Usually for this blog, I document my attempts to make recipes I’ve never tried with ingredients that are new to me. I must confess that I have been working on perfecting a Bolognese sauce for years. I think I’ve finally got it.
This Bolognese sauce has a secret ingredient that you won’t find in most Bolognese sauces. But we’ll get to that later.
First a little background.
For a long time, I was dissatisfied with the results of my Bolognese attempts. The sauces always seemed relatively tasteless and never thick enough. My normal approach was to brown onions and ground beef, add dried herbs (like oregano and such), add a jar of prepared sauce (like Classico) and let it simmer for a long time. I thought that the longer it simmered, the tastier it would be, and that was a little bit true, but not all that much. I tried adding garlic and then adding more and more garlic, to give it flavor. It worked a little, but it seemed that the garlic flavor just disappeared. I tried adding red wine. That worked a little too. I tried adding lots of olive oil once. Again, it enhanced the flavor a bit, but it came at a cost and didn’t give the dramatic flavor I was after.
I’m a huge fan of chicken Marsala and veal Marsala, but I’ve got a craving for a pork chop, so I figure “why not try pork Marsala?” At the store, a double thick pork chop catches my eye and once again I think, “Why not?” (read on to find out why not). I’ve never made Marsala sauce before, but I figure it’s a variation on the Fig Sauce I did in September, just with mushrooms and Marsala wine instead of figs and Balsamic vinegar. Let’s see how this one turns out. An ingredients list (of sorts) is at the end of this post.
The other day, I went to the Ferry Terminal Marketplace in San Francisco for lunch. I thought I’d add a mini-photo gallery to this blog featuring the tasty bites I sampled while there. I purchased the Recchiuti Chocolate sauce after sampling it, so watch for a future blog entry where I try out different ways to use the sauce. The Recchiuti representative recommended serving it with pears. Mmmm.
While Americans often refer to a grilled sandwich as a Panini, when we say “panini,” we’re actually using the Italian word for “small bread rolls” (in the plural). Panino is the singular and “panino imbottito” is the phrase used for “stuffed panino” or sandwich. So this posting should be titled, Panino Imbottito with Ham, Cheese, and Fig Jam,” but I’m not that imbottito with myself (i.e. full of myself). Or am I?
After cooking with figs last week, I had a hankering to use the fig jam I purchased awhile back at the Jacuzzi Family Vineyards wine and olive oil tasting center.
Fig jam is pretty sweet, so it’s a great counterpoint to the salty, black forest ham that I’m using in this sandwich. If you don’t live near Sonoma, you can purchase fig jam at Amazon.com. I’ve added a link to the right to make it easy to find.
I’m going to be using my Cuisinart Griddler Gourmet which can function as an indoor grill or a panini press or open up into a griddle. You can use a frying pan right on the stove and just put a heavy lid on top of the sandwich. I do love my “griddler gourmet” though and use it a lot more than I thought I would.
For this sandwich, I purchased Black Forest Ham. In the US, that term doesn’t mean as much as it does in Europe, where Black Forest Ham is a protected designation and therefore is required to come from the Black Forest in Germany. I know that the ham I’m buying has a spicy, sharp flavor that I like. A Virginia ham, or Smithfield ham would also work well for this sandwich because of its salty and strong flavor, but a honey-cured ham might prove too sweet to pair with fig jam.
I’ve also chosen a Jarslberg Cheese. It’s a Norwegian cheese in the Swiss Emmentaler-style family of cheeses. It’s less sharp than Emmentaler, which satisfies my personal taste, while still providing that tangy counterpoint to the other flavors in the sandwich.
This photo shows the amount of jam I chose to use. The La Brea French loaf is nice and crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Most panini you find in Italian cafés are made with Ciabatta and when made properly, chefs use the whole loaf, splitting it horizontally. The loaf I chose was too big to do that, so I cut slices off of it.
I added some iceberg lettuce to the sandwich because that was what I had on hand. You might choose something with a little more bite, like arugula. (I love that arugula is called Rocket in the UK).
I grilled the sandwich under medium-high heat for about 10 minutes. I really wanted the cheese to melt without burning the bread, so I watched the sandwich carefully.
This was a thoroughly satisfying sandwich. To make it even richer, you can add butter or brush olive oil on the outside of the bread so that it browns even more as it grills. You could also use Salami rather than Ham. This version is a nice, relatively lite (I used low fat Jarlsberg cheese and there is no mayonnaise or aioli) sandwich. Buon Apetite!
