Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Figs

"Why are we surprised when fig trees bear figs?" Margaret Titzel

Although I grew up eating figs straight from the fig trees in our backyard, I am still amazed one can grow figs in New Jersey.

It's pleasant to conjure up visions of the sunny Mediterranean countryside dotted with fig trees. But honestly, my most vivid memories are of the fig trees in the Italian-American neighborhoods standing straight bundled up to ward off the onslaught of winter weather. Sometimes they were black tar-paper wrapped monoliths in a front yard; and at other times they stood in gardens wrapped in burlap or bent in half and buried for the winter.  Italian men would go to great lengths to assure that their trees would survive to bear fruit for another year.

John started our fig tree from a shoot cut from one of my father's trees. The shoot was wrapped up and placed in the basement refrigerator to lie dormant over the winter.  Once spring came, the shoot was planted, fed, watered and pampered.  It grew, but never produced a great yield.  When we moved, the tree came with us. We have very rocky soil, and the tree was moved a couple of times before we found the spot that was agreeable to the tree.

Fresh figs are quite perishable, but we are eating them as fast as we can. Mostly, we eat them out of hand, but I have been known to top grilled pizza dough with some grilled figs, prosciutto and arugula. Delicious. Or to grill figs, drizzle with honey and serve topped with a dollop of fresh ricotta. Or to stuff perfectly ripe figs with goat cheese or Gorgonzola. Or I am dying to try this recipe.

Yesterday I had just enough ripe figs to try my hand at a very easy fig jam. I sliced a little more than one cup of figs then crushed them with a little more than 2/3 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. I let the mixture sit for about 20 minutes until it became syrupy. I then brought the mixture to a boil, and simmered it for about 5 minutes until it thickened slightly and the figs were soft.

I poured the mixture into a clean crock to cool before storing in the refrigerator.

Someone told us that it takes five years for the fig tree to bear fruit.  This year my father will be gone five years, and I am sure that he would be very happy to know that we are enjoying figs from his tree!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pomodoro Crudo

"Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti." Sophia Loren

Spaghetti does not look the same on me as it does on Sophia Loren.  Nevertheless, I wait all year to make Spaghetti Pomodoro Crudo. August in New Jersey is the perfect time to make this quick and delicious  summer pasta. It is pure and simple. The quality of the tomatoes is paramount, and now is the time to use those farm stand or garden-grown perfectly ripe tomatoes.

For dinner tonight I cut three tomatoes horizontally, seeded them, and then cut them into smallish chunks. To them I added one clove of garlic, pressed, and a handful of basil cut up (or torn, if you like), some fresh mozzarella, and a couple of grinds of pepper. I then poured about 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil over everything. Covered, this sat on the counter until dinner time. The mixture needs salt, but I waited until about thirty minutes before using it to add the salt so that it didn't become too watery.  The sauce can sit out at room temperature for up to four hours. It's best to let it marinate for at least thirty minutes to an hour.

This sauce takes well to improvisation. So feel free to add whatever you might like--capers, hot pepper flakes, anchovies, olives--you get the idea.

Some use spaghetti in this recipe, but I prefer a pasta that can hold the sauce, such as orecchiette or shells.When the orecchiette ( I used 6 ounces for two servings) was cooked and drained, it was immediately added to the sauce. The heat from the just-cooked pasta began to soften the mozzarella and barely heated the tomatoes. Heaven. Be sure to have some crusty bread on hand to sop up the extra juices.

Green salads have seemed lackluster to me lately, so I made a cucumber and red onion salad. And it proved to be a cool counterpoint to the pasta.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


The comic strip writer, Bill Watterson, once said, "Weekends don't count unless you spend them doing something pointless."  And as much as I would like to spend the weekends doing just fun things, most   weekends around here are a combination. You know, the dry cleaner, the post office, the gas station and dinner with friends.

This past weekend none of the usual suspects was around to play; but fear not, a couple married as long as we had no trouble finding something to do.  Friday evening the skies cleared and we were able to enjoy martinis on the deck before dinner.

I took a piece of tuna, briefly marinated it in a lightened teryiaki-type sauce, then pressed some toasted sesame seeds onto the suface. After the grill had heated to HOT, we barely seared it for a couple of minutes, then sliced it thinly on the diagonal and served it with some soy sauce combined with lime juice and a splash of sesame oil for dipping. Delicious with or without a martini.

For dinner we shared a nicely marbled rib eye steak (blurry photo below) and a Greek salad.

