Friday, July 29, 2005

Chick-Pea Flights of Fancy

The tiny plane’s even-tinier engines begin to purr. All on board the private jet are buckled into their seats. Even though they are on a plane, the passengers are truly departing on a “busman’s holiday.” Rather than leaving for a leisurely stay at sun-washed beaches or mountain cabins, the vacationing chefs are departing on a whirlwind, worldwide market tour – doing exactly what they do every other day, only in faraway places.

Each chef has a tiny suitcase, tucked under the seat in front of him (or her, of course!). In each suitcase is one costume-change – or should we say, one disguise! On this mission, each chef has a critical assignment and blending in with the locals will be a crucial element of success. The energy of anticipation is in the air.

As the plane touches down on a makeshift runway, the anticipation turns into a babble of excitement. Well-rounded bodies strain to free themselves from the cramped quarters. At this stop, Pois Chiche (an alias for today’s mission) is responsible. He has donned his tailored slacks and jacket, slipped into his polished brown loafers and completed his disguise with a jaunty, yet subtle, beret. Before leaving the plane, he winks at his friends. Pois Chiche knows exactly where he is headed and, in no time, climbs back into the plane, winks again, and hands his bounty to the mission commander. “There they are,” he says, “some of France’s finest walnuts from the Perigord!”

Even before the congratulatory applause has ended, the plane engines purr again, all clamor for their seats and they are off! At cruising altitude, the chefs realize that the Alps look particularly majestic today. Confident Cece (that’s right – also an alias!) has no time for awestruck gazing, however. She has barely enough time to strap on her airy sandals and wiggle into her designer dress and bright, yellow sunhat before the plane lands once again, this time in Tuscany.

As Cece steps from the cockpit, the capable smile on her face suggests that all will be well with this mission. Indeed, in a flash, she has struck up a conversation with a prize-winning Italian chef who is also shopping for olive oil. After both of them taste a half-dozen of the best oils, swishing and swirling the samples in their mouths like fine wine, Cece says her goodbyes and returns to her chefly comrades. “Here it is,” she beams, “Italy’s brightest sunshine!” She hands the bottle of shimmering, gold-green olive oil to the commander and breathes a soft sigh of relief. Her portion of the mission has been an overwhelming success. First-cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil. The absolute best!

As the tiny plane heads west, the orange-red sky, with its bright orange sun, strikes a prophetic note for gregarious Garbanzo. His mission (given that he has chosen to accept it) is oranges – the sweeter, the better! The sunny fields of Mexico spread out before the tiny plane as it rolls to a stop. Behind the plane, the produce market near the dance ballroom is crowded with strollers. Garbanzo’s black-fringed hat, form-fitting suit and hard-heeled boots are the perfect attire for the assignment – one dazzling senorita even asks him to be her partner for the evening’s opening dance!

Tempting though it is to give up his cooking for the dancing scene, Garbanzo keeps focus and quickly identifies the display of sweet-and-juicy oranges. He selects the prescribed dozen for his assignment – then adds four more. As he steps into the plane, he tosses an orange to each of his compatriots and soon, four fine sprays of “orange mist” are dappling cockpit windows as discarded orange peels drop to the floor.

Coolheaded Chick-Pea (aliases no longer required!) barely has time to pull out a wet-wipe and clean her orange-juiced hands before it is time to jump into her California jog outfit – or should that be called “active wear” now? Flip-flops slapping on the plane's metal stairway, she hits the tarmac at a run, pulls the sunglasses down from the top of her head and is browsing at the California market place faster than you can say Arnold Schwarzenegger!

Soon, Chick-Pea’s mission, like those of her team members, has been a complete success. Round and plump raisins – a wicker basket full of them – complete the requirements for the full mission. As the Mission Commander, Chick-Pea breathes a sigh of relief that encompasses, and surpasses, all the others. She is confident that her client, the Ingredient Sleuth, will be pleased and that people from near and far will acknowledge the highly-versatile chick-pea (alias garbanzo, cece and pois chiche!) as the perfect blend with many great ingredients from the rest of the world.

