August 18th, 2013

Roasted Fig-Goat Cheese-Butter Lettuce Cups

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The unpredictability of harvests causes me to marvel at the steadfast dedication of farmers. One season to the next, they never know how well or poorly a crop will do, despite all care and meticulous planning. And, under the same weather conditions, one planting will thrive, while another fizzles.

In 2010, Gigi had a bumper crop of figs. In the two years that followed, her trees bore meager fruit. It had us worried—was 2010 a fluke? Last week, that notion was dispelled when Gigi called me with this report:

“We need to pick figs. Now!”

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Her trees were–and still are—covered. Plump ripe knobs, some royal purple, others streaked greenish-brown, are ready to be plucked and relished. The next morning, I met Gigi at the garden. We picked a fast 100, and two days later, I returned to gather another basketful.

Joy. The figs are back, with the promise of so many more to come. Time to enjoy them now, and preserve them for the future.

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My plan was two-fold. I could envision delectable figs roasted to sweetness, tucked in lettuce leaves with goat cheese, chives, and bacon for a summer meal. (almonds for my vegetarians!) What I didn’t use in the salad, I’d put up in mason jars. Roasted Figs in Syrup!

I began by halving the figs and arranging them on a baking sheet scattered with thin lemon wedges. After I dusted them with sugar and a spritz of white balsamic vinegar, I placed them into the hot oven.

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I had forgotten how effective and deeply delicious this method is. Very quickly the sugar melts as the figs release their juices. The lemon and vinegar meld into the mix, enhancing the figgy taste, while balancing the sweetness. A gorgeous caramel-ruby syrup results, glazing the fruit in the pan. And that tangy syrup becomes the perfect medium to drizzle into the lettuce cups, the salad’s dressing really.

As for the rest, well, I have a few ideas. I love them baked on flatbread with prosciutto, leeks, and soft gorgonzola. The figs in syrup are sublime with mascarpone on a slice of crusty toasted baguette. Check out Cooking Light’s Guide to Figs for other tips and recipes. I am always open to new recipes with this ancient, treasured fruit, and would love to have your recommendations, too.

Of course, we fig lovers know that there is nothing quite like that one, sun-warmed and ripe right off the tree, sticky to the touch and honeyed to the bite.

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ROASTED FIG-GOAT CHEESE-BUTTER LETTUCE CUPS
25 leaves butter (or Boston) lettuce, washed and spun dry
1 11 ounce log plain goat cheese
8-10 strips thick slab cut bacon cooked crisp and crumbled -OR-
1/2 cup sliced toasted almonds
1 1/2 cups roasted figs in syrup (recipe follows)
coarse ground black pepper

Arrange butter lettuce leaves on a platter. Cut the goat cheese log into small slices or pieces, placing a piece into each lettuce cup.
Sprinkle the goat cheese with chives.
Sprinkle cooked bacon or toasted almonds into the cups.
Place a fig half over the goat cheese.
Drizzle with figgy syrup and season with coarse ground black pepper.

Makes 25 appetizers or 10-12 mains.

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ROASTED FIGS IN SYRUP
15 ripe figs, washed, dried and cut in half lengthwise
1 lemon, sliced into 10 wedges
1/4 cup sugar
2-3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place the fig halves on a baking sheet. Scatter the lemon wedges around the figs.
Sprinkle the sugar over the figs. Sprinkle the vinegar over the sugared figs.
Place into the oven and roast for 10-12 minutes, rotating the pan after the halfway (5-6 minutes) mark.
Cook until the figs become puffed and release their juices.
The juices will meld with the melted sugar and vinegar to make a luscious syrup.
Remove from the oven and cool. Place the fig and lemon pieces into a medium bowl or 12 ounce jar. Scrape the accumulated juices-syrup from the pan over the figs.

Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Note: You may double the batch and preserve the figs and syrup in 3-8 ounce jars and process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Fruit, Gluten Free, Recipes, Salads | 17 Comments »




August 10th, 2012

Butterstick Crudo

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Cocozelle Zucchinis, Yellow Crooknecks, and now, Buttersticks.
Thanks to our diligent garden, it’s been a squash-filled summer.

Are you familiar with Butterstick Squash?

New to our garden this year, these hybrids have dark green tips and deep gold bodies, with some green streaking. Similar to zucchinis, they grow long and straight. Unlike zucchinis, ( which can hide under vast stalks and leaves until they are baseball bats!) their bright yellow color brashly announces their presence, and readiness for picking.

The flesh is firm, with a delicate, almost nutlike flavor. Seeds are minute. Easily sliced into thin coins, batons, or planks, buttersticks are cooperative. They perform well in all manner of recipes.

This is indeed helpful, because, if you are like me, the quest for different summer squash dishes is a constant from June through September.

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Such a tender squash can be eaten raw.

As I was considering a preparation, I recalled a certain post in the delectable blog, My Little Expat Kitchen created by Magda.

A Greek woman living in The Netherlands, she introduces her readers to specialty dishes from her homeland interspersed with other recipes using the fresh seasonal goods found in Holland. Her photography is stunning, and her engaging voice unmistakable in her fine writing. (She also has an abiding love of chocolate, with recipes to match.)

Magda had marinated raw zucchini slices, and layered them several planks high, each in a slather of ricotta-feta cheese mixture with lemon and dill. It was her Tower.

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That post was over two years ago—but its simplicity and beauty stood out for me. Whenever you can prepare an exceptional dish without firing up the stove—well, that’s a huge benefit in the heat of August.

With her inspiration, and select ingredients on hand, I decided to make my version, Butterstick Crudo.

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It didn’t take long to whip up.

