There are times when you can be overwhelmed walking down a food or beverage aisle. Wine stores are obvious candidates. So many pretty labels, so many grape varietals. The only hope I have is that sign on the top shelf announcing “this is Italy.”
I have the same issue in a supermarket when I wander down the aisle devoted to oils and vinegars. Again, there is a swarm of labels with language I don’t understand. What is a single estate olive oil and is it worth a price premium?
Liz Franklin has traveled the Mediterranean extensively and actually studied olive oil at the University of Perugia right in the heart of the olive oil world: Italy. In her carefully written volume Oils and Vinegars, Liz explains a cuisine world — thousands of years old — in language that mere mortals can understand.
The book is composed of sections explaining individual types of oils and vinegars accompanied by recipes that show that ingredient at its sparkling best.
She begins, of course, with extra virgin olive oil. How do you read that label, what are the grades, how to do you store, how do oils from Italy and France and Spain and other producers compare? Just as there are wine tastings, you can find olive oil tastings where the same level of sensory complexity is explored. Olive oils can convey a wide array of flavors and textures that will affect how you can best employ them in your kitchen.
Liz presents a lovely first recipe to explore the power of olive oil: Rosemary and Potato Tart with Olive Oil Pastry. And now you’ll know how that pastry can vary depending on the particular olive you select.
Argan is a Mediterranean fruit that, with massive hand labor, is transformed by Berber women into a reddish oil with nutty aroma. You can put it to use in, what else, an authentic Lamb and Butternut Squash Tangine. If argans are not familiar to you or cannot secure argan oil, you may have more success with avocado oil and you’ll find a lovely use for it here: Avocado Oil, Lemon and Pistachio Cake
Walnut, hazelnut, sesame, and even pumpkin oils are described, discussed, and suggested for your tasting. Thinking ahead to Thanksgiving, you might consider serving a Roasted Butternut Squash and Pancetta Salad with Pumpkin Oil.
Literally, “vinegar” means “sour wine” and vinegars have been employed for over 10,000 years. The grand dame of vinegars is, of course, Balsamic and Liz gives a brief but detailed survey of the vinegar pride and techniques employed in Emilia Romagna since the 11th century. How does Liz showcase Balsamic vinegar? A pork fillet is cooked with cheese and olive oil, paired with potatoes mashed in mustard and olive oil, and then sided with onions fried in Balsamic vinegar. It’s a pungent exploration of tanginess.
Beyond Balsamic, Liz explores vincotto, sherry vinegars, red and white vinegars, and the rice vinegars of Asia. Rice vinegars are used twice in Spicy Beef Brochettes with Cucumber and Pineapple Salsa.
Finally, Liz gives you the opportunity to create your own vinegars at home with ideas for flavored vinegars: raspberry and thyme, blackberry, mango, rosemary and lemon. You’ll be inspired by this sampling and challenged to craft your own combinations.
If you take a little time and browse through Oils and Vinegars, you’ll find yourself reading those labels on the oil and vinegar bottles. You’ll pause, you’ll select, and your cooking will be enhanced with dash and depth.
This post is appearing early on a Saturday morning, offering you plenty of time to think about weekend meals. How long has it been since “chicken” inspired you? Seriously? I do know that barbecuing chicken can, with the rubs and sauces, and then blackening, can give you a renewed chicken experience.
But summer is winding down and you’ve probably had several birds off the grill with that special black flavor that is becoming all too familiar.
Time to step back, reconsider, evaluate, and find a chicken dish that is refreshingly different.
How about figs? If you eat chicken often, you probably eat figs less than often. Maybe never. Or maybe you tried one once, found your fingers sticking together, and vowed never again to become involved with a fig. I understand. Growing up in Oregon, our house had two fig trees that were constantly surround by bees guarding that very sweet fruit. It was impossible to sneak even one fig without being stung. So, I have had a very deep fig aversion.
Marie Simmons is one of our favorite and most trusted cookbook authors. Take any of her recipes, make it, and you will have success. She is meticulous about her writing and her testing. And her passions. A decade ago she wrote Fig Heaven, a book reflecting her total embrace of this neglected fruit.
Marie knows it can take a bit of persuasion to get us fig-phobic types to consider giving them another try. So, in this recipe she resorts to blatant bribery. Fill a chicken breast a mixture of goat cheese, figs and spice. Wrap the breast in bacon. Cook, create a wine-based sauce and surround the chicken in surreal flavor.
This dish takes a little time to prepare, but offers you surprising rewards. It’s grand for a Saturday or Sunday dinner.
Figs are Asian in origin, eaten for perhaps 10,000 years. Today, they are grown in abundance in Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, and Iran. So, when sampling and buying, look for a Middle Eastern grocery store with experts behind the counter. They already know what Marie is trying to tell you: figs are heaven.
Bacon Wrapped Chicken Stuffed with Figs and Goat Cheese
Yield: 8 servings
- 4 large boneless and skinless chicken breast halves, fillets removed (see Note)
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 2 cup diced fresh green or black figs (about 12 figs)
- ½ cup crumbled well-chilled goat cheese
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 egg
- ½ teaspoon ground all-spice
- ½ teaspoon ground chili powder
- Pinch of salt
- 4 thick cut slices pancetta or bacon (about ⅛ inch thick)
- ½ cup dry white wine
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Place the chicken breasts, smooth side up, on a work surface with the thickest portion to your right. Butterfly the breast by cutting through the thick side toward the tapered side so that you can open the breast like a book.
Sprinkle the butterflied chicken breasts inside and out 'with ½ tablespoon of the thyme leaves, pinch of salt, and a grinding of pepper.
For the stuffing: In a small bowl combine the figs, goat cheese, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, garlic, egg, ½ tablespoon thyme,½ teaspoon salt, and a grinding of black pepper. Toss to combine.
For spice mixture: In a small bowl combine the allspice, ground chili and salt, toss to combine.
Spoon the stuffing onto one side of each chicken breast, dividing it evenly. Close the chicken over the stuffing. Sprinkle on closed over chicken the spice mixture.
Wrap a slice of bacon or pancetta around each chicken breast. Use a tooth pick (or a small metal skewer) to hold the breast closed and keep the bacon or pancetta in place.
Oil a large (about 13 X 9-inch) shallow flameproof baking pan with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Place the chicken breasts in the pan and roast in the oven for 10 minutes. Turn and roast the other side until cooked through, about 10 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven; transfer the chicken to a serving platter and cover with foil.
Add the wine to the roasting pan and heat to a boil over high heat, scraping up the browned bits and reducing the wine to a syrup, about 5 minutes. Drizzle the wine over the chicken, and serve
Tip: the fillet is the long slender piece attached to the bottom side of each breast half. They are sometimes removed from the chicken breasts and sold separately as "chicken tenders." Pull them off and reserve them for another use, such as in stir-fries or soup.
Source: Fig Heaven by Marie Simmons
Photo Information: Canon T2i, EFS 60mm Macro Lens, F/4.0 for1/40th second at ISO‑200