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Fig and Flatbread Thursday

Tomorrow is October. I’ve been patient. I survived a long, hot summer and now I’m ready for my reward – fall. But on this last day of September what I actually got was torrential rains, high humidity and a whole lot of frustration. So I’m doing what any decent cook would do in making tonight’s meal – cutting corners.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting one of my new favorite cities (Chicago) with one of my oldest and dearest friends (Madelene).  We endured shopping on the Magnificent Mile, a hilarious stop at Second City and some great tapas in Lincoln Park. I love tapas – mostly I like to eat a lot of little things with different flavors in one sitting. Kind of like in the movie Mermaids where Cher only makes her kids a selection of appetizers for dinner every night. But luckily there was no spray cheese or marshmallow fluff in sight in Lincoln Park. These small plates were amazing. Short ribs with mashed potatoes, slivers of salmon with chive creme fraiche, spicy chicken empanadas, and endives bursting with blue cheese and figs. Oh how I love my figs. When I was a kid, my grandmother’s neighbor had a fig tree. For fifteen years I refused to let one of those figs touch my lips. What a fool I was.

For tonight, I decided I wanted simple and fun. We have big plans in our household. Wait for it – 30 Rock, the Office and maybe we will have time for an episode Thirtysomething on DVD. Yup, never a dull moment in this house.

So I decided on flatbreads and figs – tapas style. Flatbreads are quick solution to a weeknight meal or a weekend appetizer or snack. I like a lot of flavor and this particular recipe combines sweet, tangy and peppery all in one. You can put anything on your flatbread – basil and tomato, BBQ chicken, mediterranean style or even thai shrimp! Anything goes when it comes to flatbreads.

If, unlike me, you are feeling adventurous on a weeknight and want to make your own flatbread dough, click here for the recipe.

Fig, Goat Cheese & Arugula Flatbread

  • 8 fresh figs
  • One very large flatbread or 2-3 small flatbreads (store bought or homemade)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Honey
  • 3 oz. goat cheese
  • 3 oz. mozzarella
  • Arugula
  • Salt and pepper

Slice figs into meaty pieces.  Next crumble the goat cheese and slice your mozzarella. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Drizzle olive oil on the flatbreads. Spread figs and both cheeses (the tangy) over the flatbread and sprinkle some dollops of honey over the figs (the sweet). Add a dash more olive oil, a few specks of salt and ground pepper and, if you like, a little bit of balsamic vinegar. Bake flatbreads for about 15 minutes or until nice and bubbly or crispy. Before serving add a couple of handfuls of argula (the peppery) over the flatbread. If you are a meat eater, prosciutto is a wonderful, salty complement to this dish.

Making the Gravy

 As a little Italian girl, I’ve had a lot of experience with tomato sauce. Of course most of that experience has involved eating sauce (or gravy in the LaSpada family) not making sauce. When we were little, my brother and I spent the majority of our weekends at my grandmother’s house. Sunday mornings were all about making the gravy for the weekly Sunday dinner at noon for the whole family. Pasta, hot sausage, meatballs and salad (usually in that order) was also on the menu. Back in my mother’s kitchen, it was a jar of Ragu with roller coller pasta (rotini). Always Ragu with mushrooms. My dad isn’t too big on change and my mom wasn’t too keen on cooking so we ate that exact variety for the next 25 years.

In all these years, I’ve never attemped making my own tomato sauce. Yes, I’ve opened a couple of crushed tomato cans and some tomato paste, but that really isn’t homemade, is it? Well enough is enough. So I marched up to the farmers market in Fitler Square on Saturday and consulted one of my favorite food blogs – Smitten Kitchen – for instruction. I tend to have a problem following directions, but if you read closely below and stick to the script you’ll do just fine. Mine was a bit chunky but I actually prefer it that way. Also, you’ll want more bruised and less attractive tomatoes for this so it might be better to let them ripen for an extra couple of days.

I have some pics of my own preparation, but the digital camera is acting up again. If you think my husband should buy me a new digital camera please post a comment below!

Fresh Tomato Sauce (adapted from SmittenKitchen.com)

  • 4 pounds sad, unloved tomatoes 
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Small onion
  • 2 to 3 small cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 medium carrot (I used mushrooms vs. carrot/celery)
  • 1/2 stalk of celery
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
  • Slivers of fresh basil, to finish

Peel your tomatoes: Bring a pot of water to boil. Cut a small X at the bottom of each tomato. Blanche the tomatoes in the boiling water for 10 to 30 seconds, then either rinse under cold water or shock in an ice water bath. Peeling the tomatoes should now be a cinch. If one gives you trouble, toss it back in the boiling water for another 10 seconds until the skin loosens up. Discard the skins (or get crafty with them).Finish preparing your tomatoes: If using plum tomatoes, halve each lengthwise. If using beefsteak or another round variety, quarter them. Squeeze the seeds out over a strainer over a bowl and reserve the juices. (You can discard the seeds, or get crafty with them.) Either coarsely chop you tomatoes on a cutting board or use a potato masher to do so in your pot, as you cook them in a bit.

