Thursday, December 8, 2016

Broad Bean and Fennel Seed Soup + GIVEAWAY

Let’s take a quick trip to Sicily today. It’s the largest island in the Mediterranean, has been influenced by many cultures passing through and spending time over the centuries, and offers an immense variety of fresh produce and seafood. I was recently transported there while reading my review copy of Sicily: Recipes from an Italian island by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi. The two of them operate two Italian restaurants and a cooking school in England. As they tasted their way around Sicily in hopes of finding some great, secret recipes, they repeatedly learned the “secret” for the best dishes was an obsession with the absolute freshness of the ingredients. The book’s chapters introduce you to Palermo and Its Street Food, Antipasti, Soups, Contorni, Pasta Rice and Couscous, Meat and Poultry, Fish, and Dolci and Cocktails. I had a hard time deciding what to make first. I was immediately curious about the Cauliflower in Red Wine in which parboiled cauliflower is sauteed with anchovies and garlic before the mixture is simmer with red wine and tomato paste. Next, I was pulled in by the Orange and Basil Risotto recipe involving zest and juice of an orange. Of course, there are several pasta dishes I want to try like the Sardine and Wild Fennel Sauce for spaghetti or busiate. But, in the end I decided on a soup so I could use a new stewpot I received from Lagostina. The pot is made for cooking polenta or minestrone with those words debossed on the lid, and it’s great-looking with the roundness of its shape and the curved handles. It comes with a wooden spoon for stirring and a metal ladle for serving, and the retail price is $199.95. Lagostina’s philosophy is to “attach the greatest importance to the aesthetic quality of our products because in Italy beauty is everywhere.” And, you could win one of these beauties! Just leave a comment on this post before 12/16/2016 when I’ll randomly pick one winner. 

To use this lovely stewpot, I decided to make the Broad Bean and Fennel Seed Soup. The broad beans, or fava beans, used here are in their dried form. I have a bag that I use from time to time for falafel. The beans have had their skins removed, and some are split. They need to be soaked overnight before beginning the soup. The soaked and drained beans were combined with a white onion cut in half, crushed fennel seeds, finely chopped celery, extra-virgin olive oil, water, and some white wine. The mixture was brought to a boil and then simmered until the beans were tender. Then, you have options to consider. You can serve a more brothy soup, or you can puree it, or you can puree some of it to thicken the soup slightly. Pureed cooked beans like this are sometimes served with sauteed greens. My choice was to puree some of the soup to thicken it and leave some of the beans whole and then top it with sauteed greens. It was also garnished with lemon zest, a drizzle of olive oil, and freshly ground black pepper. 

The beans provided a very mild base for the soup, and the fennel seeds and lemon added more decisive flavor. With the garlicky, sauteed greens on top, this was the right kind of soup for a chilly evening. Watching it simmer in that pretty pot made the experience even better. To be entered to win one just like it, leave a comment with your email address so I can contact you. The winner must provide a mailing address in the US. Good luck!

Broad bean and fennel seed soup 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Sicily: Recipes from an Italian island

Dried broad (fava) beans have a distinctive, earthy flavour and a velvety texture unlike their former fresh selves. Do try them, I think the taste is perfectly lovely. In the south of Italy you can find a broad been purée probably introduced by the Romans, cooked from dried like this and served with the wilted green vegetable cicoria, another wonderful combination and easily reproduced with spinach. 

In Sicily, you will see the word maccu on menus all over the island; it comes from the word macare, to squash. Broad beans have been a staple of the peasant diet for centuries since they can be eaten fresh and raw in spring with young soft cheeses, boiled briefly through summer and dried for use in autumn and winter. In this case, dried broad beans are soaked overnight, then boiled and squashed to make a mash. If you use split broad beans they will have already been peeled and will take less time to cook. Leave it rough and ready like the ancient peasant soup that it was, or purée it for a sophisticated starter like our friend Marco Piraino, who showed me this recipe. He garnishes it with chopped samphire, drops of good olive oil and a little lemon zest. To make it more filling (it’s already pretty substantial!), put toasted bread drizzled with olive oil into soup bowls and ladle the soup on top, or leave the soup a little rough and mix in some just-cooked short pasta. The maccu sets firm when cold and can be cut into slices, breaded and fried. 

