Baked Goat Cheese with Balsamic Glazed Figs

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Did you ever notice that no matter what else you serve at a party, if you put out any kind of warm, melty cheese, it will be devoured in about thirty seconds? This Baked Goat Cheese with Balsamic Glazed Figs is no exception. It’s a serious crowd pleaser and a lighter alternative to baked Brie or Camembert. And with fresh rosemary, dried figs, chopped pistachios and a generous drizzle of honey, it’s the perfect festive appetizer for a holiday spread.

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I love fresh figs, but with their short season they can be hard to find. Dried figs, plumped up with balsamic vinegar, honey and fresh orange juice, are just as sweet and delicious.  I spoon them onto warm goat cheese flavored with rosemary and chili flakes for a spread that’s savory, sweet, and a little spicy. If you can find Mike’s Hot Honey or another spicy honey, it’s especially good drizzled over the goat cheese just before serving. 

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Serve this right from the oven (on a hotpad!) with plain crackers or crusty baguette slices. Then take a step back and watch it disappear before your eyes. In fact, you might as well make two while you’re at it! I’m making these for a Christmas brunch this weekend and am planning on doing exactly that. 

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Baked Goat Cheese with Balsamic Glazed Figs

Ingredients

  • 10 ounces plain, creamy goat cheese, softened at room temperature for 30 minutes
  • 2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup dried Calimyrna figs
  • 1 tablespoon honey, plus more for serving
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon shelled roasted and salted pistachios, roughly chopped

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer) combine the goat cheese, cream cheese, rosemary, red pepper flakes, and salt. Beat for 2 minutes on medium-high speed, until smooth and lightly whipped.

Transfer to a small (7 or 8-inch diameter) ovenproof skillet or shallow baking dish. Bake for 25-30 minutes until puffed and lightly browed around the edges.

Meanwhile, remove the hard stems from the figs and cut them into quarters. Combine the figs, honey, vinegar, and orange juice in a small saucepan. (The figs should fit snugly in one layer.) Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the liquid has reduced to a thick glaze, about 8-10 minutes.

Carefully spoon the figs and any remaining liquid onto the center of the goat cheese.  Sprinkle the pistachios over the figs, drizzle the cheese generously with honey, and serve hot directly from the baking dish with pita chips or thin slices of baguette.


Spaghetti with Sweet Corn Pesto

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This may be the last weekend of the official summer season in the Hamptons, but as far as I’m concerned, summer isn’t over until the corn and tomatoes are gone and pumpkin mania takes over. September is a particularly magical month in the Hamptons, because for a few weeks, the weather seems to be absolutely perfect every day, and there are no packed beaches or traffic jams to accompany it. It’s hands-down my favorite month of year here.  So, in honor of the winding down of the insanity that is the Hamptons in August,  and the warm weeks ahead, I wanted to share my all-time favorite late-summer dinner: Spaghetti with Sweet Corn Pesto.

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What is sweet corn pesto, you ask? Let me explain. It’s a sauce that made the same way as traditional basil pesto, but with a few major differences. Instead of basil and pine nuts, I sauté fresh corn with some smashed garlic and blend it all together with Parmesan and olive oil to make a sauce that’s creamy, subtly sweet and savory.

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I love this pasta for so many reasons. It is a unique and heavenly way to use these superstar summer veggies, and a dish that is as impressive as it is simple. The pasta warms the tomatoes just enough to bring out their sweetness, and the panko crumbs toasted with red pepper flakes add just little bit of heat and crunch to each bite. I love having lot of different textures in the same dish, and this recipe has that nailed.

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And for me, this recipe also means slowing down and getting back in the kitchen after months of grilling and throwing together simple sides and salads. With sweet corn, cherry tomatoes and basil, this recipe is as summery as it gets, but it’s also a hearty and comforting dinner -perfect for early September nights with the first discernible chill in the air. Make this over the long weekend if it’s getting cool where you are, and serve the pasta in big bowls with red wine. I promise you’ll be happy you did.

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Spaghetti with Sweet Corn Pesto

Ingredients

 extra virgin olive oil
3 ½ cups fresh corn kernels (cut from 6 ears of corn)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed with the flat side of a knife
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup panko (Japanese bread flakes)
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound spaghetti
2 pints cherry tomatoes, cut in half through the stem
½ cup fresh basil leaves, packed

Directions

In a large (12-inch) sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the corn, the garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the corn is tender.

Remove ½ cup of the corn and set aside. Transfer the rest of the corn and garlic to the bowl of a food processor (or powerful blender such as a Vitamix) and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, make the spicy bread crumbs. Using a paper towel, wipe out the sauté pan you used to cook the corn, and heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the panko, crushed red pepper flakes and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring very often, for 3-5 minutes, until the panko is golden brown. Remove to a small bowl to cool.

Add 1 ½ teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon pepper to the corn and garlic and process until coarsely pureed. With the food processor running, add 3 tablespoons olive oil and process until smooth. Add the Parmesan and pulse until combined.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook according to the directions on the box. While the pasta cooks, wipe out the sauté pan again. Transfer the corn “pesto”  to the pan, add 1/4 cup of pasta water and bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring until smooth.

When the pasta is finished cooking, use tongs to transfer it to the sauté pan (do not drain!) and toss it with the sauce. Add the cherry tomatoes and reserved corn and toss again. Sprinkle a thin layer of panko crumbs over the pasta, tear the basil leaves into pieces, and scatter half of them over the pasta.  Serve immediately with remaining panko and basil on the side.