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Luscious Celebration of Food

Posted: Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Luscious Figs, Reduction Sauce and the Unrivaled Taste of Local 

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Sue Ade
Sue Ade
Seductive, sweet, and juicy, fresh figs are delicious on their own, drizzled with honey, or simply dipped in some melted chocolate. Grilled pork ribs, and the figs that garnish them (pictured lower left), glisten after being covered with a homemade balsamic-honey reduction sauce, made with Harry & David's Balsamic Vinegar with Fig and Orange Blossom Honey.

When I was six, or so, my grandfather handed me a fig, fresh-picked from one of the several fig trees he grew in his Huntington, Long Island backyard. He assured me that I'd like it, so I took a bite out of the odd-looking purple fruit and immediately encountered its squishy insides, seeds and all. It was sweet, and juicy, and like nothing I had ever eaten before. Those figs, considered "local" where I lived in those days, were delicious, with a taste that remains unrivaled to this day. When it's fig season, as it is now, I buy up as many figs as I can eat within two or three days, and I reminisce, not just about my grandfather's fig trees, but the other foods that he grew, like green beans, tomatoes, and corn. My grandfather is gone now, but other farmers, backyard or otherwise, continue the tradition by raising the finest foods you could hope to eat. Several excellent books have been dedicated to those traditions and the local foods movement they've fostered, among them the recently released "Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods," by Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian. "Edible, filled with recipes using "place-based" foods and essays about the food "heroes" who cultivate them, is a good read and fitting tribute. The book's 80 recipes look exceptional, and its heroes, even more.

Sue Ade is a syndicated food writer with broad experience and interest in the culinary arts. She has worked and resided in the Lowcountry of South Carolina since 1985 and may be reached at kitchenade@yahoo.com.

Bay-Scented Chicken with Figs 

Recipe from: "Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods," by Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian (Wiley Publishers); courtesy "Edible East Bay" (California)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 chicken legs or 1 chicken (about 3 1/2 pounds), cut into quarters

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

6 fresh figs or 8 dried figs, cut into quarters

8 pitted prunes, cut into quarters, optional

1/2 cup drained green olives, pitted and halved, or 1/4 cup drained and rinsed capers, optional

5 fresh bay leaves or 2 dried bay leaves

2 sprigs fresh thyme (tied together with kitchen twine) or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper evenly over the chicken pieces. In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces skin-side down and cook until the skin is deeply browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn over each piece and brown the other side for about 2 minutes. Remove the chicken to a platter. Reduce heat to medium. Add the onions and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan and stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cumin and cook, for 1 minute. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the chicken broth and cook, stirring, until smooth. Add the figs, prunes and olives, if using either or both; the bay leaves; thyme, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, and stir well to combine. Add the chicken pieces and any juices in a single layer. Bring the sauce to a boil, cover the pan, reduce the heat, and simmer until the chicken is tender and no longer pink inside, 40 to 45 minutes. To serve, remove the chicken from the pan. Remove the bay leaves and thyme springs from the sauce with tongs and discard. Stir the sauce well and press down a bit on some of the figs and prunes to release some of their flavors into the sauce. Pour the sauce onto a shallow platter and place the chicken on top. Spoon some of the sauce over the chicken and serve immediately. Serve with basmati rice other grains, if you like; it will absorb the luscious sauce.

Makes 4 servings.

Kitchen Ade Note: I used canned reduced-sodium chicken broth for this recipe and added the capers, which were a tasty addition. When purchasing fresh figs, select those that are smooth and dry, without bruises or "mushy" spots. They should yield slightly to gentle pressure and smell sweet. (Figs that have begun to deteriorate will smell sour.)

Figs are highly perishable, so store them in the coldest part of your refrigerator and plan to consume them within two or three days of purchase.

Spicy Sauteed Green Beans with Tomatoes

Recipe from: "Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods," by Tracy Ryder and Carole Topalian (Wiley Publishers); courtesy "Edible Toronto" (Ontario, Toronto)

1 pound green beans, stem end trimmed

1/4 cup slivered almonds or pine nuts

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 small onion, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, very fined chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional

1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne, optional

15 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

Fill a large bowl with water and ice; set aside. In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, add the green beans. Bring back up to a gentle boil and cook for 1 minute. In a colander, drain the beans, then plunge into the ice water. Remove the beans after 1 minute; drain and set aside. In a large saute pan or skillet, add the almonds and cook over medium heat, tossing often until fragrant and golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Place the almonds onto a plate; set aside. Wipe pan clean. In the same pan or skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly golden, 6 to 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cumin, salt, pepper, coriander, and the cinnamon and cayenne, if using, and cook for 1 minute. Add the green beans and stir to coat well with the onion and seasonings. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Place the vegetables onto a serving dish. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

Makes 4 servings.

Kitchen Ade Note: This is a highly seasoned dish. Start with half the seasoning called for, then adjust, to taste.

  

Balsamic Vinegar (with Fig) and Citrus-Honey Reduction Sauce

1/2 cup orange juice

1/2 cup Harry and David Balsamic Vinegar with Fig, or other good quality dark balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons Harry & David Orange Blossom Honey, or honey of your choosing

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Pour the orange juice and balsamic vinegar into a heavy non-reactive 2-quart saucepan. Pour the olive oil into a 1/4-cup measuring cup, then pour the olive oil into the saucepan. Measure 3 tablespoons of honey into the same measuring cup used for the oil, then pour the honey into the saucepan. (The oil helps to release all the honey from the measuring cup.) Add the sugar to the vinegar mixture, combining well, then bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat.

Lower heat to a medium and simmer, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens and is reduced by one third to one half, about 1 1/2 hours.

(The mixture should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and have the consistency of thick pancake syrup. If the sauce becomes too thick, add a little orange juice to thin. Thickening time can vary depending on the brand of vinegar used. Sauce will continue to thicken a bit once it is removed from the stove.) Use sauce as a glaze for meats, vegetables, or fruit. May also be used as a topping for vanilla ice cream. Store sauce in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. Bring to room temperature before using. Makes about 2/3 to 1/2 cup sauce.

Kitchen Ade Note: A good reduction sauce takes time, so don't rush the process by cooking it on too high a temperature. Vinegar can scorch, giving your sauce a bitter, off-taste.

Celebrate the Taste of Local

"Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods," is authored by Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian, co-founders of Edible Communities Publications, a network of 65 regional food magazines that focus on locally-based stories and recipes from America's and Canada's farmers, fishermen, chefs, and food artisans. "Edible" is comprised of the best of the best from these magazines. For more information about Edible Communities Publications, including the book "Edible," visit their website at www.ediblecommunities.com

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