Homemade Ricotta & A Pizza Box Full of Figs

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The Tuesday after Labor Day is sort of a big deal around here. Living in a coastal town that draws in lots of tourists for the summer, everyone lets out a big sigh of relief when this day comes around each year.

It’s not that we have anything against the tourists, or “shoobies” as they are more commonly known by the locals.  Its just that by the time mid-August rolls around, most locals have had enough of the crowds, the traffic, trash on the beaches, and sometimes less-than-friendly attitudes.

But its the shoobies who make this such a fun and bustling place to be in the summertime. Without them, many of our restaurants, bars, markets, and shops couldn’t survive on local business alone, and that’s essentially why many of them shut down in the off season.

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Last week was bittersweet as it marked our last farmer’s market of the summer season. More than anything else, I wish our farmer’s market stayed open into the fall. Luckily, my garden is still producing, and my CSA deliveries will start up in a few weeks. Its the experience as a whole that I’ll miss.

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To celebrate the occasion, my friend Nina and I decided to host an end of summer farmers market dinner for a few of our friends. Nina just got back from roaming around Italy for 3 months (ugh! I know, right?), and is now home visiting friends and family before heading back to Hawaii- where she teaches photography at The Honolulu Museum of Art.  She offered to shoot all the food as well, which was super cool of her.

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We set out for the market early that morning and made up the menu as we shopped. Tomatoes were a given, but we both had our hearts set on figs. We found a few, but the selection wasn’t as good as we had hoped for.

Shortly after I dropped Nina off, she sent me a text saying “OMG my mom just told me my Aunt Mia is dropping off a pizza box full of figs from my uncle Frank’s tree!”

…followed by…

“Seriously, how f—ing Italian is that?? I died!”

It is hilariously Italian. 

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Nina’s parents were nice enough to let us host the party at their gorgeous house on the ocean. We decided to go definitively Italian with the figs: grilled with homemade ricotta, arugula, prosciutto, toasted hazelnuts, and aged balsamic.

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As for the rest of the menu:
Steamed littleneck clams with white wine, garlic, butter and sun gold tomatoes
Tomatoes stuffed with goat cheese, chives and toasted panko
Tomato blue cheese salad with herbs and sherry vinaigrette
Warm fingerling potato salad with roasted long hots, bacon, chives and sour cream
Grilled Eggplant and Grilled corn on the cob

Everything was locally grown or caught, with the exception of the condiments. Friends filled the kitchen and everyone had a job, whether it was scrubbing the clams, shucking the corn husks, taking photos, washing dishes, or keeping wine glasses full.

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We arranged our feast out on the deck and gathered under the stars to enjoy good food and lots of laughs. We raised our glasses and bid farewell to the end of the shoobie’s summer, while saying hello to ours.

Grilled Figs with Homemade Ricotta, Toasted Hazelnuts, Prosciutto, and Arugula

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For the Ricotta:
(Recipe adapted from Alex Guarnaschelli’s)
This recipe makes more than you will need for the salad. Feel free to cut it in half, but extra homemade ricotta never goes to waste in our house.

6 cups whole milk
3 cups buttermilk
2 cups heavy cream

Pour the milk, cream and buttermilk into a large pot and gently bring up to a boil. As soon as the milk begins to bubble, turn off the heat. You will begin to see the milk solids separate and rise to the top. Set aside for a few minutes to cool.

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Place several layers of cheesecloth in a strainer and use a large slotted spoon or spider to scoop out the curds. Carefully pour the rest of the liquid into the strainer to catch any remaining solids. The remaining liquid- or whey- is high in protein and can be saved to use in a number of different applications. Allow the ricotta to strain to desired thickness.

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For the Salad:
If fresh figs are unavailable, this salad would be equally delicious with ripe stone fruit- peaches, plums, nectarines or apricots.

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8 figs, sliced in half
4 ounces baby arugula (about 2 large handfuls)
¾ cup homemade ricotta
4 ounces good quality Prosciutto, sliced as thin as possible (Parma or La Quercia)
¼ cup toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Aged balsamic vinegar (like this one), for drizzling
Flaky sea salt (like Maldon) and freshly ground pepper

Brush the figs with olive oil and place on the grill – using a grill pan to keep them from falling through the grates if available. Cook until just warmed though and ever so slightly charred.

ImageArrange arugula over a platter and lightly dress with olive oil, salt and pepper. Dollop the ricotta around the plate, and then top with figs. Sprinkle over a little more salt and pepper. Drape the prosciutto slices over the salad then shower with toasted hazelnuts. Drizzle with more olive oil, and aged balsamic. Serve immediately.

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