Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fresh fig, gorgonzola and prosciutto salad with lemon-honey dressing

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Dried figs are a year round treat, but when July rolls around I get giddy with anticipation for fresh figs.   Knowing my passion for figs (my blog header tells all) my dear husband gifted me with three trees that are finally producing enough of their precious fruit so that I can satisfy my craving!   I’m a lucky girl!   I’ve beaten the pesky birds and bugs many mornings to enjoy them fresh off the tree, standing in the shade created by their large leaves.  Restraint was difficult, but restrain myself I did!  I saved a batch and made fig ice cream to die for, fig chutney (recipe will come soon) and several fig-inspired salads. 

If you ask me, there is no sweeter or more luscious fruit than a perfectly ripe and juicy black fig.   Technically not a fruit, the fig is actually a flower that is inverted into itself    The skin starts firm and green but ripens to a delicate covering for the pulp within - soft tiny flowers that house its unique nectar.    The skin is actually stem tissue and the pulp is comprised of male and female flower parts with tiny sandy grains that are actually unfertilized ovaries.  The fig was revered by Greek and Roman gods and considered an aphrodisiac and is likened by many a poet to female sexual organs.  Lovely analogy!

Pity me that the season for fresh figs is so short!   Other than their delicious taste, they provide us with numerous benefits:  one cup (149g) contains 58% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of dietary fiber!   Also, 38% of RDA of Manganese, an important enzyme activator;  29% of vitamin K for healthy blood clotting;  29% of Potassium for healthy muscles and nerves;  25% Magnesium and Calcium for strong bones, muscles and blood flow.  And if you’re very active, there’s a substantial amount of natural sugar to keep you moving for a long time!

In my salad, piquant gorgonzola cheese is a perfect match for a syrupy fig.   Add savory prosciutto and you have a winning trifecta!

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Fresh figs are best eaten or cooked immediately, or refrigerated for a minimal time (I’d say two days max.).    Since figs are so delicate once they ripen, most producers dry them before shipping around the world.

Fig, gorgonzola and prosciutto salad with Honey-lemon dressing

Adapted from a recipe by Jamie Oliver in The Best American Recipes 2003 – 2004.  Serves 4

4 handfuls mixed salad greens

6 ripe fresh figs, any type

8 thin slices prosciutto or Serrano ham

8 fresh basil leaves

4 ounces gorgonzola or other blue cheese of your choice

Place the salad greens in a large bowl. Cut the stems off the figs and slice them in half lengthwise and add to the salad greens. Roll prosciutto into small tube shapes, if desired, and add to the bowl. Add the basil leaves and crumble the blue cheese on top.  Drizzle generously with Honey-lemon dressing.

Honey-lemon dressing

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon honey

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a glass jar and shake until well combined.

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Potato Salad with red peppers and mustard vinaigrette

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The quintessential summer meal in America must include a potato salad.   No barbeque or picnic would be complete without this comfort food!   There are as many versions of potato salad as there are varieties of the potato - would you believe over 5,000 with 3,000 originating in the Andes alone?  

Soothing to the tongue and neutral in flavor, potatoes are a versatile starchy tuber that lend themselves to many interpretations and flavors.   In Eastern Europe vinegar and oil are the preferred dressings over mayonnaise.   This version has a little of each.   Hot cooked new potatoes are first tossed in vinegar which allows their starch to absorb its acidity.   The acidity is balanced by a thin coating of creamy mayonnaise, grainy Dijon mustard, crisp chopped red peppers and a few pungent scallions. 

No peeling is necessary as this salad is made with new potatoes.  Favorite daughter has a fit when she sees me peeling any variety of potato…and with good reason:  much of the fiber and nutrients are housed in the potato peel which acts as a jacket to keep the nutrients inside the potato during the cooking process.

Unfortunately potatoes have received a bad rap since the emergence of low carbohydrate diets.   I have recently discovered that they have enormous nutritional value and are considered by many to be one of mother nature’s whole foods.   Yes, they are high in carbohydrates (21% of the recommended daily allowance - RDA), but of that percentage 26% is beneficial fiber. 

Vitamins galore!  Potatoes contain a variety of important vitamins and high amounts in several.   Vitamin C has 48%of the RDA!  Vitamin B6 46%!  Niacin and Folate 21% each, Thiamin 13%, and many more.   Now let’s talk minerals:  Potassium 46%, Manganese 33%, Magnesium and Phosphorus 21% each, and Iron and copper 18% each.   It contains no fat and because it’s a vegetable it has no cholesterol either.   One portion size is 1/3 lb or one medium potato.  Enjoy your potatoes so that your body can reap the benefits!

 Potato Salad with red pepper and mustard vinaigrette, adapted from Gourmet Magazine, June 2002

Makes 8 - 10 servings

4 lb fingerling or new potatoes, skin left on

½ cup diced red bell pepper

2 scallions (green onions), finely sliced
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup walnut vinegar or white-wine vinegar, divided
2/3 cup finely chopped shallots
¼ cup coarse-grained Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cover potatoes with salted cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, until just tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain in a colander and cool slightly.

Whisk together sugar and 6 tablespoons vinegar in a large bowl until sugar is dissolved.

When potatoes are just cool enough to handle, peel and cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices if using fingerlings or cut in half if using new potatoes. Add potatoes to vinegar mixture and toss gently to combine. Add diced red pepper and scallions.

Whisk together shallot, mustard, vegetable oil, mayonnaise and remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar in a small bowl. Add dressing to potatoes, then season with salt and pepper and stir gently with a rubber spatula.

Serve immediately at room temperature or chill if serving later. 

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