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Fig, Anchovy and Cheese Tapa (Tapa de Higos, Anchoas y Queso)


Fresh figs and goat cheese make for a simple yet flavorful tapa.

You can make the cheese spread ahead of time, but have it at room temperature so you can spread it easy on the just-toasted bread.

Fig, Anchovy and Cheese Tapa (Tapa de Higos, Anchoas y Queso)

3 canned anchovy fillets, drained
½ clove garlic
3 ½ ounces goat cheese
2 slices thick country-style bread, quartered
Olive or sunflower oil
9 ounces figs, peeled and coarsely chopped

Preheat the broiler to high. Pound the anchovies, garlic and cheese with a pestle in a large mortar, or process briefly in a blender, until well blended, then set aside.

Toast the bread slices for 2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Brush each with oil on one side, then spread with the anchovy mixture and top with pieces of fig. Serve immediately or the toast will become soggy.

Makes 4 servings.

From “The Book of Tapas” by Simone and Inés Ortega

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Chefs’ Corner: Fig-Olive Tapenade Is Easy, Exceptional


Lamb Sausage with Fig-Olive Tapenade at Mac and Ernie's Roadside Eatery.

The best recipes don’t have to be the complicated. Take this Fig-Olive Tapenade, which Naylene Dillingham-Stolzer serves at Mac and Ernie’s Roadside Eatery in Tarpley. The name says all you need to know about what’s in it. But what the title does not tell is you just how rich the flavor is that comes from combining the two ingredients.

At Mac and Ernie’s, Dillingham-Stolzer serves this tapenade with lamb sausage patties. If you don’t have any at hand, try pork sausage patties. Both meats love the touch of sweetness that comes from the dried figs. You might also want to try it on white fish.

The flavor was so good that I whipped up a batch the very next day and had it with pita chips.

You can dice all of figs and olives by hand, but this is where a food processor works wonders. Just be careful with the olives. I bought some that were advertised as “pitted,” yet more than half of them had pits in them. So you may want to slice the olives in half before throwing them into the food processor. You can also play around with the proportion of the ingredients until you get a blend that works best for you.

Dillingham-Stolzer is a favorite guest instructor at Central Market Cooking School and will be teaching a class in such easy, elegant fare at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 27. Call 210-368-8617 or click here for information.

Mac and Ernie’s Roadside Eatery is at 11804 FM 470, Tarpley. Call 830-562-3727 or click here for information.

Fig-Olive Tapenade

Fig-Olive Tapenade

1 cup dried Calimyrna figs, stems removed and quartered
1 cup Kalamata olives, pits removed

Places figs and olives in a food processor and pulse 9 or 10 times until incorporated but not a paste.

Let set at least 1 hour before serving.

Makes 2 cups tapenade or enough for 6-8 side servings.

From Naylene Dillingham-Stolzer/Mac and Ernie’s Roadside Eatery

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WalkerSpeak: Welcome Fall With Meatballs and Pasta Soup


MeatballSoupFall fell, yesterday, as my mother likes to say. I’d say that it didn’t fall as much as it galloped into town like a folk hero, delivering the townsfolk from the big bad bully of a summer. It calmed us with steady showers and actual daytime temperatures in the 60s.

After coffee, and the routine morning check of e-mails and daily calendar, I did what I’d always longed to do on rainy days when I was employed full time. I took a light blanket and pillow, opened all the windows on the back porch and stretched out on the couch with a cat. The cool, moist air blew over us and even the caffeine couldn’t keep me from slipping into an hour-long doze, the sounds of pattering rainfall staying just at the edge of consciousness.

We hear that it’s supposed to be a cold winter. I’ll believe it when it happens. When I first moved to San Antonio 20 years ago, I remember days in December or January that were in the low teens. That seems to be happening far less often now. We think it’s global warming, but I wonder how much of it is simply cyclical.

I won’t pretend to be a weather expert, but as fall comes in I do know what is happening in my garden, and what will soon be happening in my kitchen.

The garden is recovering now from the heat, and herbs like the Mexican mint marigold, lemon grass, basil, thyme and oregano have perked back up. It’s time to replant nasturtiums, though I have a few little survivors from early summer that might catch hold.

A friend gave me parsley seeds to plant and I have a packet of mesclun seeds, or field greens, that I’ve been saving a patch of ground for.

Sitting outside at night recently, we noticed that a fig tree had decided to put on some more fruit. Though the figs are small, they’re ripening. One okra plant is still staunchly producing; an eggplant and zucchini plant that started blooming in the worst heat of summer are now looking like they might try again. I wish them luck.

For some reason my Meyer lemon did not fruit at all this year. Nor will the pecan trees produce an amazing crop such as they did last year.

But, I have five tomato plants that look promising, several of them heirlooms. I planted them a few weeks ago, putting their stems down deep in the soil, as a friend had shown me. Even the patio tomato that provided so many little red grape-shaped fruits earlier this summer is blooming, and a small cluster of tomatoes are ripening.