Not just because the chick-pea is one of nature’s most-truly perfect foods – which it is. Not just because the chick-pea can be used in salads, soups, dips, pastas and stews – which it can. Not just because the little chick-pea chefs in the story are so silly – which they are.

But because the nut-like flavor and the slightly-firm texture of chick-peas are so tastefully-accommodating to other great ingredients that they simply DESERVE to be paired with delicious items from the whole, wide world!

Coincidentally, the little recipe that follows just happens to use the wonderful items that the Chick-Pea Chefs collected on their trip! (Isn’t it amazing how that happened?) Of course, apart from flights of fancy, the Ingredient Sleuth actually collected all of the ingredients at her local grocery -- except for the juicy orange, which came straight from the tree in her back yard!

Ingredient Sleuth’s Juicy Garbanzos

15-oz. can of chick-peas (garbanzos), rinsed and drained
½ cup walnut pieces (toasted is extra good)
½ cup raisins
½ cup orange juice
Zest of one orange, shredded (optional)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Mix together and refrigerate to chill, allowing the raisins to soften and the flavors to blend. Use as a salad, as a snack for the afternoon “munchies” or as a dessert or breakfast treat (yes – really!). If you call it “juicy garbanzos” rather than “chick-pea salad” when you serve it, the kids may just dive in for the duration! And the Garbanzo Chefs will be ever so proud that their mission has been triumphant!

Friday, July 22, 2005

So THAT'S Italian! And lemon-y!

Claro's Italian Market

"When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie
That's amore!
When the world seems to shine like you've had too much wine
That's amore!
Bells will ring ting-a-ling-a-ling, ting-a-ling-a-ling
And you'll sing "Vita Bella"
Hearts will play tippy-tippy-tay, tippy-tippy-tay
Like a gay tarantella.

When the stars make you drool just like pasta fagiole
That's amore!
When you dance down the street with a cloud at your feet
You're in love!
When you walk in a dream but you know you're not dreaming signore
Scuzza me, but you see, back in old Napoli
That's amore!"

("That's Amore" Songwriter: Harry Warren, Lyricist: Jack Brooks)

Every time that I walk into my favorite Italian market, the lyrics of the popular song standard "That's Amore" whisk quickly from their storage area in my brain as if some invisible gremlin has hit the "play" button! Instantly, the catchy tune embeds itself into my consciousness and sticks as tightly to my awareness as a misguided piece of mailing tape adheres to the kitchen table.

Leave it to a song about Italy to mix in some tasty foods with its lyrics about love! Not surprisingly, the song was written by a couple of Americans! It just stands to reason: Americans have been falling in love with Italy, and with Italian food, for a long, long time!

The venue for my Italian ingredient sleuthing is Claro's Italian Market. There are six stores in southern California, all of which are brimming with a dazzling assortment of edible treats. Founded in 1948, Claro's definitely has it RIGHT! A stroll through the aisles is filled with fun. Why not grab a shopping cart and come with me for a few minutes?

Certainly, olive oils and balsamic vinegars and pastas are stacked there in abundance. Tomatoes in aluminum cans are the real thing -- the San Marzano type from Italy that even prize-winning chefs recommend as an equivalent substitution for the fresh, red-ripe tomatoes of late summer. Borlotti beans, anchovies, tomato paste in tubes and oh, so much more, beckon from the brimming shelves. Oh, it is so lovely to linger among the ingredients!

Rounding the corner from the staple foods section, the Ingredient Sleuth slows her already snail-like pace even further. There it is -- the deli case! Olives of many descriptions, marinated artichokes and peppers and other-things-vegetable in vinegars, sausages and cheeses and prepared dishes. A veritable antipasto wonderland in the making! Deli personnel offer samples to taste, slice selections to just the thickness you desire, package just the right amount. Personal service, to the nth degree.

