Oh yes, it’s another fig post: see here, here and here. I love figs. Being a native Colorado girl, there wasn’t a lot of “fig-exposure” as I grew up. I first learned to love them in Munich way back in 2003. They were everywhere in the autumn months, being brought up to German markets from Italy, just south of the border. We moved to Munich just days before the opening of Oktoberfest (in hind sight, it was a blur of jet lag, furniture shopping on an empty stomach and feeling faint in IKEA, and lot of Bavarian-style bonding in my red dirndl). After the dust settled, I started German immersion language classes at the Goethe Institut. Literally, I thank God for that class. I met a woman — let’s call her Frau Hedberg — who became one of my nearest and dearest life-long friends (if I have my way, you’ll get at least one guest-post from her this fall). And I learned to speak some German. The struggle to buy fruits and veggies at the Obst und Gemüse stand, bread at the Bäckerei or serrano at the Metzgerei was very real before I had any Deutsche “skills.” Try doing laundry at the neighborhood laundromat with forty choices on your washer — all in German. Expletive. Expletive. Expletive. So to finally have the keys to set myself free from my language-prison was a game changer. My worrying habit of ordering a slice of cheesecake (all browned from the oven with golden raisins here and there) during the afternoon Kaffeezeit morphed into a food-shopping and then cooking habit. I regularly brought home cheeses I had never seen or heard of, and made beautiful cheese boards, complete with sweet, multifaceted jewel-toned figs. I love beautiful food, and I especially love it when beautiful food is delicious, and when it happens to be a part of ancient history. The fig is all of these. Now, I’m just grateful that the fig is sexy and appears every fall in large quantities from Whole Foods to Trader Joes to CostCo. Long live the fig, and thank you, California.
All that to say… I was skimming my Instagram feed today and stopped with mouth agape when I saw Hande’s photo of her grilled cheese sandwich with figs and prosciutto. If you ever find yourself in Rome, you’ve got to sign yourself right up to tour food and wine with Hande at Vino Roma. Though I’ve never met Hande, she befriended my dear sweet friend Nicky of delicious:days shortly after we moved from Munich and so a friend of Nicky’s is a friend of mine! I discovered her Instagram feed several months ago and I get my Rome-fix through her photos. I studied art in Rome during college, and frankly, you can never have too much Rome in your life. Anyway, as it so happened, I had prosciutto and figs and more cheese in my cheese drawer than I’ll ever admit to, and my original plan for dinner was becoming unrealistic since I walked away from everything right when I should have started cooking and took four giggling school girls out for frozen yogurt. So, Hande’s photo was the catalyst. I came home, started assembling while my cast iron griddle heated and minutes later, we had the most delicious dinner sandwiches. I’ll be making these as many times as I cross paths with figs in the next few weeks.
Grilled Cheese with Prosciutto & Figs
recipe adapted by Stephanie Kunstle, inspired by Hande Leimer’s @vinoroma Instagram feed
- delicious bread — I used an organic sprouted wheat bread with wheat berries, rye flakes, and flax seeds
- Gorgonzola Dolce (about an ounce per sandwich), thinly sliced
- two large slices of prosciutto per sandwich
- about 1.5 to 2 figs per sandwich, quartered (Calimyrna, Brown Turkey, Smyrna, etc all work)
- fresh arugula (if you can find “wild arugula,” it is spicier and more flavorful than standard arugula)
- butter to smear on the outsides of your bread slices
- Heat your pan or even better, a cast iron skillet or griddle over low heat (it should get hot enough to melt butter but not burn it)
- While the pan/griddle is heating, assemble the sandwiches…
- Start by buttering the outer sides (grilling sides) of the bread, then begin layering the bread with slices of gorgonzola dolce, fold prosciutto over that, add the fig slices, top with a tiny handful of arugula, and finish with the second slice of bread which should be buttered on it’s grilling side.
- “Grill” the sandwiches until bread is toasted and golden on both sides and cheese is melted. If you have an iron sandwich press to set on top, that is a nice way to marry the ingredients. Slow consistent heat is the best so the sandwich is heated through (meaning, the figs will be warm and extra sweet if you take your time).
- Cut sandwiches in half, and serve with a salad of fresh arugula. I made a simple vinaigrette of extra virgin olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper.