As for the kitchen, I’m looking forward to soup weather. I know, it will warm up again and the real cool weather won’t hit until late October, maybe November. Still, I might start early with the soup, bread and glass of wine for a perfect, casual fall dinner.

The following soup-as-a-meal recipe is adapted from a book published 27 years ago by the editors of Consumer’s Guide, called the “Italian Cooking Class Cookbook.” What the name lacks in cleverness, the book makes up for with lots of excellent recipes. Try the soup below with slices of buttery, toasted garlic bread.

Italian Meatball (Polpetti) and Pasta Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large carrot, peeled and cut in small dice
2 (6-inch) ribs celery, trimmed and cut in small dice
1 medium onion, peeled, cut in small dice
1 large egg
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided use
1 teaspoon salt, divided use
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
½ teaspoon dried marjoram, crumbled
¼ teaspoon dried thyme, or ½ teaspoons fresh, chopped thyme
¼ teaspoon black pepper, divided use
½ cup soft breadcrumbs
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, with more for garnish
1-pound ground beef (90 percent lean)
6 cups beef stock, or combination beef and mushroom stock (available in stores)
1 bay leaf
½ cup small pasta, uncooked, such as short macaroni or small shells
1 (14-ounce) can whole, peeled plum tomatoes

Put oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet and put the olive oil into it. Let warm over medium heat, then add the carrot, celery and onion. Sauté the vegetables slowly so that they become crisp-tender, and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet by oiling it lightly. Make meatballs by combining the egg, two tablespoons of the minced parsley, ½ teaspoon salt, minced garlic, marjoram, thyme, ½ teaspoon of the pepper, breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup of cheese and ground beef. Mix thoroughly with your hands. Shape into small balls, about a heaping teaspoonful each. Place each meatball on the pan. Put the pan in the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the meatballs are firm and springy to the touch.  (You also may fry the meatballs in an oiled skillet, if you wish.)

Put the cooked carrot, celery and onion into a soup pot. Add the broth and bay leaf. Put the soup pot on a burner over medium-high heat and bring to a rolling boil. Drain the tomato juice from the can into the stock. Cut up the rest of the tomatoes into a small-to-medium dice and add to the pot. Pour off any fat on the pan and add the cooked meatballs to the pot. When the stock has simmered another 5 minutes, add the pasta and cook for about 10 minutes. When pasta is tender, add the rest of the parsley, adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove the bay leaf before serving.

Pass more Parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top of the soup.

Serves 4-6

Adapted from the “Italian Cooking Class Cookbook”

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Griffin to Go: Fig Paradise


figs2

One of the first plants I put in my backyard was a brown turkey fig tree. I could hardly believe my luck: I found a beautiful plant at a nursery that was going out of business. Into the ground it went.

Surprise of surprises, the tree has grown over the years, despite my best efforts at what I call Darwinian gardening. For years, I have had a practice of planting something, watering it for a while and then leaving it on its own to live or die. Sure, I would protect the innocent during the winter when freezes could hurt it, but that was the extent of my care and attention.

Until I got laid off earlier this year. Suddenly, I not only had the time to spend more on gardening, I had a greater interest in having the plant thrive: The more figs, the less I would spend on groceries.

The effort has paid off, thanks to some green-thumbed friends of mine. In the past, I may have fought off the birds for a handful of figs. This year, despite the drought, I have brought in dozens that were so ripe I couldn’t believe the flavor.

The fig addiction runs in my family.

My dad has grown figs for years, but the climate in Louisville, Ky., isn’t conducive to the trees. So the man with one of the greenest thumbs I know does what he can to get his fair share: He plants bushes every year and tends them until they produce no more fruit.

Figs are not for everyone, I realize. Christ may have loved the sweet pear-shaped fruit — he went so far as to curse a barren tree he encountered on a particularly trying day — but the texture that makes me swoon scares off others. It’s too exotic, too sensual, too alien. All those seeds.

Yet if you have never had a fresh fig, please take the time to taste just one. Then taste another a short while later, letting the flavor and texture of each settle into your mouth, your taste memory, your being.  A fresh fig is nothing like the dried mush you find in cookies.  It’s not even that much like the dried varieties, which certainly have their uses. Who knows, you could become another addict and plant your own tree.

Several years ago, I flew to Louisville so I could drive my parents to a sister’s house in Virginia. Before we left, I grabbed several of the biggest and best figs from Dad’s backyard to take with us, jewels that he could share with the rest of the family.

Nobody would try a single one. Not even a bite.

He and I eventually devoured them all. And I still think they were the best figs I had ever tasted.

What do you like to do with figs?

They are so perfect to me that I can’t get enough of eating them out of hand.