Next stop on the circuit is the display of wines. Labels on bottles call out (with melodic Italian voices of course) the names of Italian towns and regions that kindle memories of previous Italy trips or trigger ideas for itineraries in-the-making. Reds and whites and blush wines are there -- and expertise to answer questions will appear at your elbow like magic!

As I near the displays of housewares, imported ceramics and Italian cookbooks, I yield once again to the impulse to just "have a look." So many things to consider. How can there be SO many sizes of espresso pots? Would I wear a "Kiss me, I'm Italian" T-shirt if I bought one? Do I have room in my cupboard for just one more serving dish? The persistent song in my head always seems louder, somehow, when it is reflected from the colorful, shiny platters!

Nearing the finish line now, but no let-up in appeal is imminent. What a stroke of brilliance -- the baked goods and pastry counter shares space with the cash registers! Shoppers' eyes (including mine) dart back-and-forth, side-to-side, as their corresponding breathing rates increase ever so slightly. So many treats, so much to be considered! Crusty organic rolls, whole-grain breads with seeded tops, cookies, cheese-filled cannolli and myriads more call out to be chosen. It's somewhat similar to that taunting candy bar display at the conventional supermarket, right there, next to the checkout -- only much, much more compelling. Where else would one find such a selection? Where else would the items be so delicious?

If, like me, you are sent into "ingredient longing" just by this run-through of a microcosm of Claro's Italian specialties, perhaps it is time to stop by and see for yourself. What? Not in southern California? Not even headed here for a visit sometime soon? Don't feel like going out into the hot weather to shop? Well, your fingers can then just walk on over to and investigate the online shopping options that are available. Dozens and dozens of items are there waiting -- over twenty varieties of imported olive oil alone! (Of course, your geography may have well-stocked Italian markets as well, for in-store browsing pleasure, and perhaps with online ordering of their own. Isn't it a great small world these days?)

The following recipe is brought to you with the specific permission of Claro's Italian Markets. Those of you who saw the movie "Under the Tuscan Sun" may remember the lovely, seaside lunch at which a refreshing, lemon-y Italian liqueur was served. Although that liqueur, limoncello, can be purchased already-prepared in liquor stores (Villa Massa is a popular brand name), what fun, how fresh and tasty, and how economical it is to mix up a batch for yourself. Thanks to Claro's, we can do just that!


Lemon zest (peel without any white) from 2 pounds of lemons
3 cups granulated sugar
4 cups 100-proof vodka
3 cups water

Soak the lemon peels in the vodka for 1 week in a large bowl stored at room temperature. Mix the water and sugar together in a saucepan and heat over medium heat until all of the sugar dissolves. Allow to cool. Add the vodka mixture and stir. Strain into storage bottles and cork bottles. Chill limoncello for one month, then enjoy!

So, as the dog days of summer continue, why not stir up a batch of this lovely and cool refreshment. Then, when it has finished "aging" (maybe a little earlier, if you are like me), find a shady spot (or an air-conditioned one), open up a book with an Italian setting (maybe even Frances Mayes' book, UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN, which is even better and quite different than the movie) and sing a few rousing choruses of "That's Amore"!

So THAT'S Italian! Salute! (And cheers!)

Friday, July 15, 2005

Red-and-White Radishes in Rouen, France Posted by Picasa

Radishes -- For Looking and For Eating

On December 23rd each year, as the sun settles into the western sky and darkness falls, a tradition unfolds in Oaxaca, Mexico. In a single-file line, viewers pass slowly in front of lighted displays, set up on wooden tables in the city’s central plaza. Several days of preparation have been consumed in the production of the works of art that rest brightly on the tables.

To be sure, nativity scenes will be featured, animals and people and trees and stable included in the display. Saints with vivid expressions, cathedrals with intricate windows and maybe even a few dancers with flowing skirts and sword-wielding conquistadors will join the show. From time to time, even the Mexican revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata appears!