We were in Steamboat Springs for a long weekend this summer. This recipe was inspired by lunch we had at a little market up near the ski mountain that professed to have great pizzas. I admit, I may have rolled my eyes, and ordered a spinach salad (mainly for the blue cheese, and also because I really hate being disappointed when it comes to pizza). But Dave and my girls chose pizza, and when it was pulled hot from the oven and brought to our table outside on the patio, I had lunch-envy. It’s lucky I have a generous husband who shared his pizza with me. It was a delicious combination of sweet and savory — with honey and cracked black pepper being the ingredients that really pull it all together. I took a couple quick notes on my phone, and determined I would make this once pears were more in season and tweak it a bit more to my taste.
This past week, my (rockstar) women’s tennis team had our end-of-season party. It’s just another excuse to get together with an amazing group of women who love to live and love to laugh. We all bring food and wine (or other spirits which shall remain unnamed), and enjoy an evening together. I knew this pizza would be a crowd pleaser — there’s so much to love with all of these great ingredients. So even though I had a CRAZY day of back-to-school events for my girls, I was going to make this pizza if it was the last thing I did. The photo shoot took no more than 90 seconds before I whisked the pizza out the door like an insane artist to the questioning looks of my babysitter. I arrived to the party (40 minutes late) in a torrential downpour, balancing umbrella and a giant board with pizza which was quickly (and not-so-selflessly) rescued by my sweet friend, Tressa. But what is a little rain when there are great friends, a glass of rosé, and this pizza to enjoy?
Grilled Pear & Prosciutto Pizza with Gorgonzola, Spinach and Walnuts
recipe by Stephanie Kunstle
Note: if you don’t have a grill handy, just oil a large baking sheet with olive oil and scattered with polenta, and press your dough onto this, top with all ingredients, and bake at 425ºF for 12-15 minutes. The spinach will be much more cooked, but will still be delicious.
Ingredients for pizza dough:
- 1 and 1/2 tsp. dry active yeast
- 3/4 cup warm water
- 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- semolina or raw polenta for scattering
- You will need a large piece of foil to put the dough on
Toppings for pizza:
- 3-4 ounces gorgonzola dolce, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 5 large slices prosciutto, stacked and then cut into thin strips
- 2 ripe Bosc pears, cored and thinly sliced
- small handful of fresh spinach leaves
- close to 3/4 cup roughly chopped walnuts
- extra virgin olive oil
- raw unfiltered honey (if you are in CO, my favorite is Ambrosia Honey Co., from Parachute, Colorado)
- freshly cracked black pepper
- Fire up that grill… I start with high heat to get it nice and hot.
- While you are heating your grill, in a standing mixer with the dough hook attachment, combine warm water with yeast, and whisk to dissolve the yeast.
- Add the olive oil, sugar, salt, and flour, and mix with the dough hook until the dough is very smooth and elastic… It should be ever so slightly sticky and very pliable. Swirl a little extra virgin olive oil around the bowl and roll your dough around in it to coat the outer surfaces. Quick tip: when you are measuring flour, always scoop it into the measuring cup with a large spoon, and then use a knife to level it off. No packing in the flour or you will use too much and end up with a dough that’s dry and hard to work with. If you find your dough is too wet, just add more flour, one tablespoon at a time and let the mixer really work it in… Give that gluten a little time to do it’s thing.
- Tear off a large piece of foil, about 24 inches long, and use olive oil to lightly oil the face-up side of your foil. Scatter with semolina or raw polenta (this helps the dough not to stick and adds a nice rustic texture).
- On a clean surface, press out the dough with your hands into a large rectangle. Using your hands or a rolling pin, continue to stretch and/or roll the dough into a big rectangle and gently lift onto prepared foil, using your hands to press it into its final shape (about 12″ x 15″ rectangle).
- Drizzle the surface with a little extra virgin olive oil and rub it all over to cover the dough, this will prevent it from sticking to the grill.
- Slide the foil onto a large baking sheet and carry it out to your grill. Turn flames to medium-high heat, and with lots of gusto and some finesse, lift your foil above the grill and quickly invert it onto the grill, peeling the foil off the bottom of the pizza dough from a corner nearest to you at a 45 degree angle to avoid tearing any holes into the dough (discard foil). Once foil is removed, close the grill and time the dough for about 60 seconds. It will immediately begin to bubble and cook. Using a large spatula, flip the dough and grill for another minute. Slide dough from grill onto the baking sheet. Turn the grill heat down to medium-low.
