For as long as I’ve wanted to be a writer I’ve kept notebooks. As a kid they were the cheap journals that were given in abundance to the shy, academically inclined child- party favors, Christmas gift, class raffle prizes. I particularly remember one pink journal that whose cover was graced with a Precious Moments ballerina. I hated it. It didn’t stop me from using it.
In high school and college I alternated between spiral bound and composition notebooks. Composition was preferred for its durability and neatness, but I was not particular. If it was affordable and available I would use it. I filled those notebooks with lines of poetry, overheard conversations, lists, doodles, and manifestos. Filling a notebook was almost as good as writing a story. It was certainly better than writing a paper. I have a box of those notebooks tucked away in my closet. I haven’t even looked at them since I graduated college, and I still can’t bear to get rid of them. I’m excellent at discarding clothes that no longer fit quite right or jewelry gifted to me by a friend who I no longer know, but I’m emotionally attached to those notebooks.
I now use almost exclusively Moleskine notebooks. They feel good in my hand, and take abuse just right- they wear, but don’t fall apart. I have a palm sized Moleskines for each restaurant I’ve worked at to store recipes. Some of those recipes call for 70 grams of almond flour. Some call for 5 pounds duck gizzards, cured and rinsed. Both are splattered with oil and coated with flour, the pen almost bleeding. I have a paperback sized Moleskine leather journal that I use mostly while flying, despite by best efforts to use it daily. And I have two soft, flexible Moleskines where I write out ideas and recipes for here- one that I just started scribbling in one day, and the other done deliberately.
When I started this blog I didn’t plan much. I was worried that if I thought too much about the how I would lose sight of the why. But before I made my first post I sat down and wrote out a list of ideas for posts. Ten ideas was enough, I reasoned. Some of the ideas I wrote down were tested and failed. There’s a few ideas that are so wacky I keep them on in case I’m seriously blocked and need something strange to jar me. A few from the original list have made the site (such as this, this, and this). But the recipe that I was most excited for from the beginning was Spaghetti with Figs and Walnuts.
This recipe has its basis in a post years ago from Green Kitchen Stories. I never made the dish, but the idea of it always stuck in my head- luscious spaghetti dotted with ripe figs, drizzled with olive oil, and strewn with toasted walnuts. It sounded like a glorious, Italian kissed end to summer, where it should be consumed outdoors with a glass of fruity white wine.
As things that live in our head tend to do, this recipe stretched and changed as it waited for its birth. Where the original calls for spinach and goat cheese, this relies on softly sautéed shallots and roasted red peppers to bring out the dusky sweetness of figs. And to cut the sweetness, because despite the sweet elements this is a savory dish, there’s a profound amount of black pepper and a healthy drizzle of sherry vinegar. Walnuts and whole wheat spaghetti accentuate the fig’s earthy tastes, and help ground the whole dish. Finally, because I live in Minnesota and therefore do not receive the luxurious figs I assume people in warm weather climates get, these figs are sautéed along with the roasted red pepper and shallots, and help flavor the sauce of the spaghetti itself.
I devoured this before work with a big glass of water, so I can’t attest to its affinity with the outdoors or wine. But that’s no reason why you can’t dine on spaghetti with figs al fresco during these last brilliant days of summer.
Spaghetti with Figs and Walnuts
inspired by Green Kitchen Stories
serves 2 as a main
Ricotta salata is a preserved, semi-firm version of ricotta. It should be found in most grocery stores with a decent cheese selection. If you can’t find ricotta salata, a pecorino romano or parmesan would be delicious, as would fresh ricotta.
8 ounces whole wheat spaghetti
1 cup walnuts
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 shallot, thinly sliced into half moons
1 cup chopped roasted red pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
10 figs, halved
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
basil, roughly chopped
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt generously, then add the spaghetti. Boil the spaghetti for 1 min less than package directions.
While the water is coming to a boil heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the walnuts and toast for a few minutes, stirring frequently. By the time that they are ready they will be fragrant and slightly darker. Remove the walnuts and give them a rough chop. Wipe skillet dry and return to the stove. Reduce the heat to low.
In the large skillet add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add in shallots stir frequently. You want the shallots to soften and take on some color, but not to get dark. Add in the chopped roasted red pepper and sprinkle with the salt and half the pepper. Sauté, stirring frequently, for a few minutes. The spaghetti should be boiling by now.
Bring the heat back up to medium and add the remainder of the olive oil. Place the figs cut side down and sauté for 3 minutes. Add in the spaghetti with a ladle or two of its cooking water. Let the spaghetti and water simmer down to a sauce, stirring to incorporate everything together. Add in sherry vinegar and stir well. Taste, and add more salt, pepper, and sherry vinegar as necessary. Remove onto a platter or bowl. Top with the walnuts, basil, and shaved ricotta salata. Sprinkle on flaked salt, black pepper, and more olive oil. Serve warm.