It’s the day of the party and I have harvested the figs from our backyard. I’m worried. They’re quite firm, so I’m worried that they aren’t ripe enough. Also, they’re green, so they’re automatically not as sweet as black, Mission figs. I’m terrified of putting these figs into the sauce I’m cooking for the pork and ruining the whole dish. The doorbell is ringing and I still haven’t decided whether or not to go forward with this plan of cooking Pork Tenderloin with Balsamic Vinegar and Fig Sauce.
The guests have arrived and they are eyeing the chopped figs suspiciously. We all agree that they don’t smell as enticing as we would like, but they encourage me to press on. I’ve got pizza in the freezer in case of emergency. I set about peeling and slicing about half a dozen of the green figs and I set them aside.
Next, on a separate cutting board, I slice about three pounds of pork tenderloin into 3/4 inch slices and sautée the slices in a large frying pan at a medium-high heat. I’ve chosen the largest pan I have so that I can sautée all of the pork tenderloin at once. So far so good.
I remove them from the pan and place the slices on a cookie sheet. They go into an oven that has been preheated to 200˚F. Then I add a couple of tablespoons of unsalted butter to the pan and sautée the shallots until they soften.
Once they’ve softened, I add the balsamic vinegar (about a quarter cup) and let it simmer until almost all of it has evaporated. This is what they mean by “balsamic reduction.” It really intensifies the flavor.
After the balsamic vinegar has evaporated, there are scrumptious brown bits of shallot that I scrape from the sides of the pan before adding the chicken stock. The chicken stock, balsamic vinegar and shallots are all simmering now until reduced by half. I am nearing the point of no return where I will have to add the figs.
I take the plunge and add the figs. As soon as they go into the pan I decide everything is going to be okay. Simmering the figs in these great juices will certainly soften them up and they should acquire the flavors around them. We’ll have to wait and see if I’m right. In goes the cream.
Adding the whipping cream makes what was just a little something simmering on the stove into a real sauce. I’m thinking now that I need to add whipping cream to everything I’m cooking. The balsamic vinegar smells great and the whipping cream makes it nice and rich. Despite my fears about the figs, the dish is starting to seem promising. Just a few minutes left.
After the sauce has thickened considerably, I add the chopped Italian parsley to give it the fresh kick any creamy sauce needs. I’m ready to assemble the plate with the pork tenderloin, the sauce and the roasted red potatoes I’ve had cooking in the oven.
We are all surprised by how tasty it is. The figs add a little zing to the sauce, but don’t dominate it. My backyard figs have a slight cabbagey flavor, kind of like having brusseles sprouts in the dish. The sweetness of the balsamic vinegar is a nice counterpoint to the nutty, slightly bitter flavor of my figs. I wonder what “real” figs taste like, but then I think, “is there anything more real than food you grew and picked yourself?”
I just picked these figs from our backyard tree. I used scissors to cut them at the stem. I was surprised by a squirt of white juice when I cut them. The white liquid is extremely sticky. It’s so sticky that it’s hard to wash off of my hands. The figs smell a little sour, so I’m scared that this recipe is going to be a total disaster. Check back to find out.
I’ve scoured the internet for a recipe to use for tonight’s fig adventure. I am surprised at how few recipes there are out there for fresh, green figs. Most of the recipes I found were dessert-oriented or were for dried figs, or were for Mission Figs which are black figs. Mission Figs are sweeter than green figs. People dry green figs because they are not considered sweet enough fresh, but I’ve got a tree full of fresh green figs and I want to use some today, so we’ll just have to see what happens. I’ll put some of my green figs aside for drying and try them out later.
Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 4 pork slices and saute until brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer pork to baking sheet. Add remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil to skillet. Repeat with remaining 4 pork slices. Transfer pork to oven to keep warm.
Melt 1 tablespoon butter in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots and saute until tender, about 2 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar. Simmer until vinegar evaporates, scraping up any browned bits on bottom of skillet, about 1 minute. Add chicken broth. Simmer until mixture is reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Add figs and whipping cream. Simmer until sauce thickens slightly, about 4 minutes. Add remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar and any accumulated juices from pork. Simmer until sauce thickens enough to coat spoon, about 2 minutes longer. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
Arrange pork on plates. Spoon sauce over. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
We have a fig tree in our backyard and for the last seven years, it has yielded healthy crops of green figs in June and September, but I’ve never picked a single fig off of the tree, much less cooked or eaten one.
This year is different.
This photo is of one of the figs on my tree. I’m going to harvest the figs tomorrow and prepare them for some friends. It will definitely be an adventure.