- Rub your semi-cooked pizza dough with extra virgin olive oil (yes, again), and then scatter it with the gorgonzola dolce. Layer the prosciutto strips over and around the cheese, then fill in space with pear slices. Scatter spinach leaves, scatter the chopped walnuts, and then generously drizzle the entire pizza with honey and cracked black pepper.
- Carefully slide the pizza back onto the grill (which should be on med-low heat now), close the lid and let it cook for about 2 minutes. Feel free to peek on it with a grill spatula and check to make sure it’s not burning underneath (everyone’s grill is different, so be attentive). Then turn the grill off and give it another couple of minutes to let the spinach further wilt.
- Slide the pizza back onto your baking sheet, and then onto a large cutting board or serving platter. Slice and serve hot or at room temperature, preferably with a glass or rosé. Enjoy!
This pasta came to be a couple of weeks ago when there was “nothing for dinner,” which basically meant, I had nothing planned. All eyes were on me at 6pm with a look of desperation. But I had a lot of prosciutto on hand, fettuccine in the pantry, and a basil plant which keeps growing even though I frequently pick it to near-death. In times like these, I just try to think like an Italian… or at least how I think Italians must be thinking… Take delicious ingredients, and make something delicious with them with as little effort as possible. Just a few minutes later we had dinner. A really tasty dinner, but it was missing a bit of “zip!” So, I made a few notes-to-self, and the next time there was nothing for dinner, “Summer Night in Italy Pasta” was my go to recipe. Seriously though, cooking this pasta creates an aroma that evokes memories of walking down the bustling streets of Cagliari on a hot August night way back when… Maybe it’s the sautéed garlic and the unmistakable smell of torn basil leaves. Either way, it serves as a vacation for the tastebuds and makes for a happy family.
Summer Night in Italy Pasta
recipe by Stephanie Kunstle (inspired by bella Italia)
Notes: The key to success is to have all of your ingredients ready at the start. Cook the prosciutto/garlic mixture while the pasta is cooking. Have the tomatoes sliced and ready because the second the pasta is done cooking and drained, you will use the heat from the pasta to slightly cook the tomatoes, release the juices and absorb great flavor from the garlic-lemon oil. And a quick note on draining pasta: I try NOT to let all the cooking water drain off… Just pour the pasta into a colander to let the majority of the water drain off, and while the pasta is still pretty wet, add it to whatever you are cooking. Pasta cooking water has starch in it that lends a silkiness to the sauce, so totally dry pasta is not what you are going for.
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 12 oz. prosciutto (10-12 large slices), roughly chopped
- 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 4-5 lemon slices (1/4 inch thick or so)
- 3 large garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes (or 3-4 medium tomatoes in season), halved or quartered if large in size
- fleur de sel (or other good sea salt) to taste
- freshly cracked pepper
- 1 lb. fettuccine
- handful fresh basil leaves, torn
- Parmigiano Reggiano to grate over the pasta
- Heat a large pot of salted water and cook fettuccine to al dente. While the pasta is cooking…
- In a large sauté pan or cast iron skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add lemon slices and red pepper flakes and sauté for 2 minutes.
- Add the prosciutto and fry in the oil, using a fork to toss it and keep it from sticking together, for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the chopped garlic to the pan and sauté, stirring constantly, for one minute.
- Remove prosciutto mixture from heat.
- Place sliced tomatoes into a large serving bowl and season with fleur de sel or other sea salt, and just a touch of freshly cracked pepper.
- Drain pasta the minute it reaches an “al dente” doneness, and pour the hot pasta to cover the tomatoes. Do not toss. Allow to stand as is for a good minute or so. While it is standing, pour the prosciutto/garlic mixture over the top of the pasta, making sure you scrape out all the last bits of red pepper flakes and drops of olive oil onto the fettuccine.
- Toss the pasta and ingredients well, coating the fettuccine with the juices from the tomatoes and seasoned olive oil. Allow to cool for another minute or two, then add the basil and toss to combine.
- Serve with grated Parmigiano Reggiano and enjoy!