Saturday, July 24, 2010

With Figs Like These...

Well, my old high-school friend Marc is back from Uganda- and in honor of his return I decided to do something with some figs I picked up because his post on figs had me salivating.  Plus, I had this gorgeous goat's milk ricotta I bought at the farmer's market in my fridge that I really needed to do something with.  On top of all of this excitement, we were going over to Mark and Barry's for a pre-vacation send off dinner (their vacation, not ours -  we, sadly, are going exactly nowhere this summer) and Smith was bringing mojitos and I wanted to bring an appetizer that would go well - something spicy and salty and a little bit sweetish.

I have to admit I never used to be much of a fig fan, unless they were surrounded in a soft cookie were titled "Newton".  When I was a kid, fig Newtons were my second favorite after school snack, following slightly stale and soft graham crackers dipped in milk until they fell apart.  After which you quickly drink the milk before the crumbs hit the bottom of the glass.  Mmmmm.  But, oddly, tastes change even as adults.  For instance, a year or so ago, I was out with my olive-despising friend Caroline - we hadn't seen each other in a while - so when she ordered the hummus/warm olive appetizer I almost fell off my chair.  I felt I didn't know who she WAS anymore - you know?  We've known each other since the late '80's and in all that time, I never once saw her eat an olive, mostly saw her gag in the vicinity of olives, yet suddenly there she was slurping them down.  And so it is with me and figs.  Where the raw fruit once kind of skeeved me out (perhaps because of a music video involving plates of fruit greasy haired men and women in leather that MTV played incessantly my freshman year of college...), now, I love them, especially warm from the grill or the broiler.  They are fantastic.  So, for dessert, make them Marc's way (delicious!), but for an appetizer, follow my little recipe here, because they were simply and just sublime:

Figs with Bacon and Ricotta
*(of COURSE there was bacon - ! - had to use up the last 2 thick slices in the freezer)

2 thick slices of bacon cut up into small pieces
1 nice little pint of figs - I think there were about 8 in the one I picked up from the store - sliced in half length wise
1/4 - 1/2 cup of goats milk ricotta - or any fresh ricotta
a few dashes of Tabasco, or any hot sauce of your choice
a pinch of fleur de sel, or other really tasty sea salt

First, haul out your cast iron, or stainless steel skillet, heat it up and toss in your bacon.  Cook until crispy then take it out and let it drain on some paper towels.  Pour out all but a tablespoon or so of bacon fat out of the pan, reheat, and put in the figs, cut side down.  Cook over medium heat until just fragrant.  Meanwhile preheat the broiler (I use my toaster oven broiler because it doesn't take a lifetime to hit 500 degrees).  Place your figs on a cookie sheet covered in parchment, spoon a little ricotta in the center of each fig, hit each ricotta filled fig with a dash of hot sauce and a tiny pinch of sea salt, then place the sheet into the broiler and broil until the ricotta turns a nice golden color.  Just before serving place small piece of bacon on top.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

So Much Zucchini, So Few Recipes ( or, In a Pickle)

Last week, I was back at the farmer's market, and bought zucchini, cucumbers and these nifty little yellow peppers that look like a cross between a banana pepper and and a jalapeno.  Then some friends of mine went off to England for a few weeks and asked me to pick vegetables while they were away, which I did.   Sadly, the tomatoes were still too green to take home, though I nabbed a few eggplants.  However, what my friends had was a preponderance of zucchini.  There was so much zucchini, and the zucchini were so large, I found myself looking nervously around for Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams.  Seriously, do not fall asleep near a patch of zucchini.  I am only half joking about this.

Anyway, suddenly I had pounds and pounds of zucchini - I made a batch of zucchini bread, I shredded some up and mixed this into some turkey burgers along with an egg and a splash of Worcestershire Sauce (very similar to the turkey meatloaf I made a while ago) which was pretty good, but I still had about 5 1lb zucchini (ies? - how does one plural zucchini) to do something with and that was the moment I thought: pickle.

Who doesn't love a pickle?  And aren't zucchini rather close in essence to the ubiquitous cucumber?  What's more, I have a new favorite cookbook, Simple Fresh Southern by the Lee Brothers which has a neat recipe for zucchini pickles and in the snacks and appetizers section.

Using their recipe as a base, I whipped up a batch of pickles, and have been obsessed with pickles ever since.  So far I have pickled (Using the recipe below as a base for experimentation) the zucchini, cucumbers, onions, fresh cherry tomatoes (surprisingly wonderful) the yellow peppers and some radishes.  I am NOT boiling jars and using sealing wax, however, so if you use my recipe, be aware that you should use up these pickles within 2 or so weeks.  Smith and I have been eating them at dinner, with a little swirl of this outstanding olive oil I picked up when we dropped Mads at camp.  Amazing.


First, find yourself a pile of jars.  I used old jam jars as well as a couple of pyrex bowls with lids.  I am on the prowl for more jars, however.  Any friends in my neighborhood interested in dropping empty glass jars with lids off at my house will receive pickles in return...

1lb of zucchini (or cucumbers, or peppers or, well, whatever it is you want to pickle)
1 onion (or a couple of shallots, or a handful of green onions with the roots cut off, or sweet red spring onions - which will turn your pickles pink however)
A handful of your hardier herbs: dill, or parsley or cilantro tough stems cut off (depending on what you think will taste good with what you are pickling) (P.S. basil just turns brown, don't use it I don't care how rampant your basil is in the back yard.  It become unappealing over time in the vinegar)
1/2 cup of champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1/2 cup of lemon juice
1 cup of water
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 tsp kosher salt
1-2 tsp of sugar
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 bay leaf

Slice your vegetables they way you want to eat them.  The Lee Bros. like em sliced on the diagonal, but if your zucchini is the size of a T-ball bat, you might need to half it before cutting it on the diagonal.  Cut any onions thickly.  I didn't cut the tomatoes at all.  OH - didn't use the lemon juice with the tomatoes, just used a whole cup of vinegar - but I think lemon juice would be fine.  Shove your veggies in the jar.

Heat the rest of the ingredients in a non-reactive sauce pot - and let it come to a simmer.  When it is just simmering pour it all over the veggies in the jar.  Let the jar sit open until it comes to room temperature, then seal it up and put it in the fridge.  Finish off within two weeks.