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Salad with Balsamic Vinegar-Fig Reduction

It’s around midday on the East Coast.  The internal alarm is going off in your stomach, and your brain is saying to it, “What are we going to eat today for lunch?”  It could be that you are heading to the company cafeteria for the day’s specials (guess it’s salad again as nothing looks appealing) or you might be heading outside to the local quick-and-easy sandwich/salad/pizza/hot buffet place.  If you were really on top of it, you might even have packed your lunch.

Then, back at your desk, you start reading the blogs.  I hope this one is one of your stops because today I have a great and easy recipe for a delicious salad that could be what you have for dinner tonight to balance out whatever it was that you had for lunch today.  You can probably find everything to make it at the grocery store on a stop on your way home from work.

After two food festivals this past weekend and at least one more on the horizon for this coming one, I decided that maybe I needed to eat a salad.  I have a deep confession to make: I’m not that big a fan of mesclun.  I really like other kinds of lettuce, like the big-leafed ones.  Fortunately, there’s been plenty to choose from at the Greenmarket.  On my shopping trip yesterday, I picked up some from S. & S.O. Produce Farms as well as some great goat’s cheese from Patches of Star Dairy.

Figs are in season, too, so I had been wondering about how they would work in a salad.  I decided that they needed a little extra umph to bring them together with the greens.  I found a bottle of a lower-quality balsamic vinegar in the back of the cupboard that needed using up, and I had some walnuts in the freezer that could add some heft to the meal.  Pulling this together was really a snap, but the flavors themselves were so intense and robust that it belied how easy this is to make.  I could definitely see showing this off at a dinner party or just making it to treat yourself to something a little more interesting on a weeknight.

Salad with Balsamic Vinegar-Fig Reduction

Prep Time: about 30 minutes
Serving Size: 4 portions

Ingredients:
1 cup balsamic vinegar (does not have to be top-quality)
7-8 black mission figs, chopped
1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted*
about 3 cups your choice in lettuce leaves (I used one head green-leaf and one of Lolla Rossa)
1 Tbsp. good-quality extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 c. goat’s cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper to season

Assembly:
Pour the vinegar into a small saucepan and place over medium heat.  Once it has boiled, turn it down a little bit but leave high enough where you see the liquid bubbling.  Leave this alone for 15-20 minutes to cook down (reduce) until the vinegar is about 1/2 cup, checking on it periodically to make sure that you are not burning it.  Turn off the heat.

Put the chopped figs in the hot liquid. Gently toss them so that all the figs are coated in the vinegar.  Leave this to the side while you prepare the rest of the salad.  If you haven’t already toasted the walnuts, you can do this at this point, too.

Place the lettuce leaves on four plates.  Drizzle a bit of extra-virgin olive oil over top of them.  Sprinkle each plate with a small pinch of salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper.  Then, spoon the vinegar-fig mixture over top of the lettuce.  Scatter 1/4 of the walnuts over each salad.  Dot each plate with the goat’s cheese.  Serve.

Buon appetito!

*Kitchen Witch Tip:
I often end up buying more nuts than I can use for any one cooking project.  I freeze the leftover ones and then usually toast them before eating to bring more intensity to their flavor.  To do this, place nuts on a metal baking sheet and put into a 300 degree Fahrenheit oven (see Measurements / Conversions page for degree conversions).  After 10 minutes or so (check after five minutes), the nuts should be toasted a light brown, have released some of their oils, and be a wonderfully fragrant addition to your dish.