Sunday, September 23, 2012

Of Figs, Honey, and Blood Orange Gelato

It is a bit ironic that the first day of autumn I am posting recipes that seem rather summery and combine flavors that may be reminiscent of the sapphire sunny beaches of the Mediterranean. But I don't feel too bad about splurging on some "exotic" non-local ingredients once in a while as long as I balance them out with a few items from the regional bounty.

Right now there are figs everywhere- Black Mission, Brown Turkey and Green Kadota. I have been in love with them ever since I discovered an ancient fig tree bursting with the alien looking fruit in a friend's garden. In this meal, I wanted to showcase them in a salad with other Mediterranean flavors. My favorite salad dressing at the moment has to be a simple lemon infused olive oil and fresh lemon juice. It is so bright and it brings out all the other flavors in the salad.

I was also excited to try Halloumi again. Halloumi is a cheese that comes from Cyprus and is made from either goat's, sheep's, or occasionally cow's milk. It is very salty and is usually grilled or pan- fried. I decided to keep it simple by serving it alone drizzled with local honey and fresh mint from our garden (mint is pretty much the only green edible plant we can successfully grow abundantly). The saltiness of the cheese and sweetness of the honey balanced out really nicely.

Finally for the last savory dish of this meal, I wanted to make one of my favorite Greek inspired foods- Dolmades. I was glad to find a fantastic recipe in an old Saveur magazine that was vegetarian. The recipe makes extra but you can save them for several days- and trust me, you will want them for several days :)

And now for the gelato. It is one of my great dreams to travel to the Almalfi coast or somewhere in the region to visit the beautiful citrus groves. I always see pictures of dark canopies of trees laden with bright orange, red and yellow fruit. I wanted the blood orange gelato to be reminiscent of the orange trees that I have become so familiar with through photographs.

I was just a little bit disappointed that the scarlet color of the blood oranges did not come out in the gelato. But nevertheless, the finished product was still pretty and delicious.

If you are like me, you take comfort in dreaming about beautiful, wonderful places. The dreaming about it is at least partly as satisfying as the real thing :) and maybe just maybe, in the future I will get to travel to see the azure blue ocean and land of incredible flavor, culture and art.

Fig and Baby Green "Mediterranean" Salad
Serves 4

1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed
olive oil for drizzling
salt for seasoning
1 cup baby Swiss chard
1 cup arugula
1 cup spinach
8 ripe figs, halved
20-24 marinated olives
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 tablespoons lemon olive oil

1. Set oven temperature to 400 degrees F. Spread out asparagus on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place sheet in the oven and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, tossing asparagus once or twice, until tender and starting to char.
2. Toss together the baby greens, fig halves, olives and capers.
3. Whisk together the lemon juice and olive oil. Place the asparagus on top of the salad and dress with the lemon dressing.

Recipe from the kitchen of Cirque Du Souffle :)

Dolmades (Stuffed Grape Leaves)
makes about 16

2 tablespoons plus 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced fennel
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 medium red onion, minced
1/4 cup basmati rice
salt and pepper for seasoning
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
16 grape leaves in brine, drained plus 4 grape leaves
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium- high heat. Add fennel, garlic, and onions; cook until soft, 3-4 minutes. Add rice; toast for 3 minutes. Add cumin and 3/4 cup water; season with salt and pepper. Boil; reduce heat to medium- low and simmer until rice has absorbed water, 12-15 minutes. Stir in 2 teaspoons oil along with dill, parsley, and mint. Let cool slightly.
2. Coat bottom of a 3-quart saucepan with remaining oil and 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons water; cover with 4 grape leaves. Set remaining grape leaves on a work surface, vein side up. Working with one leaf at a time, flatten leaf and place about 1 1/2 teaspoons rice mixture in center. Fold bottom of leaf over filling, fold in sides, and roll tight cylinder. Transfer, seam side down, to pot. Repeat.
3. Add lemon juice and 1/2 cup water to pot. Cover grape leaves with a small plate to keep submerged; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until rice filling is tender, 15-20 minutes. Serve hot or cold.

Adapted slightly from Saveur's August/ September 2010 issue

Blood Orange Gelato in Sugared Orange Peels
makes 4 gelato filled oranges plus 1 pint

4 large blood oranges
3- 4 cups granulated sugar
6-8 cups water
coarse sugar

1 tablespoon orange zest
2/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
2/3 cup water
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream

1. Cut the tops off of the blood oranges. With a spoon or a melon baller, scoop out the insides of the oranges, leaving a clean round orange peel "cup" intact. After you empty the orange peels cups, place the orange insides in a bowl and set aside.
2. Fill a large sauce pan with enough water to cover the orange peel cups (6-8 cups) and stir in sugar (3-4 cups). Bring the sugar water to a boil until the sugar is completely dissolved. Reduce the heat to a simmer and submerge the orange peel cups in the sugar water. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until orange peels are slightly tender and sticky. Turn off the heat, take the orange peel cups out of the water, and set to cool completely on a wire rack.
3. While orange peels cups are cooling, place the insides of the blood oranges in a juicer machine. After juicing, you should have about 2 cups of blood orange juice.
4. In a small bowl mash the orange zest with 1 teaspoon of the sugar to release the oils.
5. Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl or pan with ice and water.
6. In a medium saucepan, mix together the remaining 2/3 cup of sugar and 2/3 cup water and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Cook until the sugar is clear and then take off of the heat and stir in the blood orange juice, lemon juice, and sugared zest. Immediately place the saucepan in the ice bath. Stir the mixture occasionally until it cools to room temperature.
7. Transfer to a container and stir in the cream. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, a minimum of 3 hours, preferably overnight.
8. While the gelato mixture cools, prepare the orange peel cups. When they are cool they should be sticky. Place them on a small pan or cookie sheet and spoon coarse sugar over them. Keep sprinkling sugar until the desired amount sticks to the peel. Place the sheet in the freezer and freeze until ready to fill.
9. When the gelato mixture is ready, pour it into an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. Take the orange peel cups out of the freezer and spoon the gelato into each. Return the gelato filled blood orange cups to the freezer until ready to serve. Garnish with sprigs of mint.

Gelato recipe from Christine of On This Side of Eternity

Orange peel "cup" recipe from the kitchen of Cirque Du Souffle :)

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