Sunday, August 26, 2012

I Called This Meal Epic. Now It's My New Favorite Word

Good news everyone!  Today's recipe contains no coconuts, mangoes, or caramelized onions!

My job is a short walk across Lexington Avenue to Grand Central Market.  Sometimes I'll cut through there on my way to the train going home.  I make my way down an aisle filled with cakes, cookies, pastries, and pies; with cheeses from all over the world; with hearty cuts of prime meats; with pastas of every conceivable shape and size; with a dizzying array of charcuterie.

One would think it might be a dangerous shortcut.  With such an presentation of deliciousness, I ought to be tempted on all sides.

I'm always tempted, but it used to be that I would never buy anything. There are too many people, too many lines, and too much stuff.  It's overwhelming.  Even if I think I want something, I can never make up my mind (What kind of cheese?  Which chocolate cake?) or else it just takes too long to have someone wait on me with the throngs of hurried commuters all jostling around me.

Among all of the many threats to my health in the market, there are also two produce concessions bookending the temptations. They are both owned by the same company, but one focuses more on whole fruits and veggies and the other sells more pre-cut, snack-sized stuff.  I admit I tend to ignore them.  Why should I pay Manhattan prices for stuff I can buy at home at the supermarket or the farmer's market for much less money?  They also aren't chocolate.

Do you remember how I wanted to cook with figs two weeks ago? Do you think I might have changed my mind when I saw these at both stands?

With a package of figs and a pair of duck breasts I had purchased at the farmer's market over the weekend, I had the makings of a really good duck dish, one that was a little different from the duck dish I made with dried figs over the winter.  (Well, at least I hope it's different.)

My intention was at first to roast the figs, because I never got to roast figs for dinner two weeks ago.  But I had this in the kitchen.

I had purchased way more red wine than I needed for a stewed chicken dish earlier in the week and there was no way the two of us would drink it all.  This was some pretty strong wine too.  San Giovese grapes are the main component of chianti wine.

I thought about topping some simple pan-roasted duck breasts with figs poached in the wine.  While looking for ideas on poached fig recipes, I found that most recipes were for dessert.  It wasn't easy to find something that was savory.  I was on my own. 

I added some salt, pepper, fresh thyme, and rosemary leaves.  That's pretty typical of me, I know, but at least I didn't use caramelized onions this time.  I simmered it until the figs had soaked up that wine-y goodness.

The duck breasts alone seemed a little sparse for a meal.  I wanted to put something substantial under them.  I had a half a bag of Italian chestnut flour.  I came up with a recipe for gluten-free ricotta gnocchi using the chestnut flour and some fresh ricotta that I dared to buy at Grand Central Market.  It looked like really good ricotta, but Susan made me feel a little guilty that I didn't make it myself.

Anyway, it seems once you start daring to actually buy something at Grand Central Market, you can't stop.
Gnocchi were tossed with brown butter and some sage leaves and placed on a bed of sauteed spinach.  I spooned my figs on the duck breasts. 

I finally decided on what camera I want.  Non-phone photos will be making an appearance soon.  This dish at least deserved the light box though.

Pan-Roasted Duck Breasts with Red-Wine Poached Figs and Chestnut Flour Gnocchi in Sage Brown Butter

For Duck


  • 2-4 boneless duck breasts
  • 10 ripe figs, sliced
  • 2 cups red wine
  • A few sprigs of thyme*
  • A few sprigs rosemary*
  • 2 Tbl butter
  • Salt and pepper
Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Sprinkle duck breasts with salt and pepper.  In a pan over low hear (I like using a cast-iron pan for this) place the breasts skin-side down and cook them very slowly.  Keep the heat low and  let the fat slowly render out, occasionally pouring off excess (SAVE IT).  Turn over to brown the other side towards the end of the cooking.

Place in the oven and cook an additional 15 minutes.

 Put the wine in a deep pan and bring to a boil.  Add figs, thyme, rosemary and a few grinds of pepper and reduce to a simmer.  Simmer over very low heat until liquid is reduced by about half.  Taste for salt and add to your liking.  Swirl in the butter and cook another minute over very low heat.

Serve over duck breasts.

For Gnocchi


  • 3/4 cup chestnut flour
  • 1/4- 1/2 cup potato starch
  • 2 cups good ricotta, excess liquid drained
  • 1/4 cup pecorino, grated**
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 6 sage leaves, cut in chiffonade.
Mix together ricotta, pecorino, and egg in a large bowl.   Gently sprinkle over the chestnut flour and carefully stir it in to incorporate.  Add the nutmeg, salt, and potato starch, adding enough to make a soft, but not sticky, dough.

Carefully roll the dough on a floured surface into a long snake.  You will need to be VERY gentle as this dough has no gluten, and therefore no elasticity.  Cut 1" pieces off the snake.  If you want to be fancy, roll the tines of a fork over them.  I don't bother.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  Carefully drop in gnocchi.  They are done when they float to the top.

Heat butter in a small pan over low heat.  Add sage leaves.  Cook butter until it foams up and then foam subsides.  Butter should be a golden color and smell nutty.  Pour over gnocchi.

Serve under duck breasts.

*I know this isn't an exact measurement.  I just cut whatever I can hold onto from the garden.  Adjust this measurement to your liking.
**I'm sure parmesan would be good too


bellini said...

What at epic and memorable dinner!!!

Emily said...


I hope you're liking your new job. I hope you get to travel to Chicago soon.