Gina Salad (aka Sautéed Figs and Grapes with Caramelized Balsamic Onions on Arugula)

Red Grapes Cut in Half
Photography Amy Albertson

Figs ready to saute
Photography Amy Albertson

Silver Goat Chevre, my favorite brand
Photography Amy Albertson

Experimenting at my house with sauteing
grapes and figs together. It didn't work.
I like them better sauteed separately.
Photography Amy Albertson

Note there isn't any salad dressing--
You don't need it. The flavors from the warm
fruit work as a dressing.
(quick picture I snapped of all the salads at the wedding)

How many of you know the history of the Cobb Salad? I'll give you a quick refresher, in case you forgot, or never knew. In 1937, a guy named Robert H. Cobb owned the The Brown Derby. Sid Grauman, owner of Grauman's Chinese Theater, was a regular patron. Grauman had dental surgery one morning and couldn't open his mouth very wide. Grauman asked Cobb to fix up a salad and cut it up into small bits, and, thus, the Cobb Salad was born. From then on, Grauman requested that a Cobb Salad be prepared whenever he came in. Word quickly spread about the creation of the salad through Hollywood. Today, the salad is as common in America as Apple Pie.

Many of my clients inspire food that I create. Somehow, something none of us has ever had before is born. They are created from conversations, from the client telling me what they love and hate. And, somehow, a recipe just comes together in my head. The odd thing is that once it is created, it becomes part of the repetoire. Something familiar that we make all the time and seems like it has always existed. The biggest example is Melissa Greenspan and David Azar's Roasted Dates. That recipe has been copied and copied and copied. One of my cooks went to work in a hotel and brought the recipe with her. They now make it there, and others have copied it from her. The list is literally running through my head now: "Buffalo Wing" Salad for Stasia and Charlie, Roasted Cherries for Krista Ramonas, Edamame Puree for Christy Cushman, Pulled Pork with Guava Gastrique for Bui, the Buttermilk Vinaigrette and Heirloom Tomato Salad for Mary Bonner and Hunter, Sweet Corn Succotash with Mint for Max and Day, Pecan Crunch for Harold. . . many many recipes. The point is that I never would have made any of them without collaborating on ideas and getting inspired by my clients.

Now let me tell you about Gina and Lee, and how this salad was born, because I can promise you that you are going to want to make this. I really believe it is going to become as famous as the Cobb Salad, and will eventually be in every restaurant across the country. (And if you think I'm worried about someone stealing my recipes, I never am. Copy away. We all want to eat good food!) I met Gina and Lee through my friend, Ann Gursey. We started planning their wedding menu last spring, and wrote the first draft of the menu in the summer. The original salad on the menu was yummy, but as fall came closer, it seemed the salad was too summery. Then Gina emailed and said she was craving something with figs, and could we somehow put figs into the menu? Where could we fit it in? Most likely I figured as an hors d'oeuvre. So, one Wednesday I was getting ready to drive over to my friend's house for dinner, and Gina calls me and says, "Did you see the cover of the New York Times? It has a Caramelized Onion, Pine Nut, and Fig Tart on it." She said "What if we take that idea and turn it into pizzas, and we serve Fig Pizzas at the wedding?" And I replied, "What if I take those flavors and incorporate them into a salad?" I said I'd pick up some things on the way to my friend's for dinner, and give my idea a test run. (I'm the "friend with a cooler," by the way. I often show up at my friend's house for dinner hauling along my hideous blue cooler of food.) I experimented that night, and it was a hit! I liked it so much that I couldn't stop eating it. I then made it twelve times in a row because I just couldn't get enough.

It is the most delicious salad. Something about the combination of the warm fruit with the cold cheese and the refreshing arugula. I DO NOT have measurements for you; this salad is a technique recipe rather than a measured recipe. I know somewhere I have extensive directions on the way I learned to caramelized onions from my French friend, Mathilde. I will try to dig those up. But I'll give you this tip: DO NOT add the balsamic until the onions are completely caramelized. The acid in the vinegar will stop the caramelizing process. And if your onions start to burn while they are cooking, add a little water. Tip number two: I reduce the balsamic vinegar ahead of time. In fact, I always have reduced balsamic in my fridge because it ends up tasting like an aged balsamic. I buy the big bottle at Costco and cook it down slowly on my stove until it is reduced by half. If you don't want to take the time to reduce the vinegar, then you can skip that step and just put the vinegar in and let it reduce in the pan with the onions. I'm just telling you what I did.

Unfortunately, you can't get figs all year long. When figs aren't in season, you can still make this recipe just using the red grapes. If you've never had sauteed grapes before, you are in for a REAL TREAT! Magnifique! Amazingly delicious. In fact. all of the ingredients in the salad are so delicious that you don't need any dressing.

The Gina Salad
The updated version of the recipe is here including the measurements and directions for the optional balsamic dressing.

Yellow Onions, sliced
Olive oil
Balsamic Vinegar, reduced
Fresh Figs, quartered
Red Grapes, sliced in half lengthwise
Sugar, about a tablespoon
Goat Cheese, crumbled (Silver Chèvre is my favorite)
Marcona Almonds
Baby Arugula, if arugula is hard to find in your area, you can use baby spinach

Sauté the onions in olive oil with a decent pinch of salt. Cook for almost 20 minutes, until they are fully caramelized. Add balsamic vinegar, and cook for a few more minutes. (Onions can be made up to three days in advance. Just rewarm them right before service.)

Cut the figs in quarters; cut the grapes in half. I found that it is prettier if you sauté the grapes and figs in separate pans. When you do it together, the grainy parts of the fig get all over the grapes. But if you are just making this for dinner for your family. you may only want to get one pan dirty. I sauté the figs and grapes each in olive oil with a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of sugar. You can sauté the grapes and figs up to two hours before you need them; they hold nicely. Just let them sit warm in the pan and re-sauté just before serving.

Plate the salad: put the arugula down, then a mound of warm balsamic caramelized onions in the middle, then the goat cheese, then the warm figs, then the warm grapes, then the Marcona almonds.

Ask me questions if this recipe is too hard to follow.



Marion Moore said…
This looks delish!

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