Contestants smile broadly as viewers marvel at the intricate and colorful figures on display. Hopes run high, at each and every display, that its carefully-sculpted carvings will be a prizewinner. This festival, begun in 1897, is called Noche de los Rabanos – Night of the Radishes!

That’s right, all of the delicate, graceful figures are carved from radishes! Makes one wonder if that’s where the idea of the Pasadena Rose Parade sprouted – tables covered with radish figures inspiring floats covered with flower figures!

It also makes me wonder how I could EVER have felt so proud of myself after finally discovering that my radish roses would actually LOOK like roses, with softly curling petals, if I soaked them in ice water for an hour after making the criss-cross cuts. Well, to each level of artist there is an appropriate level of challenge!

As for the radish itself, it must feel – at least in Oaxaca – as if it is receiving the attention it deserves. Not just a garnish at the edge of a plate, an afterthought haphazardly plopped onto a bed of greens, a red item to complete the pinwheel of raw veggies surrounding the dip in the center of the platter, but rather, the star of the show!

Radish creativity has been increasing, culinarily speaking, in the rest of the world as well. The low salt and calorie levels, beneficial Vitamin C and digestion-enhancing benefits of this rooty member of the cruciferous family (with its above-ground broccoli and cabbage cousins), is turning up in all kinds of new settings and in all kinds of shapes.

The ultra-large (multi-pound) radishes used for the Oaxacan carvings are local to that area, for example. They grow into twisted and distorted shapes because of the rocky nature of the soil and range in color from white to pink to bright magenta.

In the United States alone, there are eighty-two different radish cultivars available. At farm stands and farmer’s markets, at least, we occasionally are able to see a few of those; home gardeners who dabble in radish cultivation see many more. It is often said that radishes are the perfect garden crop for children. Radishes sprout within days of seed planting and produce edible roots in thirty days. The perfect gardening project for children – or anyone else with a short-fused attention span!

Even the commonplace Red Globe radish of supermarket fame has taken a turn for the exotic, at least as far as preparation methods are concerned. Baking, sautéing, stir frying, steaming and even microwaving have hit the radish cooking circuit.

Whether radishes reach the kitchen from the backyard garden or from the market, they will keep fresh longer if the tops are removed before storing them in the refrigerator. (Incidentally, the tops, if fresh and green, are completely edible and can be cooked like other greens or used in soups.) The radishes will wait patiently in the fridge for a week, possibly even two, while the creative radish chef whips up a variety of dishes.

So, let’s get started! The Ingredient Sleuth recommends a few personal favorites for your tasting pleasure:

ROASTED RADISHES: Halve the radishes, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with some cinnamon, salt, pepper, garlic powder and herbs of your choosing, roast in a hot (375 to 425 degrees) oven for 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the size of the radishes. A great accompaniment to roasted or grilled meats.

SAUTEED RADISHES: Slice the radishes and sauté in butter for a few minutes, remove from pan, sauté some chopped spinach or arugula or romaine for a few minutes, return the radishes to the pan, season with salt and pepper. Excellent with chicken or fish.

RADISH SALSA: Smash a clove of garlic (with some finely shopped chili pepper, to taste), add some lemon or lime juice, a few chopped tomatoes, a handful of roughly-chopped radishes, half of a sliced red onion, a tablespoon of olive oil and a handful of chopped mint leaves. Refreshingly tasty with corn or bean chips and as a topping for chicken.

RADISH VEGGIE SALAD: Combine thin slices of radish and red onion with chopped tomato, chopped parsley and avocado slices (with a touch of chilies or pepper flakes, if you like things peppery). The tang of the radish with the smoothness of the avocado is lovely in this side dish salad.

