One kid's adventures in gastronomy

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A Sort-of-French Dinner

I suppose it was too much to ask that Mama continue her “easier is better” streak. She had crêpes on the brain (isn’t that a silly image?), so she made the batter before she left for work, as it’s better if it rests a couple hours. Her plan was to fill the thin French pancakes with roasted asparagus and top them with Hollandaise sauce.

Since that wouldn’t be enough of a meal for Papa, she called him on her way home and asked him to turn the oven on and trim a pork tenderloin. What a funny looking thing that was. Papa took a sharp knife and cut away the visible bits of fat and something shiny looking, what Mama called “silver skin.” She said this is a tough membrane that runs along some muscle meats, and it never gets tender, so best to just cut it away.

Usually, Mama sears the tenderloin in a frying pan before putting it in the oven (to give it extra flavor), or she butterflies it and stuffs it with other forms of yumminess, but tonight she had other designs. She rubbed the entire loin with olive oil, then coated it in herbs that smelled like summer and sunshine. She called it herbes de Provence, which is a lovely blend of things like savory, thyme, lavender, fennel, oregano, and basil (like curry, recipes vary). While the tenderloin roasted, Mama took a small saucepan and combined a bit of fig jam with a splash of water, to thin it, and some balsamic vinegar for tartness; she would heat this later as a sauce for the pork.

Then she started the crêpes (she took the batter out of the fridge when she got home so that it wasn’t cold-cold). Even if you use a well-seasoned pan or a nonstick crêpe pan, it’s really difficult to make quick work out of crêpes. You can make only 1 at a time! I saw lots of pan swirling as Mama made crêpe after crêpe. Luckily, you can just stack them on a plate and eat them when you’re ready.

After the pork finished roasting, it had to rest, so Mama put the asparagus in the oven and started the Hollandaise sauce. She said that even Eric Ripert makes his in a blender these days, but Mama dislikes getting out the blender and prefers to make her sauce by hand. She might want to reconsider, as her first attempt “broke.” I saw her trying to save it, muttering under her breath, but in the end, she scrapped it and made a fresh batch with new melted butter and a new egg yolk. I hope she and Papa enjoyed it because I wouldn’t touch the stuff—it didn’t look like any egg I’ve ever eaten.

I dutifully dipped my juicy pork in the sweet fig sauce. I ate my skinny spears of asparagus, after sprinkling some Parmesan on them. And I munched my soft crêpe. (I like regular pancakes better, though.) All in all, a pretty tasty meal. And I’m pretty sure Mama’s eyeing the leftover crêpes for breakfast with bananas and a smear of Nutella. It’s just a guess.

Love, Jude

Provençal-Kissed Pork Tenderloin with Fig Sauce and Roasted Asparagus Crêpes with Hollandaise Sauce

For the pork:
1 pork tenderloin (1–1¼ pound), trimmed
Olive oil to coat
Herbes de Provence (or other herb blend) to coat (about 2 Tbsp)

For the sauce:
½ cup fig jam or preserves (or any flavor that you feel complements pork, such as apricot, peach, apple, plum)
2 Tbsp water (plus more to thin, if necessary)
1 tsp balsamic vinegar

For the asparagus:
1 pound asparagus, bottom inch trimmed
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

For the crêpes:
1 cup whole-wheat flour (pastry flour will yield a lighter crêpe)
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp water
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1 Tbsp oil
1/4 tsp salt

For the Hollandaise:
2 Tbsp clarified butter for every egg yolk (but Mama says she’ll reserve this lesson for another day)

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. (If you’re in a hurry, you could go as high as 425ºF.) Coat the tenderloin with oil, then with the herbs. Set on a baking sheet and roast for about 20 minutes (internal temp between 140ºF and 145ºF). Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

Combine the fig sauce ingredients in a small saucepan and warm over low heat. Add more water to obtain desired consistency. Serve over pork.

Arrange the aspargus on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Roll or toss gently to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Roast at 400º (or 425º) until tender and browned, about 10 minutes, depending on thickness of stalks.

