Friday, September 26, 2014

Chicken with Figs, Wine & Honey

Figs are in the house.

Or at least they were.

It appears to be the tail-end of fig season.  Considering this, when it was my turn to cook last week, I seized an opportunity to make something with these aubergine lovelies.  Figs are native to Western Asia and have been cultivated since early (really ancient) times.  As a matter of fact, it was the fig leaf that Adam and Eve clad themselves with after eating the forbidden fruit.  

Now, I don’t have the need to don the fig leaf as a fashion accessory, but I do adore the the pulpy, fleshy texture of the fruit and I look for any excuse to cook with them.

The fig tree grows best and rewards us with the most luscious fruit when grown in dryer, warmer climates where it can bask in the sun all day, like the Mediterranean.  A striking, deciduous tree, the fig commonly grows to about 20 feet but can grow up to 50 feet.  Their leaves are big, bright and green (which explains the biblical choice) and their muscular and meandering branches spread wider than tall. 

So, after procuring two containers of figs at 320 Produce, I consulted my favorite cookbook, the Internet, and this little jewel of a recipe appeared:
Yum.  Yum.  And more yum.

And that, my dear readers, is how I met this Wednesday night dinner idea.

Chicken with Figs, Wine & Honey
Adapted from: 

3 tablespoons Extra Virgin olive oil
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon of lemon or regular thyme, roughly chopped
3 chicken breast, pounded to 1/4" thickness
15 kalamata figs, sliced in half (dried is fine if you can't find fresh)
1 ¼ cup light red wine
3 teaspoons honey
A squeeze of lemon

Heat half the olive oil in a non-stick sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle a pinch of salt, pepper and thyme on both sides of the chicken breast.  Sauté the chicken 4-5 minutes on each side until cooked through and is nice and golden. Place the chicken on a plate to rest while you prepare the figs.

In the same sauté pan, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Place the figs in the pan, cut side down. Sauté for 3-4 minutes, turning the figs occasionally, until slightly golden.  Don't overcook...they will get mushy. Carefully add the red wine, as well as pinches of salt and black pepper, honey and lemon. Quickly cook for 2-3 minutes until the red wine reduces into a loose syrup (you may need to encourage thickening with a slab of butter).  Spoon the figs and red wine reduction over the chicken and serve immediately.

This recipe is delicious reminded me a little of Chicken Marabella...a staple of the 80's from the very popular cookbook, The Silver Palate.

I served with roasted pine nut and parsley cous-cous.  We had birthday cake for dessert to celebrate M's (Singers) special day and a lovely bottle of red wine.  There were also presents.  Lots of presents.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Backyard Brick Oven Pizza

So several weeks ago I went to a Tie-Dyed Festival at the local Community Arts Center.  We, of course, tie-dyed shirts, were serenaded by local musicians, and enjoyed our favorite foods and spirits.

It was a grand time.

One of the food offerings that day was pizza made in the Center’s incredible new cob oven.  

What’s that I hear, perhaps a question?  A cob oven?  
A cob oven is an outdoor oven made with clay, sand, and straw.  Cob construction is an ancient, natural building method, used since prehistoric times and made popular recently by the sustainability movement.  More commonly referred to as adobe, this environmentally conscience oven can bake pizza and bread, roast vegetables and meats and anything else you can bake in a conventional oven.   The pizza you see right up there was baked in that cob oven.  

The construction is basic starting with a stone, concrete or brick base and then packing several thick layers of clay on top to form a clay dome.  This process can take several weeks because the layers of clay need to dry thoroughly prior to use.

As you have read before, I am half Italian.  My grandmother’s family owed and operated an outdoor oven and they would bake freshly-made bread dough for the other villagers.  Below are photos of Sulmona, Italy, my ancestral home in the Abruzzo region, that my cousin took while visiting recently.  I have looked at these photos a thousand times and imagined my dear grandparents walking through that piazza and shopping in the open-air market. Look at those stunning mountains!  I will visit one day!

But if a homemade cob oven or a trip to Italy to bake in the village oven is not in your future, there is way to bake pizza outside that may be sitting right in your back yard….the barbecue grill!  

It's quite simple a well-seasoned pizza stone on the grate and fire up the grill. Cut a piece of parchment paper a bit smaller than the pizza stone.  Rub a bit of olive oil on the parchment paper, place the dough on top of the paper then build your pizza as usual.  Place a pizza paddle under the parchment paper and slide the parchment-bottomed pizza dough onto the pizza stone.  In  about 5 minutes minutes, you will have a wonderful, brick-ovenesque pizza!  

We have pizza often at C’s house (Architect) and below is her basic pizza dough recipe.

Pizza Dough
Preheat the grill to at least 550 degrees.

1 1/2 cup warm water
1 rounded teaspoon of rapid rise yeast
1 rounded teaspoon of sugar

Mix the water yeast and sugar together and wait for it to bubble, then let is rest for a few minutes.  

1 teaspoon of salt
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
3 cups of all purpose flour

Add the salt and olive oil and slowly add the four until the mixture starts to bind.  Turn the mixture out of the bowl and knead; add more flour until the dough is not sticky and springs back when poked. Cover with a clean towel and let rest for an hour.  

After an hour or so, turn the dough out onto a clean, dry surface using lots of flour sprinkled on it so the dough does not stick.  Cut into snowball-size pieces.  Work and roll the dough into a circle or rectangle.  Brush on some olive oil and other favorite toppings and cook as instructed above, about 3-5 minutes.   My favorite toppings are caramelized onions and sautéed mushrooms.  For a sweet and savory pizza, I top with fig jam, pine nuts, goat cheese and sautéed sage leaves.  This dough recipe should make about three medium pizzas.

And there you have it, delicious brick-ovenesque pizza, right in your own back yard.

Here's the shirt I made at the Festival.  I always wondered how to make tie-dye I know!  Love this shirt!!!