Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fig and Blue Cheese Tart with Prosciutto

Our neighbors, Larry and Jerry, have a Mission Fig tree that borders our yard. 
Each year we benefit from the close proximity of the tree to our wall.  This tree seems to always produce a bumper-crop of beautiful sweet little jewels which dangle to just within reach.  
We have a fig tree as well, but it is a Calmyra fig. This year, we also have an abundance of fruit, but the summer heat is quickly turning them to spongy, tough little fruit. Calmyra figs are typically used to make dried figs rather than for baking and our recent extreme summer temperatures of 115F to 118F are quickly allowing Mother Nature to take the liberty of drying these figs for us. 
The Mission fig, which is purple, and the Calmyra fig, which is green are very different in flavor and texture.  In my opinion, the Calmyra has a much more subtle flavor.
The other morning, when Larry was picking figs for jam, he kindly offered to let me climb the tree to reach some of the higher ripe fruit.  I took him up on his offer, and have decided to experiment cooking with figs; something that I haven't really done before other than to slice and place on an appetizer cheese plate.
I can only think of one other appetizer that I've made for the holidays, which I will probably share closer to "the season" which consists of dried mission figs that are made with a Port reduction. This is a very good recipe, but today it's a Mission Fig tart baked with Blue Cheese and Prosciutto. Given the availability and ease of getting Mission Figs right now, I hope to experiment more cooking and baking with them.
I don't really know how to categorize this recipe. It seems to fall between an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert.  I think it could be served as any of these, but it certainly lends itself well to a main course with a salad and a nice glass of Pinot Gris for a lighter summer meal.  The Prosciutto really adds a nice flavor that compliments the sweetness of the figs and the pungent blue cheese.  I originally thought the addition of the Prosciutto with the blue cheese would make this a bit salty, but it doesn't and compliments this robust tart quite nicely.

1 Package (about 10 oz) prepared puff pastry, thawed
4 oz blue cheese, such as Maytag, at room temperature
1 Tbl, Half and Half or Milk
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
8 to 10 figs, stemmed and cut lengthwise
1/2 tsp minced fresh thyme
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 oz thinly sliced prosciutto, julienned

To Bake

Roll out the pastry on a floured surface into a 10-1/2 in diameter circle, about 1/4- inch thick.  

Carefully place the pastry into to a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Pat into the pan, then trim the pastry even with the rim.

Combine the softened blue cheese, half and half, and pepper in a bowl.  Mash with a fork to smooth. Spread evenly in the pastry. Arrange the figs over the cheese, alternating cut-side up and cut-side down.  Sprinkle with thyme and olive oil.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until pastry is golden brown and puffed and the figs are plumped and glistening.

Transfer to a rack and let stand for 10-15 minutes.

Serve warm and garnished with prosciutto.

Monday, July 12, 2010

These Shortcakes Are Just Peachy

I couldn't help but follow the wonderful smell of the peaches as I strolled past the VillageFest fruit stand. The air was heavy with their, well, sweet peachiness. There were other fruits available, but this week those peaches were calling my name.
My first thought was to make a peach cobbler, but I remembered a recipe I had from years past for blueberry shortcakes. The original recipe came from the August September 1998 issue of Fine Cooking Magazine. That dessert was really good but instead of blueberries, I decided to make the shortcakes and make use of these beautiful, fragrant peaches.

The shortcakes are easy to make and always come out perfect. However, since I was using peaches, I made one slight modification to the shortcake recipe; crystalized ginger. You don't need it, but I had a package of it for some recipe which I can't remember right now. Since I think ginger and peaches are great together, this addition was just going to make those peach shortcakes even better.

Topped with some fresh whipped cream, this, to me, is a perfect summer dessert. I tweaked the whipped cream too, and used honey to sweeten it instead of sugar. It adds a complexity and depth of flavor to the whipped cream that sugar doesn't provide.

These shortcakes are perfect right out of the oven, but if you can't use immediately, store in a airtight container and heat them before serving.

For the biscuits

8-1/2 oz (2 cups) sifted all-purpose flour
1 Tbs., baking powder, sifted
3/4 tsp., salt
3 Tbs., sugar; additional for glaze ( I use Demerara for the glaze)
1 Tbs., grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp., fresh (or ground) nutmeg
2 oz ( 4 Tbs) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup buttermilk; more for glaze
1/4 cup finely chopped crystalized ginger (optional)

For the peaches

6 ripe peaches cut into eighths
1/4 sugar (or to taste depending on the peaches)
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of ground cardamom (optional)
pinch of star anise (optional)

For the whipped cream

1/2 pint (1 cup) heavy whipping cream
2 Tbs., honey or sugar to taste
1 tsp vanilla extract (or to taste)

To make the biscuits

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400F.
LIne a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat. (Grease lightly with shortening or cooking spray if using parchment).

In a large bowl, mix together, sifted flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, lemon zest, nutmeg, and ginger (if using).

With a pastry blender, or finger tips, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Gently stir in the butter milk until the dough just holds together with no large dry lumps. You don't want the butter to melt into the mixture.

Spoon the biscuit dough onto the prepared sheet pan in six equal mounds.

Brush the tops with additional buttermilk and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake until the tops begin to brown and bottoms are golden. About 20 to 25 minutes. Let rest for one minute then transfer to wire cooling rack. Cut with a serrated knife when ready to serve.

For the peaches

Cut the peaches in half, removing the stone. Cut each half into for sections
Toss with sugar (to taste)
Toss with 1 Tsp. vanilla extract

Cut the biscuits in half with a serrated knife and mound peaches on the bottom half of the biscuit.

Place the top portion of biscuit on the peaches and top with whipped cream.
You may also want to top the peaches with whipped cream before topping the biscuit, then adding additional whipped cream.

Enjoy the flavor of summer.