Leonardo da Vinci famously said that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” That certainly applies to this dish. Here are three simple ingredients that compliment each other in the most delightful ways. What could be more elegant than a fig stuffed with fresh goat cheese and wrapped in prosciutto?
Figs are in season late summer and early fall and have a luxurious texture and a floral, honeyed flavor. Fresh goat cheese adds a creamy element, and salty prosciutto with a light char from the grill elevates these hors d’oeuvres to heavenly heights. I buy fresh lavender goat cheese at the farmers market, but you can also combine plain goat cheese with a small amount of dried lavender. I made these stuffed figs for lunch on top of a kale salad with shallots, Marcona almonds, and sherry vinaigrette. But on their own, they would make impressive party food; beautiful, sumptuous, and hand-held. This is food fit for a king.
Prosciutto-Wrapped Figs Stuffed with Lavender Goat Cheese
12 fresh Black Mission figs (ripe and soft, but not smashed or mushy)
3 ounces fresh lavender goat cheese (or plain goat cheese + 1 tsp dried culinary lavender)
6 thin slices of Prosciutto di Parma, torn in half lengthwise
extra-virgin olive oil
1. Combine goat cheese with a good pinch of salt and the dried lavender. Carefully make a slit down the length of each fig, making a pocket in the center. Use a teaspoon to stuff each fig with a bit of the cheese. Next, wrap a strip of prosciutto around each fig. Do this carefully, but tightly, so they will stay together on the grill. Brush the prosciutto-wrapped figs with extra-virgin olive oil.
2. Preheat a grill to medium-high heat. Grill the figs until the prosciutto is crispy, carefully rotating a few times. This will take about 5 to 7 minutes.
Baby Kale Salad with Marcona Almonds and Sherry Vinaigrette
3 handfuls of baby kale or arugula
1/4 cup roasted Marcona almonds
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 tblsp sherry vinegar
1 tsp honey
3 tblsp extra-virgin olive oil
salt and coarse black pepper
1. In a large bowl, use a fork to whisk together the vinegar, honey, and salt and pepper to taste. In a slow, steady stream, whisk in the olive oil. Add the baby kale and the nuts and toss to combine.
Last week I was stuck in hellish rush hour traffic, my stomach growling, daydreaming about all the vegetables I got at the farmers market the night before. Heirloom tomatoes, baby eggplant, white corn, and basil. In my mind, I visualized the way I would combine these ingredients. Grill the corn and eggplant, slice the tomatoes, make a basil vinaigrette. Finish with fresh goat cheese. When I (finally) got home, it took me about 15 minutes to throw this together, and it was a perfect late lunch for a hot summer day.
Grilled Summer Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes and Basil vinaigrette
2 ears of corn, shucked
6 baby eggplants, halved lengthwise
1 large heirloom tomato, cut into thick slices
1/2 small red onion, sliced in paper-thin half moons
1 small garlic clove
1 handful fresh basil
juice of 1 or 2 lemons
pinch red pepper flakes
coarse salt and pepper
3 tblsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus a few tblsp for grilling
1 oz fresh goat cheese
1. Preheat a grill to medium-high heat. Rub corn and eggplant with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the corn until it is charred in spots. Grill the eggplant until it’s tender yet firm, flipping them halfway through. This will take about 8 to ten minutes. Let the vegetables cool slightly.
2. In the meantime, in a food processor, spin the garlic with a pinch of salt. Add the red pepper flakes, basil, and salt and pepper to taste. Puree until finely chopped. Add the lemon juice. With the machine running, add the extra-virgin olive oil in a slow steady stream.
3. When cool enough to handle, cut the corn from the cob with a sharp knife. Toss with a tablespoon of the vinaigrette. On a serving plate, lay out the tomato slices, top them with the eggplant, the corn and the sliced red onion. Drizzle the remaining vinaigrette over the salad. Crumble fresh goat cheese over the top and finish with a crack of black pepper.
I spent a semester of college in Florence and my bus stop was directly in front of a focacceria called Pugi. The focaccia at Pugi is transcendent. It’s golden brown and crispy on the outside, with a spongy soft center soaked with fruity olive oil. The variations are endless; thin slices of ham and cheese, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, olives, rosemary. They make stuffed and layered focaccias, individual pizzas, and dessert breads slathered with sweet seasonal fruit. It’s no surprise that there is constant line out the door.
It would be impossible to recreate Pugi’s focaccia, but that hasn’t stopped me from trying. Here’s a great recipe for a classic rosemary focaccia from The Tucci Cookbook. I served this as a first course at a dinner party, alongside my favorite creamy ricotta spread, salmami, prosciutto, and a spicy pear jelly.
1 package dry yeast
2 1/4 tsp sugar
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups bread flour
4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup milk
6 tblsp olive oil, plus more for oiling the bowl
leaves from one 5-inch sprig of fresh rosemary
1. In a measuring cup, stir the yeast, sugar, and warm water. Set aside for 5 minutes.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix the all-purpose and bread flours with 2 teaspoons of the salt. Stir in the yeast mixture. Gradually stir in the milk and 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Mix at low speed until the dough has come together and is smooth (about 5 minutes).
3. Lightly oil a large bowl with olive oil. Place the dough in the bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and drape a dish towel over the bowl. Set aside in a warm place and allow to double in size, about 2 hours.