RADISH FRUIT SALAD: On a platter or individual serving plates, arrange watermelon cubes, then roughly crumble feta cheese on top, add thinly-sliced radishes, top with freshly-ground black pepper and some chopped mint. Drizzle some citrus juice (lime or orange) and olive oil over everything. For the dog days of summer, a cool explosion of fresh, salty, spicy, peppery and sweet flavors.

Whether it is Christmas time in Oaxaca, Mexico, or the dog days of summer thousands of miles to the north, the radish aims to please! It is sure to deliver a spicy, pick-me-up tang to your meal – and then to assist in digesting the rest of the meal, in gratitude for being invited to the party! It’s not just for the edge of the plate any longer!

Friday, July 08, 2005

An Organic Spanish Tempranillo  Posted by Picasa

Wine Aid -- Organic and Otherwise

“May I be of any assistance?” In my earlier – dare I say “younger” days – I would have blurted out “no, I’m fine, thank you” with nary a thought of opportunities missed. Fortunately, it has become astonishingly-apparent to me, in recent times, that those offering assistance often have a wealth of knowledge that is just waiting to be unleashed.

This time, as we browsed through the impressive wine collection, heads filled with visions of hillside grapevines shimmering in the sun, the offer of assistance rang true. After a pleasant afternoon of southern Wisconsin touring, we had decided to stop by the Sendik’s supermarket ( in Brookfield -- what else would an Ingredient Sleuth do on vacation? And there we were, in the wine department.

Having SO many questions about wines, it is always difficult to know where to begin when assistance is offered. Wines of so many descriptions are intriguing – should I formulate a question about wines from a certain region, about a certain varietal grape? “Do you have any recommendations about some good, organic wines?” I began, grasping at the first gap (and there are MANY!) in my wine knowledge that came to mind. The conversation that ensued turned out to be a highlight of the day!

The wine consultant offering assistance was ready with several good ideas. He talked a bit about the growing interest in the concept of organic wines worldwide. On the domestic front, we learned, Oregon is particularly-active in the pursuit of organic wine production and California is also a top contender. A sunshine-filled bottle of domestic Gewürztraminer made its way into the shopping cart at about this stage, as I recall (and it turned out to be a fabulous choice).

European, South American, Australian and New Zealand grape growers and vintners are increasing focus on organic wine production as well. Always eager to toss in my meager bits of wine awareness, I recounted my recent wine dabblings with a couple of tasty Spanish Tempranillo organic wines that I had found at home in California. The wine consultant nodded knowingly and apparently concluded (correctly) that we were interested in learning more. (Isn’t it grand when people of similar interests start to converse? That’s when the magic begins! And before you ask -- no, I didn’t mention that I was an ingredient sleuth.)

It must have been our interest in the spicy, white Gewürztraminer wine that headed us in the next conversational direction. Before we knew it, the three of us were talking excitedly about past trips to Germany, wine regions bordering the Rhine and Mosel Rivers and tiny towns with familiar (to us, at least) names. Of course, we could have uncovered this mutual interest earlier if the initial question had been about German wines. But then, we’d have missed the valuable info about the state of organic wines around the world!

Wonderful, explanatory pages of background information about Germany’s wine country found their way from the wine consultant’s notebook to our eager hands. As it turned out, we were speaking to an expert who, for years, led wine tours from America to the very region of Germany that we find to be of huge interest because of our ancestral linkages to the area. We have enjoyed many a bottle of delicious Riesling from the area and are always eager to find more. Apparently, according to this expert, 2003 German Rieslings are on a par with, or potentially superior to, any ever produced! 2003, it seems, was indeed a VERY good year for German grapes (and 2002 was right up there near the all-time top as well).

The gracious wine consultant knew the major winemakers of the region personally, had dined with them and drunk their wines with them. Having grown up in Switzerland, he possesses multi-lingual skills that had readily transported him into rapport with them. Names of German villages that most people (even Germans) would probably have difficulty finding on a map floated through our conversation as if they were just around the corner from the supermarket. We had traveled those very same back roads, spider-fine though they may look on even a local, German map.