Serves 6 

500 g (1 lb 2 oz/2 cups) dried broad (fava) beans, with or without skins 
1 white onion, cut in half 
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, roughly crushed in a pestle and mortar 
1 celery stalk, finely sliced 
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
1.6 litres (54 fl oz/6 3/4 cups) water 
4 tablespoons white wine 
salt, to taste 

To serve 
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
a little chopped samphire or finely grated lemon zest 
freshly ground black pepper 

Cover the beans in cold water and soak overnight. The following day, drain the beans and discard the water. Slip the beans from their skins if not already peeled. 

Put all the ingredients together in a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn the heat to low and let the beans bubble away until they are tender and easily squashed, up to 2 hours, adding a little more water if necessary. Keep a couple of tablespoons of the whole beans to one side for garnish. Puree the soup as much or as little as you like with a stick blender. Pour into warm bowls and garnish with the reserved beans, a swirl of olive oil and the lemon zest or chopped samphire. Finish with a twist of black pepper. 

Variations: As a vegetable side dish: As the beans are cooking, don’t add extra water but let the mixture become thick. Puree the mixture to a rough or smooth texture and use it as you would mashed potato. In the south of Italy you will often see this served with garlicky sauteed spinach or chard leaves on top. 

For sliced maccu: After blending the soup pour it into a lined loaf tin and allow to cool. Put it into the fridge overnight and it will set firm. It can then be cut into 1.5 cm (1/2 in) slices and dipped in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and fried in hot oil until browned. Drain it on kitchen paper and serve straight away, dusted in a little salt. 

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Monday, December 5, 2016

Kale Potato Cakes

I thought I was fairly familiar with the styles of cuisine from different regions in the United States. I’ve read about Low Country and Southern foods and their differences and similarities. But, it wasn’t until I read my review copy of Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes by Ronni Lundy that I was introduced to the foods of the Appalachian Mountain South. There was something familiar about the family recipes here. The use of home-grown vegetables, the mentions of the distinct flavors of fresh beans and just-dug potatoes, and the simplicity of the preparations reminded me of my grandparents’ cooking. I should mention, this is more than a cookbook. Ronnie Lundy grew up in eastern Kentucky and weaves the stories of this region with true understanding. The picturesque writing details the landscape along with the history of the towns and the people who have lived there. She writes: “I try to imagine what this journey was like on foot, as native people made it, and as many of the early settlers did, possessions stripped to not much more than tools for survival and seeds for planting. Switchbacks flanked by walls of rock and furiously rushing creeks are gorgeous, but equally perilous… I realize that while this was a passage of risk and hardship, it was also one of great possibility.” The book encourages travel as much as eating. She also writes of how things have changed over time and about some of the newly established restaurants in the area. The recipes represent traditional family fare as well as a few of the more recent restaurant dishes. There’s Shelley Cooper’s Speckled Butter Bean Cassoulet with Rabbit Confit from Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro in Townsend, Tennessee alongside all the recipes for “the absolute best summer supper” including Mountain Green Beans and Taters, Skillet Corn, sliced tomatoes, and Buttermilk Cucumber Salad. You’ll also find Skillet Fried Chicken and Milk Gravy, Fried Apples, Buttermilk Brown Sugar Pie, and Colin Perry’s Sorghum and Apple Sticky Pudding. All the recipes come with a story and a place in time in this pocket of the country. 

