Ravenous Fig

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Great Fall Appetizer: Endive with Gorgonzola, Pear, and Walnuts

[caption id="attachment_510" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="Photo: Jana Quigley"][/caption]

I've been working on a cookbook for the past week or so. Don't get too excited; this is just a family cookbook. But I think it's going to be the start of another great tradition for us.

Some of the recipes you've seen on this blog are in there; Shakshuka and the Cape Cod Chopped Salad to name a couple. Today's recipe is also in there. It features an ingredient that the Publix cashiers inevitably look upon in fear an dismay; they almost never know the code for Belgian Endive by heart. (Or, that the strange, tiny lettuce bunch looking things are even called Belgian Endive).

Belgian endive (also known as chicory or French endive or witloof) is a small head of bitter leaves. The heads are kept completely covered as they grow, preventing the leaves from turning green. (Hint: the whiter the leaf, the less bitter the endive). It's a distant cousin of frisee, which I have a personal distaste for, unless it's covered in bacon vinaigrette.

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The benefit of a bitter leaf like Belgian endive is that it can stand up to the bite of a pungent cheese (like the gorgonzola dolce I use here). Paired with sweet and mild pears and toasted walnuts, it makes a perfect beginning to a classy dinner party.

I first served this at the Friday Night Supper Club with the ladies, one of whom shot the wonderful photos you see in this post (thanks Jana!). We just had to serve it again at our annual Thanksgiving dinner — and it was so well-received I think we'll be bringing it back whenever we can get our hands on some fresh Belgian endive.

Endive with Gorgonzola, Pear, and Walnuts

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma's Holiday Entertaining cookbook. Serves 8.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup walnuts
  • 2 heads Belgian endive
  • 4 firm but ripe pears such as Bosc
  • 6 oz gorgonzola cheese at room temperature

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Place the walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake, stirring once or twice, until fragrant and lightly toasted, 10-12 minutes. Pour onto a plate and let cool, then chop coarsely.

Separate the leaves of the endives. Choose about 40 of the pale ivory to light green inner leaves (reserve the others for another use).

Halve and core the pears, then finely chop. Spread a teaspoonful of the cheese on the base of each endive leaf. Top with a little pear, and a few nuts. Serve at once.

Heirloom Tomatoes with Peaches

The Season's Pick box from our local co-op has been pretty hit-or-miss lately. We've gotten some bizarre and exotic stuff in there, but very little that we would normally include in our typical cooking repertoire.

This week, however, I was delighted to find two huge, perfectly ripe, flawless heirloom tomatoes waiting in the bottom of the box. Normally I would just slice and top them off with a little light vinaigrette, so as not to take away from the perfect flavor tomatoes have this time of year. But this week I was inspired by the newest issue of Food & Wine, which is filled with southern recipes reinvented for the modern cook.

[caption id="attachment_194" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Heirloom Tomatoes, two from our Season's Pick box and one from Whole Foods"]Heirloom Tomatoes[/caption]

I grew up in the South… ish. Most of my extended family was centrally located in Memphis, Tennessee, and our family vacationed in North Carolina nearly every summer. It goes without saying that I was exposed to a great deal of southern food in my formative years. My grandmother's macaroni and strawberry cake recipes are legendary. (At least the Gillespies — myself included — think so!) And while I wasn't exposed to collards and okra until I joined the co-op many years later, I have fond memories of black-eyed peas, corn bread, and sweet potato casserole (smothered in toasted marshmallows, of course) from Christmases past.

There are few food genres that have a worse reputation for health value than Southern cooking (or is that cookin'). Rightfully so, perhaps. On my most recent trip to Memphis, the smell of southern fried chicken was in the air seemingly from the moment I stepped off the plane until I boarded again two days later. Which is why I was surprised to find a (mostly) healthy heirloom tomato salad in the middle of last month's issue of Southern Living magazine. (I know, I said I was inspired by this month's Food & Wine, but that's what made me pick up the Southern Living in the first place… Track with me, people.)

Peeling the Peach

Normally I change a few things about a recipe before posting it here — things I'd change if I made it again, or substitutions I had to make based on what I had on-hand at the time — but there's very little I would do to change this one. If you have amazing tomatoes and peaches at your farmer's market this time of year, this one is definitely worth a shot. If it's the middle of the winter and your tomatoes are like cardboard, put this on the shelf until tomato season hits!

[caption id="attachment_196" align="alignnone" width="540" caption="Heirloom Tomatoes with Fresh Peaches, Goat Cheese, and Pecans"][/caption]

Heirloom Tomatoes with Fresh Peaches, Goat Cheese, and Pecans

This will take about 20 minutes to prepare and make 6 servings, but my husband and I ate the entire thing right off the platter.

Fried Polenta Cakes with Chipotle Corn Salsa

Fried Polenta Cakes with Chipotle Salsa

Each Monday night Vance and I spend the evening with a quirky community of believers in one of our homes here in the city; I call it a house church, some call it a "LIFE" community. Whatever the name, we start each evening off with some good eats.

Tonight's main dish was a taco salad, brought by another group member, and this hearty side ended up being the perfect wingman. It's a crisp polenta cake with a smoky chipotle salsa draped over the top — crunchy and warm with as much kick as you like. And it was a great excuse to feature the local corn we'd picked up from the co-op last week.

This one takes a bit of careful planning, as the polenta needs to set in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, but it's a definite crowd-pleaser that would appeal to a wide range of tastes.

Fried Polenta Cakes with Chipotle Corn Salsa

Fried polenta adapted from Giada De Laurentiis's Fried Polenta Cakes. Nobody but myself to blame for the salsa. :)

Ingredients

  • 6 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 ¾ cups yellow cornmeal
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted organic butter
  • 2 cups olive oil, for frying
  • ½ a 7 ounce can of Chipotle peppers in adobo
  • 1 barely ripe organic tomato, cut into small dice
  • 4 tablespoons finely diced red onion
  • 2 ears of corn, husks removed
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • (optional) Your favorite smoked salt
  • (optional) Sour cream

Polenta Preparation

Start this about 2 ½ hours ahead of time. Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons of salt. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the butter and smoked paprika, and stir until melted.

Lightly oil an 11 by 7-inch baking dish. Transfer the hot polenta to the prepared dish, spreading evenly to ½ inch thick. Refrigerate until cold and firm, about 2 hours.

Salsa Preparation

Brush two ears of corn with the 3 tbsp of olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Place the corn on the grill over high heat (you could also do this in a cast iron grill pan in the kitchen if you prefer). Baste with the olive oil and turn occasionally until nice grill marks develop (about 10 minutes). Cut the kernels from the cob and transfer to a small bowl.

Load half of the 7 oz can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce into a small food processor. Pulse until finely minced, scraping down sides as needed. Add about half of the minced peppers to the bowl with the corn (reserve the rest to adjust the heat to your taste).

Add the diced red onion and tomato, and a pinch of smoked salt (sea salt would be just as nice) to the bowl with the corn; stir. Taste and add more of the

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