White beans with figs and potatoes
David and I had a lovely friend named Madeleine. She was Belgian, and her husband had been Greek. We used to spend afternoons in her teeming garden, drinking Belgian beer and eating Greek rusks and delicious cheese. She had wonderful stories to tell. She’d met Hergé! Hergé!! Madeleine’s daughter, Sandy, lives in Greece, so I don’t see her very often, but since I’ve started this blog, she’s been sending me Greek recipes. They’re wonderful – eggplant, spinach, savory pastries, lemony potatoes! I can’t wait to try them. Recently, she spent some time in Paris, and she sent me a description of her meal, which she called “two non-recipes from Paris.” I love the idea of making a meal based on a description of a special lunch somebody had somewhere. Wouldn’t it be fun to find old letters (even very old letters) from all sorts of people all over the world, and make a cookbook based on meals that they describe? Yes! It would! Anyway, the meal Sandy wrote about sounded like exactly my kind of thing. She’d eaten a dish with meat, figs, potatoes, and little onions, probably shallots. Doesn’t that sound perfect? Of course, I left the meat out, and I decided to replace it with white beans, and cook it into a nice brothy, stewy type of meal. I’m sure the original was far more elegant, and I’ve peasant-ized it, but it just seemed perfect that way to me, yesterday. I bought three plump, ripe little figs, but if these are hard for you to find, you can replace them with dry or even a few tablespoons of fig preserves. I used red-skinned potatoes, and the whole dish had a lovely rosy hue. We ate this with goat cheese toasts plus extra crusty bread for soaking up the broth.
Here’s a Greek song about a fig tree! Nikos Skalkottas, from 16 Songs, AK 80, VIII. Fig Tree. Strange and beautiful!
2 T butter
2 small shallots, cut in half lengthwise and then into thin rings.
1 clove garlic, minced
3 medium-sized red-skinned potatoes, washed and cut into 1/3 inch dice
1 can small white beans, well-rinsed and drained
3 ripe figs, cut in half and then into 1/4 inch slices, or a few tablespoons of fig preserves
2 t balsamic
1 t raw sugar or brown sugar
1 T orange juice
5 fresh sage leaves, or 1 t dried sage
1 t rosemary
a few sprigs of fresh thyme, or 1/2 t dried
Warm the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. When it’s melted and starting to bubble, add the shallot, garlic and rosemary. Stir in the potatoes. Cook them for about ten minutes, till they’re starting to get nice and brown, and the bottom of the pan is getting crusty and brown as well. Add the beans, figs, the balsamic, the sugar, 1/2 t salt, and the orange juice. Stir, then add one cup of water. Be sure to scrape all the tasty stuff of the bottom of the pan and stir it into everything else. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, add sage and thyme,and cook until the potatoes are soft, but not mushy. About 20 minutes to half an hour. Taste for salt/sugar/vinegar ration, and add plenty of black pepper.
Serve with goat cheese toasts and plenty of crusty toasty bread.