• Piquant & spicy crostini

    Piquant and spicy Italian spread

    This irresistible spread comes from Carol Field’s equally irresistible Italy in Small Bites.

    Is it possible to imagine anything more pleasurable than sampling the tastes of Italy, morsel by divine morsel?
    Cooking my way through Field’s collection of merende or between-meals-snacks and appetizers has been a very slow process as I can’t get past the Irresistible Spicy Crostini. The spicy Roman crostini also look tempting – olive oil and red wine vinegar with parsley, basil, anchovies, garlic and chilli flakes with breadcrumbs to thicken – but the old favourite continues to tantalise.
    There’s a long list of ingredients so I suggest you double check each time you make it. It is all too easy to forget, say, the capers as I did when making the shopping list. Each ingredient contributes something special to the whole, but it is nigh on impossible to de-pack the individual components, especially after the spread has sat and mellowed for an hour or two. The hard-boiled egg yolk for instance is virtually indefinable but it does add richness and mellows the piquant flavours.
    Small children view this spread with a great deal of suspicion but most over the age of 10 will find it intriguingly delicious.

    Serve with a chilled glass of our favourite Soave – 2007 Tommasi Le Volpare Soave

    The Recipe

    Piquant & spicy spread for crostini
    2 slices sourdough or large ciabatta cut 2cm thick, crusts removed
    3 tbsp (scant) red wine vinegar
    6 large anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
    3 tbsp flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
    3 large cloves garlic, crushed
    3/4 cup pine nuts
    1 tbsp, generous salted capers, rinsed well and drained
    4 very large or 5 small hard-boiled egg yolks
    12 large green olives stuffed with pesto (available at delicatessens), roughly chopped
    freshly ground pepper
    half cup extra virgin olive oil

    Lay the bread on a flat plate and sprinkle with the vinegar. Leave for 10 minutes then squeeze the bread to remove any excess vinegar. Break up the bread roughly and place in a food processor. Add the anchovy, parsley, garlic, pine nuts, capers, egg yolks, olives, pepper and olive oil. Process until it comes together as a spreadable paste but still with some texture. Serve with freshly made crostini.

    For the crostini: slice ciabatta or sourdough baguette, brush with olive oil and toast till golden.

  • Caramelised figs

    Caramelised figs

    The fig is a very useful plant. Its leaves have protected the modesty of Adam and Eve, as well as a host of naked mythological beings, and the fruit is among the most splendid that nature produces.

    It is ironic that the leaf of the fig should be so used to avoid inflaming passion in viewers of great art, when the fruit of the tree is incredibly sensual to look at as well as eat. Further, the sap of the green parts of the fig is an irritant to human skin; a freshly plucked leaf is hardly the best choice as a covering for delicate parts.

    The fig is one of the first plants cultivated by humans and may even predate wheat and rye. The Romans new several cultivars and even used them to fatten geese for superior foie gras. Figs were considered so valuable and desirable in ancient Athens that there were strict laws to control harvest. The word ‘sycophant’ has its origins in ancient Greek – it literally means ‘showing the figs’ – and was used to refer to anyone who had informed on another for exporting figs (forbidden) or tattling on those who had stolen the fruit of the sacred fig trees.
    Tree-ripened figs picked first thing in the morning, with the chill of the evening still on them, is one of eating’s greatest pleasures. Figs are also incredibly good for you. They’re high in calcium and fibre and are a great source of potassium. The fig has lots of antioxidants and plenty of flavonoids, which have anti-allergenic, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

    I cooked most of the figs whole but cut a couple in half to fit them into the baking dish. The halves were really good – extra tasty because the caramel syrup was drizzled directly over the interior.

    Serve with a piece of very good cheddar like King Island Reserve, Spanish Manchego or French Cantal. A glass of Spanish Pedro Ximinez on the side is excellent.

    The Recipe

    Caramelised figs
    large, very ripe purple figs
    caster sugar
    Preheat oven to 230C.
    Dip the figs in water and then roll in caster sugar so that there is a generous coating all over the fig.
    Place the figs standing up in a ceramic dish with sides. You can cut some of the figs in half if you like (see above) to make a neat fit in the dish.
    Bake for about 20 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved on the outside and the fig looks richly brown. The syrup formed in the bottom of the dish should have taken on a caramel quality.
    Remove from the oven, cool, spooning the caramel syrup over the figs as they cool. They will collapse slightly.