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Chevre, churned with olive oil, lemon, green onion, fresh oregano, and just a hint of honey, serves as both slather and marinade for the butterstick slices. I recently bought some local honey that has a light yet distinct floral taste. A scant teaspoon imparts a desired essence of lavender, without being too sweet, or overpowering.

Be sure to season with sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste.

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The mixture will be thin–that’s to be expected. After you lay out a row of thin squash planks, get a spoonful and guide a stripe of the chevre down the center of each one. Place another plank on top and repeat the process.

Mine are not towers–just three stories high.

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On to the finishing touches:
Scatter more fresh oregano leaves,
Marigold petals–if you have them—give a distinctive pop
A quick squeeze of lemon, and
A drizzle of good olive oil over the dish…

Done!

Place in the refrigerator for an hour, if you would like the chevre to set up. The chilled butterstick stacks slice neatly.

But, it is just as delicious at room temperature. Eat with a piece of crusty bread to swipe up all the creamy dressing.

And, use any leftover seasoned cheese blend stirred into scrambled eggs, or spread on a piece of toast. So good!

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BUTTERSTICK ZUCCHINI CRUDO

3-4 small to medium sized young Butterstick Squashes or Zucchinis
4 oz. Chevre
2 t. fresh Lemon Juice
1 t. Honey
2 t. Olive Oil
1 Scallion, cut into small pieces
1 heaping Tablespoon fresh Oregano leaves
Sea Salt and Black Pepper–to taste

Marigold petals–to garnish

Wash, dry, and cut of the ends of the squashes. With a sharp knife, cut lengthwise into thin (1/4″ thick) slices.

In a mixing bowl, place goat cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, honey, scallion pieces, and oregano leaves. Using a hand-held blender, process until smooth. Season with salt and black pepper, and mix a bit more. Mixture will be a little runny.

Lay out squash slices onto a serving platter. Spread each slice with seasoned chevre. Layer each with another slice, then more cheese mixture. Finish each with a final slice. Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt, black pepper. Garnish with fresh oregano leaves and marigold petals, if you like.

Refrigerate for about an hour to set.

Serves 4

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Recipes, Salads, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 26 Comments »




October 26th, 2009

An Apple Appetizer

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Do you have a favorite apple?

With all the tempting varieties showing up at our farmer’s market this week, I would be hard pressed to give an answer. And, some apples are better suited for baking, others for simple out-of-hand eating. Pairing apple types–say, your sweet Jonah Gold with a tart Honeycrisp in a salad or green Granny Smith with an Arkansas Black layered in a Tarte Tatin–adds surprising complexity to a dish. Maybe it’s better to have Favorites, with the notion that the next best ones have yet to be sampled…

Last week I was in Manchester, Tennessee, talking to the ladies of the garden club about Food. That’s broad, I know. And, I can hold forth on any of the myriad aspects: growing and preserving, cooking techniques and recipes, health concerns and education, community…It’s one of our common denominators; a conversation about food can lead anywhere!

We discussed hunger and food security issues, and the importance of supporting our local food producers when and where we can. Being ladies who have long been cultivating beautiful living things, they well understood what it means to eat seasonally.

Maybe that’s when the topic of apples came up. There’s a wonderful orchard not too far from them in Pikeville, Tennessee. (That’s about 140 miles southeast of Nashville, as the crow flies.) Up on Walden Ridge, the Oren Wooden Apple Farm grows 18 varieties, with the Pink Lady Apples–crisp, sweet beauties that are remarkably versatile–being the most prized.

Serendipity! This led to a quick recipe demonstration I had already planned to give, one that would benefit from being prepared with the prized Pink Lady.

simple ingredients

This delicious appetizer requires nothing more than the right ingredients, plus a knife and bowl. I used a Gala and a Jonah Gold. Try the recipe with your favorite crisp “eating” apples and a fruity extra-virgin olive oil. Toasted almonds or walnuts work equally well in the recipe–you make the choice. Mild goat cheese creams and coats the apples as you toss the ingredients. Bright green onion, salt and pepper balance the sweetness, give it edge.

In under fifteen minutes, you’ll have a fall appetizer,
ready to enjoy with a glass of Riesling.

Belgian endive leaves provide totally edible support. And, the floral mandala makes a knock-out presentation. Perfect for my garden club friends.

Update! An email from Manchester just alerted me to the coming Pink Lady harvest at Wooden’s. Fantastic! A box of these lovelies could be coming my way soon.

chopped up

mixed up ready

Belgian Endive stuffed with Honeycrisp Apples, Goat Cheese, and Walnuts
4 firm heads of Belgian Endive
2 Apples, (try Honeycrisp, Gala, Pink Lady)washed, cored, diced into small pieces
4 oz. plain Chevre log, crumbled
3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Orange Zest
1 Tablespoon fresh Orange Juice
2 Green Onions, tops included, finely sliced
½ cup Walnuts or Almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
¼ cup dried cranberries
¼ teaspoon Sea Salt
A few grindings of Black Pepper
Balsamic Vinegar for drizzling

Rinse and dry endives, trim the bottom (root end) to separate leaves. Set aside.
In a bowl, toss diced apples and crumbled goat cheese with extra virgin olive oil and orange juice until lightly coated. Add green onions, nuts, dried cranberries, salt and black pepper. Stir gently until all the ingredients are evenly incorporated in the mixture. The goat cheese will cream slightly and coat the apples. Place a small spoonful at the base of the endive leaf–enough for one bite–and lay the leaf on a plate. Continue, placing each leaf in a circular pattern on the plate. Then, drizzle a small amount of balsamic vinegar onto each mound of apple-goat cheese-nut salad. Serve. Makes about 48 leaves.

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Fruit, Recipes | 13 Comments »