4. Lightly grease a large baking sheet (about 9 x 15-inch). Gently punch down the dough. Place on the baking sheet and roll it out evenly to fit on the sheet. Cover with a dish towel and allow the dough to rise for 20 minutes.
5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
6. Use your fingertips to make random indentations in the dough. Drizzle the top with the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt and the rosemary leaves. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before slicing and serving warm.
* Variations: Before baking, top the focaccia with any combination of the following: 1/4-inch-thick slices ripe plum tomatoes; 24 pitted kalamata olives, 1/4 cup very thinly sliced red onion; 1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese; 1/4-inch-thick slices of peeled eggplant; 1/4-inch-thick slices bell pepper; 1/4-inch-thick slices zucchini; 1/3 cup pesto.
For a sweet variation, gently press 1 cup dried fruit, such as cherries, blueberries, raisins, or 1 cup chocolate chips into the rolled and risen focaccia. Brush with 3 tblsp melted butter and bake.
It’s fava bean season again, and they are worth the effort it takes to get them out of their protective shells. To prep fava beans, remove them from their cottony pods, blanche them in boiling salted water for 3 to 4 minutes, place in an ice water bath, drain, and remove their waxy outer shell.
This simple salad pairs fava beans with their classic counterparts, lemon and salty cheese. You can use Pecorino or Parmesan here. Bitter radicchio, parsley, and a super flavorful lemon vinaigrette round everything out. I love the pale green ingredients contrasted with the bright purple radicchio.
Radicchio and Fava Bean Salad
1 small head of radicchio, halved, cored and thinly sliced
3 handfuls of fava bean pods, beans removed, blanched, and outer shells removed
2 tblsp coarsely chopped parsely
2 scallions, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 garlic clove, pressed
juice of 1 or 2 lemons
salt and coarse pepper
3 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
shaved Parmesan or Pecorino
1. In a large bowl, make the dressing. Combine pressed garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, and lemon juice. Use a fork to slowly whisk in the olive oil. Add parsley and scallions.
2. Gently toss radicchio and fava beans into the vinaigrette. Divide into bowls and garnish generously with shaved Parmesan.
Arancini have become a mainstay of my party food repertoire, and for good reason. They are magical. They are so festive that one can imagine eating them at an ancient Roman feast, a backyard picnic, or a fancy wedding in the Hamptons. These traditional Sicilian fried balls of rice are also hand-held, bite-sized, and can be made in advance. Leave it to the Sicilians to perfect party food over 1000 years ago.
I made this sophisticated version of arancini from Martha Stewart for a baby shower. I love the double blast of bright orange color from the butternut squash and the golden panko crust. The center has a tangy burst of goat cheese, and a drizzle of warm honey takes them over the top.
To make them in advance, prepare the recipe below and let cool completely on parchment-lined sheets. Layer them between parchment in large freezer-bags and freeze for up to 1 month. To defrost, transfer them to the fridge one day before your party. On the day of the event, reheat them in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, turning once.
Butternut Squash Arancini with Sage
makes about 20
2 1/2 cups homemade or low-sodium chicken stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely diced butternut squash
1/2 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, finely diced
1/2 cup arborio rice
1 tablespoon finely chopped sage
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, whisked
1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs
2 ounces goat cheese
Canola oil for frying
1/3 cup honey, warmed
1. Heat chicken stock over medium-low heat until warm; cover and keep warm over low heat.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; add squash and cook, stirring often, until lightly golden and tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove squash from pan. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in pan; add onion and garlic, and saute over medium heat until translucent, 6 to 8 minutes.
3. Add rice to pan; stir to coat with oil. Add 1/2 cup warm stock; cook rice, stirring constantly, until stock is absorbed. Repeat until all stock has been used and risotto is soft and creamy, about 22 minutes.
4. Remove from heat; stir in squash and sage, and season with salt and pepper. Spread on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet, and let cool completely.
5. Place flour, eggs, and panko on separate plates. Using a tablespoon, scoop up a ball of cooled risotto, and nestle 1/2 teaspoon goat cheese in the middle. Roll in flour, dip in egg, and roll in panko; set on a tray. Repeat for remaining risotto. Heat 3 inches of canola oil to about 360 degrees in a wide, heavy-bottomed pan. Fry arancini in batches, turning every minute, until brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove to a paper-towel-lined plate.
6. To serve, drizzle arancini with warm honey, or serve honey as a dipping sauce.
I am somewhat of an olive fiend. They are a constant element of my antipasto plates and salads. I’ve tried many recipes for marinated olives, but this one from Jean Georges Vongerichten really stands out. His simple technique uses toasted fennel, fresh orange peel, and crushed red chile flakes to make an infused oil full of depth and flavor. And it does this with only four ingredients. The sweetness of orange and anise counteract the brine from the olives, and every so often, you get a nice crunch from the toasted fennel seeds.
Orange and Fennel Marinated Olives
makes 1 1/2 cups
1 1/2 cups Lucques olives (or other brine-cured green olives, or mix with Kalamatas)
3/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/8 tsp crushed red chile flakes
4 (4-inch) strips of orange zest (removed with a vegetable peeler)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1. Rinse olives under cool water and drain well.
2. In a dry skillet, toast the fennel seeds over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chile flakes and toast for another 30 seconds. Remove from heat and add the oil and orange peel. Steep until cool.
3. Pour the oil mixture over the olives. Cover and marinate at room temperature for at least 6 hours, or refrigerate for up to 5 days.