Orzo-Mint Salad with Prosciutto, Figs, Pecans, and Goat Cheese

Fig: the name doesn’t quite befit this beautiful fruit, does it? Use black California Mission figs in a refreshing summer salad. ©iStockphoto.com/Ivan Mateev

Figs! When fig season is upon us, I freak out and buy as many as possible (short of troubling my digestive system), because we don’t really know how long it will last and how long they will be in the store (kind of like life, so seize the day and enjoy!).

Figs are so good for you! Did you know that figs are a great source of fiber and are highly alkaline? Alkaline means they reduce the acidity in your body, making it a hostile environment for cancer.

Here are some fun fig facts, for my fellow figophiles.

This pasta salad is yummy-licious! A friend of mine told me she made an orzo pasta with pecans, figs and mint a few years ago. I loved her idea but I upped the ante by rounding it out with some ham and cheese.

This pasta would be great with a white wine, maybe a Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, or Pinot Grigio. See? There’s my wine reference!

Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market are the grocery stores I know of that carry the fresh California Black Mission figs regularly.

In fact, during the summer, you should be able to buy this meal completely at Trader Joe’s.

You will need:
Extra virgin olive oil
Aged balsamic vinegar (I used lavender)
Salt and pepper
One 16 oz. package Orzo pasta (a full package is a lot, use half if you like)
One box fresh black California Mission figs, sliced into bite sizes (dry is not acceptable)
One package prosciutto, chopped (optional)
One 5 oz. log goat cheese, crumbled
One package unsalted dry roasted pecan pieces
Fresh mint leaves (to taste)

Prepare the orzo according to package instructions. Drain, run some cold water over the pasta to cool it off. Once the pot is cooled off, put the cooled pasta back in the pot and drizzle and toss with oil & vinegar. Add the figs, goat cheese, pecans, prosciutto (if any) and mint leaves. Mix well. Season to taste with salt & pepper.

If orzo pasta ain’t yo thang, substitute with cooked rice, couscous, or quinoa.


A Primer on Pinot Noir (And A Couple to Get You Going)

Ah, Pinot Noir! In the wine world, saying you’re a fan of Pinot Noir tends to signify you’ve made it to the wine big leagues. Pinot Noir is an enigma; classy, mysterious, shapeshifting. It has soared in popularity since the film Sideways came out, which in large part contributed to killing off Merlot production in California. (Just you wait, Merlot’s comeback is just around the corner… if shoulder pads can come back, certainly Merlot can – and to me, Merlot never went out of style in the first place).

At first, I didn’t understand the appeal of Pinot Noir. The first glass I intentionally ordered tasted like fruity water (it wasn’t a good wine – otherwise I would have liked it – and I think it had been open too long, too). But with so many friends claiming it as their favorite wine of all time, I knew I couldn’t throw in the towel just yet.

So, you’re asking, what is all the hype about Pinot Noir and WHO will explain it to me? First of all, a quick quasi-science lesson: Pinot Noir is the picky princess of the grape family, so she demands a very specific climate, weather, sun/rain mixture, careful, painstaking tending, and the list of demands goes on as long as J-Lo’s artist rider. But this lavish TLC pays off royally and can lead to some truly awesome, world-class wines. Once you taste a great Pinot Noir, you appreciate its refined qualities and everything it represents in terms of excellent winemaking craft. It also explains the sticker shock you might experience when surveying fine Pinots in your favorite wine shop.

Fear not! If you’re new to Pinot Noir, let me give you a couple of easy-going, easy-drinking Pinots that are at or under $10 a bottle. While they may not be superstar arena rock concert material, they are still the equivalent of a surprisingly good coffee shop open mic night.

Whole Foods Market has a section of very good affordable wines, and very knowledgeable wine stewards, so always chat them up for their best recommendations. Redtree Pinot Noir is from California and is around or under $10 a bottle. From the tastings notes: “Our 2010 Pinot Noir displays aromas of fresh fruits and strawberries, with a hint of oak in the background. This lighter-bodied wine provides cherry flavors on the palate and more red fruits, finishing with soft tannins.” Not bad, actually. Underwood Cellars Pinot Noir is from Oregon, $10 at Whole Foods Market, and is also quite tasty. From the tasting notes: “The Underwood Pinot Noir exhibits aromas [of] cranberries, red raspberries, with notes of smoke and spice. The palate is filled with sweet raspberry fruit intertwined with warm cinnamon tones. The wine’s bright acidity and fine tannins come together in a fruit laden finish.”

Even if you love red wine, you don’t always want a 10 on the Richter scale of a bold, dark, intense red wine. Be surprised by these light and delicious Pinot Noirs. Let me know how you liked them!