It's truly funny how cooking can sometimes indicate that we've been living in a type of comfort zone. Okay, so it's not that funny but it's true that we all seek to stay in our comfort zone at times. :) I realize that food is food and it doesn't characterize our attitude towards deep matters of life! But for me, cooking and baking have become a creative outlet much like painting and sculpting is to some of you cool hipsters and thus, I just can't help but want to think outside the box. I'm not saying crostini is innovative or anything, as it is "thought to originate in medieval times when it was typical for Italian peasants to eat their meals on slices of bread instead of using ceramics" (Wikipedia). So...I guess I'm a peasant now (thanks Wikipedia for the boost of confidence). And I don't mind it as long as I get to munch on perfectly crunchy slices of bread drizzled in savoury olive oil, topped with the some of nature's sweetest candy known to mankind--figs!
As you can tell, I had loads of fun and made my food all fancy with greenery. The addition of herbs is one of the tastiest and healthiest ways to flavor any dish, and this particular recipe contains tarragon. Oohhhh tarragon, how foreign you were once upon a time! Tarragon was definitely one of those out-of-my-comfort-zone ingredients because it tends to be used quite a bit in French cuisine. Quite honestly? The closest I've ever gotten to cooking French is...you guessed it, eclairs. Initially I really wanted to roast the figs in balsamic, but I had my reservations since I'd never done that. I turned to the internet and fortunately came across David Lebovitz' recipe which was almost what I had envisioned! He uses alcohol to spice up the dish, but in my opinion there really is no better alternative than balsamic. Now, you have to understand that ricotta is one of my favorite foods. I always want to include it in my recipes but so far I've been unsuccessful at it, so it's safe to say that I'm extremely giddy about this creation!
Crostini with Ricotta and Roasted Figs
Makes 20 crostini
Ingredients for base
1 day stale wheat+oat boule bread (or other fresh bread like baguette)
1/4 C virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
Ingredients for spread and topping (adapted from David Lebovitz)
12 halved figs with tips trimmed
1- 15 oz tub of full fat ricotta cheese
2 TBSP balsamic vinegar
1 TBSP brown sugar
1 TBSP maple syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
5 sprigs of 8 in. long tarragon
1/2 C chopped toasted walnuts (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375 F degrees. Slice your bread into 20 slices, into pieces that are approximately 3x5 inches (size of small photo). Spread them evenly on a large cookie sheet and brush both sides with oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for approximately 26-28 minutes until crisp on both sides. Check on them at about 14 minute mark just to make sure they're not burning. Then let them cool for a few minutes.
Raise the oven temp to 400F. Place the figs in a baking pan and add balsamic, sugar, maple, vanilla, and tarragon leaves. In order to get just the small leaves, run your index and thumb on the stem and the leaves will easily tear off (like rosemary). Gently toss so the figs get nicely coated. Bake for approximately 25 minutes until balsamic reduces and becomes slightly thicker. When it's a bit cool, spread the ricotta cheese on the crisps and top with balsamic fig and toasted walnuts. Enjoy as an appetizer or a side to your Italian meal!
Do you sometimes feel like you're in a cooking/baking comfort zone? In what ways have you always wanted to venture out?
What are some of your favorite fig combinations?