Yet I have so many this year that I have had to use my favorite second choice, which is to stuff them with goat cheese and throw them on the grill. If I want them for an appetizer, I’ll wrap them in prosciutto first. If I want them for a dessert, I’ll drizzle honey over them after removing them from the grill. (Both of these recipes work easier with the figs on a skewer, but I’ve also grilled them individually.)

I also turned to “Fig Heaven,” a cookbook written by Marie Simmons, who must love these fruit even more than me.

Here are a couple of ideas that she offers, one for an appetizer, the other for a dessert:

Endive Leaves with Fresh Figs and Goat Cheese

2 heads Belgian endive
1 cup trimmed and diced firm ripe green figs (see Note)
1 tablespoon minced red onion
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lime zest
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil, plus more for garnish
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup crumbed well-chilled goat cheese (about 4 ounces)

Trim the stems and remove the cores from the endive; separate the leaves, trimming the stem as needed to separate the leaves without breaking them. You should have 16 or more large whole leaves. Place the leaves in a large bowl; add a cupful of ice and cold water to cover. Let stand while preparing the salsa.

Combine the figs, red onion, lime juice, lime zest, 1 tablespoon basil, a pinch of salt, and a grinding of black pepper. Fold to blend. Add the goat cheese and toss gently to blend. Fold the ingredients gently so the figs and cheese are not mashed together.

Drain the crisped endive leaves and blot them dry on a clean kitchen towel. Arrange them on a platter and fill each one with a spoonful of salsa. Garnish each with a piece of torn basil leaf and serve immediately.

Note: Black figs will change the color of the dish, but not alter the flavor too much.

Makes 6 to 8 appetizer servings.

From “Fig Heaven” by Marie Simmons
Fresh Figs and Peaches in Wine

4 to 6 large figs, any variety, stems trimmed, halved or quartered
2 or 3 large ripe freestone peaches, peeled, cut into thick wedges
2 teaspoons sugar
2 cups slightly chilled white or red wine

Distribute the figs and peach wedges among four dessert bowls or large stemmed glasses. Sprinkle each portion of fruit with 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. Splash each with about 1/2 cup of the wine, and serve at once.

Makes 4 servings.

From “Fig Heaven” by Marie Simmons

I play with the latter recipe by leaving out the sugar entirely and letting the fruit speak for itself. I sometimes use cherries instead of peaches or whatever summer fruit is handy. Sparkling wine is also wonderful with the figs, as is a chilled rosé.

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Griffin to Go: Foodie Phone Calls


griffintogo2The phone call arrived just in time for my hunger pangs to kick in.

OK, those of you who know me even slightly know that if I’m conscious, I’m generally hungry.

Still, the call came in at around 6 p.m. I’d been at the keyboard most of the day, and I was trying hard not to think of having to get up to fix dinner.

“You’ll never guess what I just had for dinner,” she cooed into the receiver.

Yes, it was like phone sex in the way that you can have food porn, words and images of food that just, well, arouse something within you. To paraphrase Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart, I may not know how to describe it, but I know it when I see/hear it.

My friend Carol from upstate New York was gushing on about how she had  baked the perfect sweet potato and topped it with a showering of fresh peas from her garden. Fresh peas are something we rarely see in this hot-as-Hades climate, so already my mouth was watering.

“Then I had a salad that I created out of thin air,” she continued, describing the three types of lettuces she had also picked from her garden. She tossed in some fresh dill, slivers of cucumber, chopped walnuts (not from her garden), just-picked blueberries and crumbles of goat cheese (also not from the garden). A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and 25-year-old balsamic vinegar finished off the dish.

griffintogo1“It was scrumptious,” she said. She even sent photos of the greens to prove how gorgeous it must have been.

That’s what foodie friends do. They love to talk about the meals they just had, the fresh items they just gathered from their gardens, the dishes they just had in (fill in name of foreign city) on their latest trip, the wine they drank while watching the sun set.

I got even with Carol by describing the half-dozen figs I harvested today, sending her off into daydreams of stuffing them with goat cheese and drizzling honey on top.

Somehow, this turned the conversation to wine, a trip we had taken to Napa Valley a few years back, restaurants we had eaten at, favorite flavors we missed.

By the time, the call was over, I had my dinner menu planned and ready to go. I, too, was going to have steamed peas (frozen ones, I’ll grant you, but vastly superior to canned). My touch would be to add butter and some mint from my garden.

I have often made a meal out of just that, but I went a few steps further tonight. I sliced some leftover rib-eye and heated the pieces only slightly. I then topped them with a pico de gallo made of minced red onions from the farmers market tossed with diced tomatoes, banana pepper and a fiery jalapeño from the backyard. Instead of salad, I opted for a few Kalamata olives, and the whole meal was ready in less than 10 minutes, including harvest time.

A glass of rosé on the side gave everything an added glow.

For dessert? Two of those figs. No goat cheese. No honey. Something that perfect doesn’t need to be dressed up.

Half a country away, we managed to share meals that nourished both body and friendship. Thanks, Carol.

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