How delightful it was to meet such knowledge in action, to share the spark of a topic of mutual interest and then to walk away (albeit reluctantly) with smiles on our faces, pages of exquisite wine information in our hands and – most assuredly – bottles of nature’s grape bounty in our shopping cart. All this made possible by that fortuitous combination of assistance offered with aid (happily) accepted.


Friday, July 01, 2005

Fresh and Delectable Figs: Green, Black Posted by Picasa

Figs -- Unwrinkled!

Recorded music, meant to sound like a calliope, fills the air. Freckle-faced children line up, haphazardly and impatiently, to throw a softball at stacked, wooden bottles – visions of plush, stuffed-animal prizes dancing in young eyes. The ferris wheel twirls slowly while other, more-strenuous riding apparatus whirls quickly.

Summertime all over the land! Carnivals and fairs and circuses and festivals dot the landscape at small towns and large. And at each, happy children, young and old, stroll through bustling aisles – eating!

In my hand is a lovely, fluffy bit of summertime confection. So darkly pink that it shimmers rose-colored in the sun, its sticky, juicy particles dot my fingers. Bite after bite, the intense sweetness explodes in my mouth as the airy lightness melts immediately upon impact with my taste buds.

“Cotton candy?” one may ask. “WAY better,” I would reply. “Fresh figs!”

In fact, I can think (after MUCH consideration) of no better way to describe the melt-in-your-mouth goodness of fresh figs than to describe them as “like cotton candy: – only better and way, way healthier.” Think of those dried figs we all know so well, plump up their flesh with about three times their volume of satiny, freshly-sweet juice, toss in the tickle-your-tongue texture component of dozens and dozens of barely-visible seeds, and you will be on your way to imagining the mouthwatering goodness. Except that you can’t – really – imagine it until you taste it. At least, this Ingredient Sleuth couldn’t!

Available only June to October, figs in their fresh, un-dried, unwrinkled goodness, have to be experienced to be believed. Maybe they are so good because they are actually dozens of fruits in one. The fig, as we describe it, is actually a flower that is inverted into itself. The seeds – dozens and dozens of them in each fig – are the real fruit. It’s as if the world of botany gathered all its resources and playfully decided to package up something so rich, so succulent, so incredibly surprising that we mere humans would be astonished for millennia!

Figs have, of course, been around for (literal) ages. Fig trees are mentioned in the bible (in fact, are the most-mentioned fruit in the bible – sorry, Garden-of-Eden apple!) and figured prominently in the life and literature of ancient civilizations surrounding their native Mediterranean region. Greeks, Romans and eventually, Europeans (thanks to those lively Roman conquerors) considered figs to be a source of nutrition and of health. They were even part of the training-food regime for early Olympians.

Ancient healing potions and prescriptions called for the use of figs for ailments from head to toe. Straight through history, the potassium, calcium, iron, manganese, fiber (thanks to all those tiny seeds) and proteolytic enzyme (an aid to digestion) have worked their magic. Even early 20th-century, American medicine cabinets featured “syrup of fig!” But, let’s not dwell too long on figs as medicine; let’s just wallow in their hedonistic pleasures!

Over 90% of fig production is rushed into the process that will yield dried fruit, with durable shelf life. Only 10% of worldwide production, which is centered in the Mediterranean Region and in Central California, will be consumed in its fresh state. Luckily, I have finally found my way into participation with that favored 10% -- and I hope to help you find your way there as well!

Part of the difficulty in finding fresh figs to enjoy is their somewhat-short shelf life in their fresh state. Once ripe, with flesh that very slightly yields to the touch, figs will last for only about three days in the refrigerator. I hesitate to even use the word “refrigerator” though. Fig-perfection resides, I think, in nature’s best consumption path: tree to market to table to mouth, all without any un-natural variations in temperature.

