Alas, the halcyon days of summer are officially in our midst. It is quite a feeling to know that there is such a warm spell upon us. Of course, many who complain about the cold of winter are now griping about the humidity, heat and clamminess of the skin, but so it goes.
As I have mentioned before, there are two truths about summer. One: summer is the perfect time for grilling. Two: nothing you throw on the grill has to be difficult. Sometimes the simplest of ingredients go a long way in satiating our most primal of desires – sustenance.
Sure, you could argue that sustenance is not a desire but rather a necessity, and while I agree with this notion, I would be remiss in my duties as a food writer if I told you to eat for the sake of eating. How drab that would be.
A gorgeous amuse bouche or tapa is one made with grilled figs, bleu cheese and a gastrique of balsamic. I’ll explain that in a bit. The sweet and sour are beautiful counterpoints and with a simple garnish of a prosciutto chip, the salt makes the flavors ring in the mouth.
Before I go any further, I want to address this “amuse bouche” nonsense once and for all. There is no accent aigu (ack-sawnt ay-goo) on the e at the end of amuse, so the proper pronunciation is “ah-mooz” and not “ah-moo-zay.” For the same reasons that people pronounce my name “sue-play,” the butchery extends to the “amuse” in amuse bouche.
Now that this is settled, let’s move on to the belles of the ball. First up is the Roaring Forties Australian Blue Cheese, resting comfortably in my top-three list of all cheeses of all times. It is rich, luscious, buttery and as stinky as one can get in a bleu cheese, notwithstanding an absolutely rancid one. Don’t let my description fool you. It is a fabulous cheese.
Next up is the fresh fig. When they are in season, they are surprisingly uber-sweet. Despite the fact that I am a hardcore sweet-tooth, they need something to work against all of that sweet and that is where not only the cheese comes in, but also the gastrique (‘gas-treek’)
For this recipe, I used a balsamic gastrique, which is nothing more than vinegar reduced with fruit to create a classic French sweet-and-sour sauce. Again, this works beautifully against the all-sweet fig and the sour nature of the cheese.
In a classical gastrique, one would use fruit such as currants, grapes, orange or whatever flavor profile would match the meal that it is accompanying. In this case, though, I simply use balsamic vinegar from Modena and white grape juice (it comes from fruit, so close enough).
Reducing the vinegar and the grape juice solves a huge problem. All too often, people are reducing balsamic vinegar on its own, but as it reduces down and the sugars magnify, so do the unfavorable flavors such as any acrid aftertaste or molasses-type tongue twisters. It simply loses its appeal.
As such, by reducing it with the grape juice, you are neither compromising the integrity of the vinegar (as it comes from grapes originally) nor losing any inherent sweetness of the aforementioned balsamic. When all is said and done, you will be left with a sweet and sour sauce that will keep for a very long time in the refrigerator (monitor for any change in flavor).
So fire up that grill and try this little plate of manna from heaven. Welcome home, Summer. Oh, the things we will experience.
Grilled Fig & Bleu
2 ea. Fresh figs, halved
Sugar, as needed
EV Olive oil as needed
Cracked pepper as needed
Prosciutto chips (recipe follows)
2 oz. Roaring Forties Bleu
Fire up the grill so that it is nice and hot; ready to go!
Lay the figs on a plate or wax paper and sprinkle the cut face with sugar
Let stand for twenty minutes and then grill, face down, for 2 minutes, turning to get a nice hash mark or diamond design
Remove and brush with olive oil and pepper to taste. You don’t need any more salt as there is plenty in the cheese and the prosciutto. Set aside and keep warm until service
In a small plate or bowl, spoon some sauce, then add your bleu cheese, fig and then top with the prosciutto chip as a garnish
It can’t get much simpler than that, can it?
2 c. White grape juice
1 c. Good quality Balsamic vinegar
Make the glaze first and keep it aside in the refrigerator, pulling out to warm to room temperature prior to service. You can make it the day of service if you like. It’s your choice
To make the glaze, simply combine the grape juice and the vinegar and reduce over a low-medium heat until syrupy. If you reduce too quickly, it will be bitter, so let it go all day if you have to. Trust me; it’s worth the wait
Paper thin prosciutto slices
For the prosciutto chips, simply place paper-thin prosciutto on a baking mat in the oven set to 300 until they turn into dry and crispy chips