Prepare your vegetables: I finely chop my onion, and mince my carrot, celery and garlic, as does Bastianich. Batali grates his carrots. Burell pulses all four on the food processor to form a paste. All of these methods work.

Cook your sauce: Heat your olive oil in a large pot over meduim. Cook your onions, carrots, celery and garlic, if you’re using them, until they just start to take on a little color, about 10 minutes. I really like to concentrate their flavor as much as possible. Add your tomatoes and bring to a simmer, lowering the heat to medium-low to keep it at a gentle simmer. If you haven’t chopped them yet, use a potato masher to break them up as you cook them. Simmer your sauce, stirring occasionally. At 30 minutes, you’ll have a fine pot of tomato sauce, but at 45 minutes, you might just find tomato sauce nirvana: more caramelized flavors, more harmonized texture.

Happy Birthday!

Happy Belated Birthday to Not My Mother’s Kitchen! I had intended a whole post around this milestone particularly since I rarely finish anything I start. I even recognized the occassion by picking peaches at Linvilla Orchards with my niece and planned to make a cobbler; however, between work and a visit from the in-laws the peaches ended up rotting in my kitchen. 

I spent the last two weeks just waiting out summer and preparing for my favorite season – fall. While we aren’t quite there yet in terms of temperature, I’m celebrating anyway. It’s been a while since I cooked a proper dinner so I had a lot to make up for in the kitchen. I decided to get back in the swing of things with a nice fall meal based on two things – apples and peaches – since both were plentiful at the farmer’s market this weekend.

I wanted to use the apples in a savory dish so I decided on an apples, chicken sausage and cabbage dish. You can make this with regular chicken sausage, which I’ve been trying out here and there now that I’m eating meat again. Since the hubby is still off of meat, I substituted the chicken with my favorite vegetarian sausage from Field Roast – Smoked Apple Sage. The flavors were a perfect complement to the dish. I topped it off with a simple peach dessert – roasted peaches. You can eat them on their own or serve with ricotta cheese, greek yogurt, whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

And we’ve got another birthday in the house – my husband will be 40 on Thursday!! We enjoyed this pre-fall meal by breaking open one of his early  birthday presents from me  – the first season of Thirtysomething. Ah, the irony. Mid-way through the first episode we both expressed how much older Michael, Hope, Elliot and Nancy still felt to us even though we are surely older than they were suppossed to be. I suppose you are as old as you feel…

CHICKEN SAUSAGE, APPLE AND CABBAGE SAUTE (Adapted from Dallas Times/Desperation Dinners Column)

Ingredients

  • 2 tsp oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 4 links smoked chicken sausage or Smoked Apple Sage “sausage” from Field Roast
  • 2 granny smith apples, sliced
  • 1 ½ pounds of green cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tb butter
  • 2 tb honey
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 apple cider vinegar

Directions

In a 12-inch, extra-deep skillet with a lid, heat the oil over medium heat.

Peel the onion, and cut it into thin ( 1/8 -inch thick) slices, adding to the skillet as you cut. Stir and cook onion while cutting each sausage link into ½ -inch pieces. Set the sausage pieces aside.

Core but do not peel the apples. Chop the apples into bite-size pieces. Add all of the apples and sausage slices to the skillet. Stir well.

Continue to cook over medium heat. Meanwhile, thinly slice the cabbage (no larger than ¼ -inch-wide pieces for quick cooking), and add it to the skillet.

Add water, butter and honey, and stir to mix well. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover the skillet, and steam for 5 to 6 minutes.

Uncover, stir, and toss well. Re-cover, and steam until the cabbage is crisp-tender, about 5 to 6 minutes more.

Uncover the skillet and sprinkle pepper and vinegar over the cabbage mixture. Toss to mix. Taste, and add more vinegar, if desired. Serve at once.

Roasted Peaches (Eating Well Magazine)

 Ingredients

  • 4 ripe peaches, (about 1 1/4 pounds)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 425°F. Cut peaches in half and remove pits. Toss the peach halves with lemon juice in a large bowl; add sugar and toss once again. Arrange halves cut-side up in a baking dish. Roast until the peaches are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. If the juices in the pan begin to burn, add a little water and cover the pan loosely with foil.

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