In a blender or with an immersion blender, combine the crêpe ingredients and blend until smooth. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Bring to room temperature before proceeding. Heat an 8-inch seasoned skillet or nonstick crêpe pan over medium heat. Add butter or oil, if desired. Stir batter to reincorporate ingredients, then pour ¼ cup batter into hot pan. Swirl pan so liquid runs along the outer edge—it will set as it heats. Cook for 1–1½ minutes, until set, then flip crêpe. (Do not overcook.) Cook for about 30 seconds more, then remove to a plate. Repeat with remaining batter, stacking finished crêpes. Makes 8. Wrap a crêpe around a few spears of asparagus and drizzle Hollandaise over it.


Figs: Not Just for Newtons

I ate my first figs this week. I didn’t want to, but Mama and Papa kept cajoling me. They were relentless. “It’s sweet,” she’d say. “It tastes kind of like a grape,” he’d say. “You’ll like it,” they’d say. Finally, I took a tentative bite. Then another. The supple flesh yielded a delicate sweetness. I took another bite. Where have these been all my life?

Turns out, they’re not always available. My friend Milo recently picked the first figs from his tree. And, like pomegranates, figs aren’t in stores year-round. You have to wait for them, so savor them!

Incidentally, Fig Newtons are named for the place where they’re made: Newton, MA. Mama says it’s a nice place to visit, particularly in the fall. You also might be interested to know that figs need tiny wasps to pollinate them—wasps that lose their antennae and wings as they excavate a path toward the center of the fruit. I’m sure you can understand what that means: they don’t make it back out! But don’t worry: the fig ends up digesting the wasp, much as we digest the fig, so it’s not like you’re really eating a tiny wasp with every fig. It’s kind of funny to think that, though, isn’t it?

Don’t you just want to take a bite?

Mama gave me some ideas to get you started. There are no recipes, as this is just what she’d put together.

  • Toast pine nuts in a dry pan while you’re blanching or steaming green beans (which are in season right now!) until bright green. Add the beans to the pan with quartered figs, a pat of butter, then finish with a toss of sea salt and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. Serve alongside a grilled or roasted pork tenderloin.
  • Whisk together 1 part fig-balsamic vinaigrette and a smidge of Dijon mustard with 2–3 parts olive oil until combined. Season to taste with salt & pepper. Pour over fresh greens, halved figs, crumbled goat cheese, and torn prosciutto.
  • Halve figs and place them, cut side up, on a baking sheet (lined with foil or parchment). Drizzle honey over them and bake at 350°F until figs are soft and releasing their juices, about 10 minutes. Terrific on their own as a snack, over ice cream, or serve with strawberries or raspberries and Brie or blue cheese.
  • Caramelize onions or leeks in butter, layer them in a pastry shell (either premade or store bought—or heck, break out the phyllo or puff pastry), top with figs, goat cheese, and fresh thyme, then bake until the crust is done. Finish with a swirl of balsamic reduction. Or skip the tart and pile all this loveliness on a pita, naan, or flatbread for a personal pizza; add some arugula or mache for a subtle peppery or nutty note.
  • Cook equal parts chopped figs & sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat until thickened, squishing the fruit as you go along. Now you have jam!
  • Poach figs in port or Grand Marnier with the seeds of a vanilla bean, and a strip of lemon or orange peel, and aromatics like a cinnamon stick, cloves, or star anise. Then reduce the liquid until it’s of a syrupy consistency. Serve over ice cream, panna cotta, tapioca, or angel food cake.
  • Slice them, dehydrate them (in a very low oven or in a dehydrator), then toss into salads or granola or mashed sweet potatoes—or simply snack on them as they are.
  • Bake a basic yellow or almond cake in a jelly roll pan (lined with parchment paper). Carefully lift the cake out of the pan, and cut in half. Spread your fig jam over one half of the cake, lay the other half on top, and slice into even squares. How’s that for a fig newton??

I hope you enjoy figs as much as I do.

Love, Jude