

salt and pepper

Preparation: Put the shallots, vinegar and wine into a small pan and boil until reduced to a tablespoon. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and use a wire whisk to blend in the butter a few pieces at a time. Take the pan off the heat frequently, so that some of the butter never quite melts but softens to a thickening cream, then return it to the heat for the next few pieces. Keep going until all the butter is incorporated, then season with salt and pepper.

The sauce is best served immediately, but if you have to keep it for a few minutes, pour into a bowl and set over a pan of tepid water. Hot water will make it oily, so do not be tempted.

Triple cream vanilla mousse

I have managed to cram three high- cholesterol ingredients into this mousse, and it tastes wonderful. Rich it may be, but it also seems surprisingly pure and light (it must be all that air caught in the cream and egg whites). Serve on its own, or with a cooked compote of fruit, or with fresh soft fruit.

Serves 8-12

Ingredients: 4oz (110g) castor sugar

zest (cut in strips) and juice

of 1/2 lemon

6oz (170g) cream cheese

8oz (220g) mascarpone

3 eggs, separated

1 tsp vanilla essence

1 sachet powdered gelatine

1/2 pint (290ml) double cream

Preparation: Put the sugar, lemon zest and juice, and 1/4 pint (150ml) water into a pan, and bring to the boil, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Simmer for 4 minutes, then cool. Beat the cream cheese with the mascarpone, the egg yolks (make sure all three are chilled), and the vanilla essence. Gradually add enough of the syrup to sweeten to taste, remembering that the cream will dampen the sweetness.

Sprinkle the gelatine over 4 tablespoons of hot water in a small pan. Leave for 3 minutes to soften, then stir until thoroughly dissolved. If there are a few stubborn lumps, return to the heat and stir for a few minutes, without letting the mixture boil. Cool until tepid, then stir 3 tablespoons of the cream cheese, one by one, into the mixture. Now tip the whole lot into the cream cheese bowl and mix evenly.

Chill until beginning to set - it should have the consistency of egg white. Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, and fold in. Whip the cream until it just holds its shape and fold that in, too. Spoon into a 2 1/2 -3 pint (1 1/2 -1 3/4 litre) mould, rinsed out with cold water, and leave to set in the fridge for at least 4 hours before turning out.

Chocolate amaretti marquise

A 'marquise' is probably the richest of all the versions of chocolate mousse, smoothed out as it is with plenty of butter. A little goes a long way, so unless you are among a gang of outrageous gluttons, there should be enough for a small portion each.

Serves 8

Ingredients: 7oz (200g) best quality plain chocolate, broken into squares

2 1/2 oz (70g) castor sugar

4oz (110g) unsalted butter, softened

4 eggs, separated

2oz (56g) amaretti biscuits, coarsely crushed

Preparation: Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water (make sure the bowl does not touch the water). While it melts, cream the sugar with the butter until light and fluffy. As soon as the chocolate has melted, take the bowl off the pan and beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Now beat in the creamed butter. Finally whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold those in as well.

Divide the crushed amaretti between 8 individual ramekins or, if you want to make one marquise to turn out and slice, line a 2 pint (1 litre) capacity loaf tin or mould (I use a long, narrow loaf tin, which makes it easy to slice and turn out) with foil, brush lightly with oil and coat thickly with the amaretti crumbs. Spoon in the chocolate mousse and smooth down lightly. Chill in the fridge until set - for 6 hours or more. Serve with cream.

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