Maple-Balsamic Fig Crostini

_MG_4836This is one of my top-five appetizers. It was inspired by a lovely special at one of the best (and most underrated) restaurants in Minnesota, the New Scenic Café. A bright yet unassuming exterior with views of Lake Superior just across North Shore Drive hides wonderfully simple, local fare. Unfortunately, I don't get to make it there as often as I would like, but a version of this crostini was served as a special appetizer one of the last times I was there. Once I got home, I had to re-create it -- I love the contrast between the sweet balsamic-glazed figs and the salty gorgonzola cheese. You could also serve this as dinner with a salad (which I have definitely done)._MG_4813 _MG_4842

I'm actually in Minnesota this week (hooray for vacation!), and won't be making it up to Duluth, but I can't wait to check out some favorite restaurants, like The Bachelor Farmer (I wrote about it last summer here), Anchor Fish & Chips (best fish and chips I have EVER had), and hopefully a few more. But mostly, it's so lovely to hang out with my family, see some friends, and relax. Are you taking any trips this summer?_MG_4845


Maple-Balsamic Fig Crostini (serves 6 as an appetizer, 2-3 as a main course)

1 baguette, thinly sliced on the bias

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

12 figs, cut in half lengthwise

1/4 cup maple syrup

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup white wine

Black pepper

1-2 oz gorgonzola or blue cheese

1/2 cup marcona almonds or walnuts, toasted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place baguette slices on a large baking sheet and brush lightly with olive oil. Bake until lightly toasted and golden brown, about 10 minutes. Let cool.

Meanwhile, melt butter over medium-high heat in a large sauté pan. Place figs in pan, cut side down and cook for 30 seconds. Pour maple syrup, vinegar, and wine over figs and cook until liquid is reduced slightly and becomes syrupy, about 5 minutes. Season with black pepper.

To serve: spoon 2-3 fig halves on a piece of bread, then sprinkle cheese and toasted nuts over. Serve immediately.


Arugula Salad with Maple-Balsamic Figs

Someday, I'm going to have an orchard. Having grown up in Minnesota, where there are only apples, and now living in New York, where there is clearly not enough space on my fire escape even for tomato plants, my dream of an orchard will still be just that: a dream. But someday, I'll have avocados, lemons, peaches, and especially figs. Figs are only available for a couple of short months at the end of summer here, which means that I buy them whenever I can find some. I stumbled upon these beauties at the fruit stand outside my office, and immediately brought them home to figure out what to do with them. Of course, I love figs with just a bit of honey and Greek yogurt for breakfast, but this salad has definitely become one of my favorite summer meals. And on top of that, it's impressive enough to serve at a dinner party.

Arugula Salad with Maple-Balsamic Figs (serves 2-3 as a main course, 4-5 as a first course)

1/2 + 1 tablespoons butter

1 lb figs, cut into quarters

2 tablespoons maple syrup

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup white wine

2 large shallots, thinly sliced

1/4 cup good quality olive oil

8 oz arugula

2 oz blue or Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

3 oz walnuts, toasted

Melt 1/2 tablespoon butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add figs, and cook one minute. Turn heat to medium-high, and add maple syrup, vinegar, and wine and cook until liquid begins to boil and figs are beginning to wilt, 2-3 minutes. Season with black pepper. Drain figs, reserving liquid in a small bowl. Set figs aside. Return liquid to pan and boil over high heat, until it is reduced by about half. Remove from heat, and let cool.

Meanwhile, melt remaining tablespoon of butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add shallots, and cook until caramelized and golden, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

Whisk balsamic-maple syrup mixture with olive oil in a small glass or measuring cup. Season with salt and pepper. Place some arugula on a plate, top with walnuts, shallots, and blue cheese. Spoon figs over, then lightly drizzle with vinaigrette (you may have extra). Serve immediately.