Generally about two inches in length and pear-like in shape, figs are the ultimate in user-friendliness. You don’t have to peel them, seed them, de-pit them – you just simply eat the whole, beautiful fig. How’s that for a cost-effective botanical design? The only discard is the tiny stem tip.

Several varieties of figs are typically available in the fresh format – other varieties head straight to the drying process. Some are green-skinned, some brownish, some purple, some almost black. Names include Black Mission, Kaduta, Brown Turkey, Brunswick, Celeste and Calimyrna. I usually don’t quibble – I buy whatever fresh fig variety I encounter (though given a choice, I usually snap up the darker-colored ones which seem sweeter and juicier to me).

Fresh from the market (recently spotted at farmers’ markets, supermarkets, international groceries and my local Trader Joe’s), fresh figs seem to have a unique ability to disappear from the fruit bowl before they ever find their way to a recipe. Eaten whole in delectable bites, they are at their natural peaks of un-tampered goodness. Stuffed with tiny bits of cheese or nuts or even olive tapenade, they are a light and palette-invigorating appetizer. Poached in wine or baked until caramelized, they are a quick and elegant dessert.

The following recipe, from The Chez Panisse Café Cookbook by Alice Waters, Harper Collins 1999, features fresh figs in the seasonal, natural style for which Ms. Waters has become famous. Chez Panisse, the restaurant which she founded in 1971 in Berkeley, California, has become emblematic of her commitment to the use of locally-acquired produce that has been grown with sustainable-agriculture methods. In 2001, “Gourmet” magazine named Chez Panisse as the Best Restaurant in America.

Ms. Waters, a Visiting Dean at the French Culinary Institute, is the author and co-author of numerous books about cooking. She has received multiple James Beard Awards and is an International Governor of the Slow Foods organization (which promotes natural foods and the use of ingredients in their natural state). In 1996, Ms. Waters founded the Chez Panisse Foundation, which supports cultural and educational programs that demonstrate the transformative power of growing, cooking and sharing food. For more information about Ms. Waters, the foundation, her restaurants and her cooking, see


Serves 4 to 6

10 medium-size figs, about 1-1/2 pounds
¼ cup sweet wine, such as Beaumes-de-Venise, vin santo, or Sauternes
1/3 cup honey, warmed
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
½-pint basket raspberries

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Remove the stem ends of the figs and cut each fig in half. In an earthenware baking dish, place the halves skin side down, lining them up so they all fit evenly. Pour ¼ cup water and the sweet wine into the bottom of the dish. Drizzle the figs with the warm honey. Sprinkle the sugar over the figs, making sure each fig gets a tiny bit of sugar.

Bake the figs in the upper part of the oven for 15 minutes. Baste with the water and wine mixture and bake for another 5 minutes. When the figs are starting to caramelize at the edges, add the raspberries, tucking them into the spaces between the figs. Save any extra berries to garnish the dish. Bake for another 5 minutes just to warm the raspberries through. Serve the figs warm with vanilla or honey ice cream.

*Copyright Note*: Alice Waters specifically authorized this recipe reprint, by the Ingredient Sleuth, in this posting.

“Our wood oven gives these figs a wonderfully smoky, roasted flavor, but similar results can be achieved in a hot oven at home. These figs get caramelized around the edges and have a great aroma from the honey and sweet wine. If you use more than one variety of fig, this dish is even more beautiful. Heating figs can transform less-than-perfect fruit – figs that are a little tough or slightly over- or under-ripe – into a delicious and savory dessert.” (This quote is taken from Ms. Waters’ notes that accompany the recipe in the cookbook.)

The Ingredient Sleuth heartily concurs! This gorgeous and delicious dish somehow manages to retain all the wonderful freshness of the figs, even after baking. It is an elegant, yet sensible and easy-to-prepare, dessert. It provides a whole new wrinkle to the concept of fig consumption!

Bon appetit!