Now that our weather has cooled off, I was ready for a good, comfort food kind of dish that makes use of fresh greens. I brought home a pretty bunch of kale from Boggy Creek Farm to make the Kale Potato Cakes. Yukon Golds were peeled, quartered, and boiled until tender. Meanwhile, the kale was washed, stemmed, and chopped. The kale was sauted in olive oil until wilted. The drained potatoes were mashed a bit before the cooked kale was added. Chopped green onions were added as was shredded Asiago cheese. Four beaten eggs were then mixed into the mashed potatoes. The mixture was formed into three-inch patties that were crisped on both sides in hot olive oil in a skillet. The potato cakes were served with Old-School Tomato Gravy made with sauteed onion, flour for thickening, and canned diced tomatoes. 

The crispy potato cake edges give way to tender, fluffy interiors, and the Asiago cheese flavors them well. The tomato gravy was delicious with them, but they were also perfectly lovely with no sauce at all. I’m inspired to find my way to this area of the country and drive along the mountain roads described in the book. I want to find the artisanal salts being made from newly revived salt mines and taste some of the many varieties of apples that grow there. Then, I want to bring home some sorghum syrup and make that Sticky Pudding. 

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Friday, November 25, 2016

Caramel Banana Bars

I love baking cookies, and Kurt loves finding freshly baked cookies in the kitchen. So, it was a happy day when I received a review copy of the new Dorie's Cookies book. In the introduction, Dorie mentions that she’s wanted to write a cookie book since she started working on cookbooks 25 years ago. Of course, her other books have included some cookie recipes, but this is the first devoted to nothing but cookies. The options cover the full spectrum from classics to bars to sandwich cookies, and there are even some savory options to serve with cocktails. One chapter is just for the cookies baked and sold from Beurre and Sel which was a cookie boutique she operated with her son. And, the final chapter is for Cookie Go-Alongs and Basics, and it includes ice cream to serve with cookies, ganaches and spreads to fill sandwich cookies, glazes to top cookies, and more. I started baking as quickly as I could after opening the book. There are a few recipes that call for kasha and specifically Wolff’s medium granulation kasha. I’ve cooked buckwheat groats and baked with buckwheat flour, but I was not familiar with medium granulation kasha. As promised, it is easy to find, and it adds a bit of crunch to a cookie. With buckwheat flour, the medium granulation kasha, and flaked sea salt on top, Kerrin’s Multigrain Chocolate Chip Cookies had a nutty, more complex flavor than your standard chocolate chip. And, they were Kurt-approved. I also tried the Espresso Chocolate Sables. That’s a recipe from the Beurre and Sel collection, and almost all of those cookies are intended to be baked in rings. All of these recipe suggest rolling the dough, chilling it on sheets, cutting the dough into two-inch rounds, and either baking the cookies in metal rounds if you have them or baking them in muffin tins. I went a different route and used the dough for a slice and bake technique. After forming a log of dough, I chilled it, and then cut rounds that I baked on cookie sheets. They spread just a bit, but they were still delicious with espresso flavor running through the crumbly, buttery cookies. 

The third cookie recipe I tried was the Cabin-Fever Caramel Banana Bars as it’s called in the book. Dorie came up with the idea while going stir-crazy during a blizzard. But, they’re great treats for any weather. I had one little problem with this recipe, and I’ll explain how I got around it. You begin by making a quick caramel by melting butter in a saucepan with brown sugar. That mixture was transferred to the bowl of mixer and allowed to cool for about 10 minutes. Flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cardamom were combined. In a separate bowl, a ripe banana was mashed with yogurt. Next, granulated sugar was added to the bowl of the mixer and mixed followed by the addition of an egg and vanilla. The banana-yogurt mixture was added, and then the dry ingredients were stirred into the batter. Chopped salted peanuts were folded in before pouring the batter into a buttered and floured eight-inch square pan. The pan went into the oven for twenty-two minutes or so. For a chocolate topping, finely chopped chocolate was to be sprinkled over the baked bars as soon as the pan came out of the oven. Then, the pan was to go back into the warm but turned-off oven for a few minutes to melt. I must not have chopped the chocolate finely enough because mine didn’t melt well enough to spread even after several minutes. The chocolate seemed to seize up and not want to move. I ended up scraping off the unmelted chocolate and starting over. I melted chocolate by itself in a bowl in the microwave and then poured it over the bars. More chopped salted peanuts were sprinkled on top, and the bars were left to cool until the chocolate set. 

