Month: August 2012

Fig, Strawberry and Goat Cheese Salad

Up to this point, I’d eaten fresh figs exactly once in my life: when the “gourmet fruit of the month” a vendor sends to my office was black mission figs. I managed to snag a couple of those plum beauties, and I could immediately see why my fellow foodies were so enamored. That was nearly a year ago, and I hadn’t seen figs in a grocery store since.

Until Sunday, that is, when I walked into Trader Joe’s, with crate after crate of figs, both black and green. I picked up a container of black mission figs, along with a package of goat cheese. That night, I sliced up a few, topped them with a few crumbles of cheese and a dot of honey, and threw them under a broiler for a couple minutes. Divine and devoured.

For the next two days, they were the highlight of my lunch, in salad form. I packed the ingredients in separate containers and tossed them together on a paper plate from the kitchen at work. I didn’t have any walnuts or pecans on hand, but they would make a great addition, both for flavor and texture. Grilled chicken would make this a great entree salad.

Fig, Strawberry and Goat Cheese Salad for One

4-6 fresh figs, sliced in half, stems removed

1/2 cup sliced strawberries

1 oz goat cheese, crumbled

4 cups baby spinach

1 T balsamic vinaigrette (or your favorite dressing) – adjust to your personal preference

Toss all ingredients. Serve immediately.

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Fusilli with Raw Tomato Sauce

With all due respect to my tomato-loving friends, I just can’t eat raw tomatoes. They’re squishy and gooey (and NOT in a good way). Or, so I thought.

When I received this month’s issue of Bon Appetit, one of the first things that caught my eye was a feature story about a summer vacation in Tuscany, including a gorgeous photo of a pasta dish with a no-cook tomato sauce.

We’ll get there in a minute. But first, can we talk about how much we Americans could learn from the Italians about how to vacation? When I traveled through New Zealand, it was painfully obvious just how much I had to learn about vacation, including the fact that it’s a verb. I think my next lesson on how to properly vacation should come in Tuscany. Preferably from a hot Italian man.

The author describes a month-long vacation in the Tuscan hills, complete with sunny 90-degree days and bottomless glasses of prosecco, concluding with this gem: “As it often does, lunch will meander for a good hour or two, ending with figs from the tree. And then, of course, it’s time for that nap. Or maybe a dip in the pool.”

Yep… definitely practicing my vacation skills in Italy.

Anyway, back to that pasta. It couldn’t be simpler: good-quality olive oil and vinegar, tomatoes, fresh basil, salt and pepper. Always buy the best quality ingredients you can afford, but especially for simple recipes with few ingredients.

I cut the recipe in half. Forgive me. For me, pasta is best as an occasional indulgence rather than a diet staple, and I was trying a food I don’t typically like, after all. A week later, I found myself back at the market, making another batch.

If only I’d picked up another bottle of prosecco.

Fusilli with Raw Tomato Sauce

From Bon Appetit, August 2012

3/4 cup (or more) extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 1/2 pounds plum tomatoes, halved, pulp discarded, flesh cut into 3/4″ pieces
3/4 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves, torn
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound fusilli or other spiral-shaped or twisted pasta

Whisk 3/4 cup oil and both vinegars in a large bowl to blend. Add chopped tomatoes. Using a potato masher or your hands, slightly crush tomatoes to bruise and release juices. Stir in basil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover bowl and let tomatoes marinate at room temperature for 1 hour to allow flavors to develop.

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain; return pasta to pot and add to tomato mixture; stir to evenly incorporate. Let pasta stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes to allow pasta to absorb flavors from sauce. Season pasta to taste with salt and pepper and drizzle with more oil, if desired.

Charred Chili Barbecue Sauce

A jar of charred chili barbecue sauce

I finally had the chance to check out the Del Ray Farmers’ market this weekend, and came home with a large haul of locally-grown vegetables and fruit.

The corn turned out to be a dud, but the rest was great. I was most excited about the chili peppers. After the great luck I’d had canning corn salsa, I was hoping for a repeat performance. My canning book included what sounded like a delicious homemade barbecue sauce.

The sauce turned out perfectly; I soon found myself hovering over the pot, eating it by the spoonful.

The canning? Not so much. A few days after canning, I noticed that the jars were filled with bubbles. Uh oh.

A telltale sign of a canning project gone wrong is when the food starts to look carbonated (unless, of course, you’re making homemade sparkling wine or cider — but that’s for another blog). Canning is completely safe as long as you’re smart about it, but sometimes, it just doesn’t work. This is one of those times, and I would certainly try again.

Regardless, the sauce itself is fantastic, and keeps for up to three weeks in the refrigerator.

Charred Chili Barbecue Sauce

Adapted from Put ’em Up! cookbook, by Sherri Brooks Vinton

Yield: about 4 pints

1 lb red chili peppers
Olive, canola or grapeseed oil
5 lbs tomatoes (I used a variety of red heirlooms)
1 lb yellow onions, chopped
2 c brown sugar, lightly packed1 1/2 c cider vinegar
2 garlic cloves, inced
1 T ground allspice
1 T salt

Preheat a grill or broiler. Lightly brush clean, dry chilies with oil. Place the chilies 3-4 inches under the broiler or over the hottest part of the fire. Allow the peppers to char to black in spots, turning as necessary to char all surfaces. Remove and place in a heatproof bowl. Cover with a plate or lid for 5 minutes. (Do not leave covered for longer, or the peppers will continue to cook in their own steam.) Remove the bowl cover and allow the peppers to cool to room temperature. Slip off the skins and remove seeds and stems. Roughly chop the peppers.

Peel, core and chop the tomatoes. Combine all ingredients in a large nonreactive saucepan, cover, and bring to a boil. Remove the cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 60-90 minutes, until sauce is thickened. Puree with a stick blender.

If refrigerating, ladle into bowls or jars. Cool, cover, and refrigerate up to 3 weeks.

For canning, use the boiling-water method. Ladle into clean, hot pint canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch of head space. Release trapped air. Wipe the rims clean; center lids on the jars and screw on jar bands. Process for 20 minutes. Turn off heat, remove canner lid, and let jars rest in the water for 5 minutes. Remove jars and set aside for 24 hours. Check seals, then store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.