Saturday's weather forecast was promising, so we blew off our errands and went to  the beach. When we returned and were ready for dinner, I prepped some wild sockeye salmon for the grill, cut some farmstand corn off the cob standing ready to be sauteed in sweet butter and topped with a chiffonnade of basil. And figs for dessert.

By Sunday dinner  all we could manage was a farro salad and a bunch of grapes!

Not too bad for an old couple left to their own devices. Let's see what next weekend brings.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

It's Not Easy Being Green--Or Is It?

I was recently sent a sample of eco-friendly disposal, biodegradable palm leaf plates to test. The plates come from Marx Foods, and are considered to be an alternative to "flimsy paper or "forever-in-the landfill plastic dishes."

Marx Foods is a fifth generation high-end restaurant distributor that has evolved into a unique company providing home chefs as well as restaurant chefs with fine, fresh food.  They have a strong belief in customer service as well as to be authentic and transparent and to connect their customers to the food source.  Check out their website to read more. They have recently added this line of sustainable palm leaf plates.

No trees are harmed in the making of these palm leaf plates. They are made from leaves that are naturally shed from the Adaka palm tree. After being processed using an environmentally conscious
production method, they are molded into differing sizes and shapes.

I received a package of the hexagon shape of two different sizes. They are attractive albeit a bit expensive. The 9 1/2 inch plates sell for  $33.50 per 25 pieces, and $77.25 for 100. Since the majority of us do not use disposal plates daily, they would be a nice alternative for a party. Their natural wood-like appearance would fit well into any party theme. Did I hear someone say Tiki Bar?

Since the hexagon shape is the only shape I am able to comment on, I found them to be a bit unstable as the bottom of the plates did not lay flat. Once filled with food, though, they seemed more stable. I also found that because of the higher sides on the hexagon-shaped dish, cutting food was a bit difficult. As promised the food did not leak through the plates!

Would I buy these plates?  Maybe--but I'm usually a real-plate kind of person. But I think they would be a great alternative for a large outdoor gathering. If you are going to use plastic plates anyway, and feel like splurging, why not give these eco-friendly care-free plates a try?

I received a sample of plates from Marx Foods. No remuneration was received.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Zucchini Post

This is the time of year we are all inundated with the ubiquitous zucchini. To some it is a bland vegetable, but I have never found that to be the case. I think that summer squash adapts well to a variety of preparations. I could not leave these beauties behind at the Farmer's Market.

They were so fresh and so beautiful that I decided to make a "carpaccio" out of them. I know, "carpaccio" invokes images of raw beef--but raw, fresh summer squash makes a delcious treat.

Thin thin slices, some crumbled feta cheese, toasted pine nuts, a squirt of lemon, a drizzling of olive oil, and a sprinkling of mint. Delicious. I have also turned the squash into large thin ribbons with a vegetable peeler, tossed in some arugula, added lemon juice and olive oil and topped them with creamy shards of Parmesan cheese. Beautiful.

One of my favorite lunches when I was a kid was one my grandmother would make. She would go to the garden to pick some zucchini, green peppers and basil.  After sauteing the peppers, she would add zucchini slices and either fresh tomatoes, cut up, or a bit of tomato puree along with a sprig of basil. There was no such thing as crunchy vegetables in our family, but the slow stewing did not seem to make this dish any less tasty.

And one of my favorite zucchini dishes comes from a young friend who teaches at an outdoor environmental education center in the Santa Cruz mountains of Northern California.  In the summer when the education center is closed, her job is to tend the large garden along with her cat who thinks he's not, Wolfie. Despite her gofer problem this year, her zucchini harvest was overwhelming. Her fabulous recipe for Zucchini Feta Pancakes is a great way to use up excess harvest.

Cypress' Zucchini Feta Pancakes

4 cups coarsely grated zucchini
4 eggs, separated
1 heaping cup finely crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup minced scallions
3/4 teaspoon dried mint, or equivalent of fresh
1/3 cup flour
salt and pepper

Place grated zucchini in a colander and salt lightly. Let stand for 15 minutes to drain. Rinse and squeeze out all of the excess water.

Combine the zucchini, egg yolks, feta cheese, scallions, flour and salt and pepper. Mix well.

Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks; then fold them into zucchini mixture.

Fry spoonfuls of this mixture on both sides in butter until golden and crisp.

These are good topped with plain yogurt mixed with some minced scallion and a pinch of cumin or curry powder.

 Sounds perfect to me.