Despite the small issue with the chocolate topping, I still really liked these bars. Banana, peanuts, and chocolate make a great combination. Now, I have a decision to make. What should I try next, the Snowy-Topped Brownie Drops or the White Chocolate Poppy Seed cookies? 

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Sunday Tomato Eggs

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet Marcus Samuelsson in person on two different occasions. I first met him at a cooking class at Central Market back in 2012, and the following year, he participated in a Brooklyn Brewery event benefiting Slow Food Austin that was held at Springdale Farm. Obviously, I’m a fan, and I couldn’t wait to have a look at his newest book, The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem, of which I received a review copy. Of course, the book is full of recipes for the great food that’s served at the restaurant, but it’s also full of stories about Harlem where the restaurant is located. The stories cover past and present and make evident Samuelsson’s respect and affection for this community. The recipes begin with cocktails and bar snacks. Right away, I started mixing up a Rum Rum Punch. It’s made with coconut water, pineapple juice, lime juice, white rum, and Goslings Black Seal rum, and it did not disappoint. I only wish I’d had some of the Cauliflower Frites with Green Mayonnaise or Fish Croquettes to go with it. The dishes in this book include American classics, a few from Ethiopian cuisine, some inspired by the cultures present in Harlem, and some more modern chef creations. So, you’ll find Fried Yardbird, Corn Bread, Beef Kitfo with Awase, Pescado Wrapped in Banana Leaves with Green Sauce, Curried Goat Stew, and Lacquered Halibut with Charred Eggplant and Spinach. Some are more complicated than others, but they all offer great flavor combinations and, in some cases, interesting hits of spice. I was ready to make the Peas and Rice that involves cooking the rice in coconut milk with tomatoes and then make the Red Rooster Hot Sauce to drizzle on top until I turned a few more pages and saw the Sunday Tomato Eggs dish. And, I did make it for Sunday brunch. 

Let me start by saying that this dish was to be made with Mexican pork chorizo, but I used soy chorizo instead. The first step was to cook the chorizo with onion, celery, and garlic. Next, canned tomatoes were added along with capers, chopped Kalamata olives, a minced chipotle in adobo, and some water. The mixture was left to simmer for a few minutes before freshly grated horseradish was added. Eggs were then cracked directly into the mixture and cooked until set. Meanwhile, some sourdough bread was toasted to serve on the side. Just before serving, basil was added on top.

This dish was a lot like shakshuka, but here there were spicy, bloody mary flavors along for the ride. For a brief moment, I wondered if it was all too much with the chorizo, celery, chipotle, and horseradish, but it definitely was not. The flavors meld nicely and make an exciting surround for the eggs. Here’s how I know the dish was fantastic: there was supposed to have been a piece of burrata with each serving. I love burrata. I bought the burrata just for this dish. Then, I completely forgot about it. I plated the dish, took photos, ate it happily, and only later realized I had forgotten the burrata. If it was good enough that I didn’t even realize it was missing the burrata, then it was very, very good. Read this book to learn about Harlem, the Red Rooster, and to cook some good food. 

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Monday, November 7, 2016

Pureed Plantain Soup with Crispy Shallots

Have you booked a trip to Cuba? Are you intrigued to visit now that it’s become just slightly easier to do so? I’d love to see everything before any major real estate development takes place, but I don’t have a trip planned at this point. In the meantime, I’ve been reading a review copy I received of the new book Cuba!: Recipes and Stories from the Cuban Kitchen. I’m fascinated with the fincas, or farms, where land that’s less than ideal for growing food is being slowly turned into productive areas with traditional, earth-friendly techniques. Soil is being revived with crops that return nutrients to the ground, and only natural fertilizers are used. The stories in the book are based on just a few visits to Cuba by the authors. The recipes cover Cuban basics, snacks, sandwiches, stews, meat dishes, seafood, sweets, and drinks. There are a few that I wasn’t sure are entirely authentic, classic, Cuban dishes like the Caribbean Black Bean Burger and the Mojito Cake. I did love seeing the Jibarito, though, and I can’t wait to make that again soon. I always seem to be drawn to recipes with plantains. This time, the Pureed Plantain Soup got my attention because it’s a texture I’d never tried with plantains. 

I love making pureed soups due to the ease of chopping the vegetables roughly since perfect size and shape doesn’t matter as much. The soup was started by sweating chopped onion and garlic. Green plantains were peeled and chopped into large chunks and added along with chicken stock. The soup simmered for about thirty minutes or so until the plantains were very tender. Then, it was ladled into the blender in batches to be pureed. After pureeing, it was returned to the stock pot to rewarm, and lime juice was added. While the soup was cooking, shallots were thinly sliced, dredged in cornstarch, and slowly fried in olive oil. The real trick to frying shallots is to take plenty of time and fry over low heat. You can watch the slices and decide how dark you want them to brown. When ready, the shallots were drained on a paper towel-lined sheet pan and seasoned with salt. The soup was served with a generous portion of crispy shallots on top. 

There was no warning in the book, but this soup thickens considerably once it cools. It occurred to me that it was actually a bit like polenta. I added water and whisked to combine to reheat it after refrigerating. But, I thought I might make this again and treat it intentionally more like polenta by letting it become thick. The mild flavor of pureed plantain with the onion, garlic, and lime would be great as a backdrop to a mix of spicy seafood. 

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Monday, October 31, 2016

Carrot and Rice Salad with Ginger Sumac Dressing

I feel as though Nancy Silverton and I go way back except that, of course, I’ve never met her. In 2007, I read her Breads from the La Brea Bakery book and soon thereafter made my sourdough starter that I still use today. I’ve made many of the breads from that book and have even gotten comfortable adjusting recipes here and there. I make a whole grain version of the bagels from that book. And, it’s that voice of Nancy Silverton that I think I know, the voice of her writing from 1996 when that book was published. All these years later, the voice of her latest books is a little different. She’s having an amazing culinary career and experience and passage of time have brought clear preferences for certain flavors or techniques. Her latest book is Mozza at Home: More than 150 Crowd-Pleasing Recipes for Relaxed, Family-Style Entertaining, and I received a review copy. It’s full of recipes she turns to for entertaining both at her home in Los Angeles and at her second home in Umbria in Italy. The book includes nineteen different party menus with various side dishes that would go well with each theme or main course. If you’re planning a dinner party, you could pick and choose how many and which side dishes to prepare. Then, Desserts has a chapter all to itself. The idea was that most of the desserts could be paired with multiple menus, and you can choose from the whole collection. For main courses, the menus include dishes like Saturday Night Chicken Thighs with Italian Sausage, Sicilian Swordfish Spiedini, Dean Fearing’s Frito Pie, and Lamb and Chicken Tikka Kebabs. I got caught up in all the various salads as side dishes. The Farro Salad with Fresh Herbs and Feta is like a Greek salad with farro. The Couscous Salad with Root Vegetables and Ricotta Salata is perfect for fall with carrots, parsnips, and radicchio. And, there’s a Mixed Grain and Seed Salad made with quinoa, wild rice, and fregola sarda. I couldn’t resist starting with the Carrot and Rice Salad with Ginger Sumac Dressing for the seasonally appropriate color scheme. 

There are a lot of interesting things going on with this rice salad. Three different types of rice are suggested. You could limit that to one instead, or use two types of rice as I did. I used black rice and red rice and skipped the brown rice. Each type of rice is cooked separately and then cooled by spreading on a baking sheet. The second main ingredient here is the carrots, and they need to be cut into short julienne pieces. The process for cutting the carrots is suggested as follows: “cut the carrots into 3- to 4-inch segments. Using a mandoline, slice the segments into 1/16 inch thick lengthwise. Stack the slices and slice with a knife into 1/16 inch batons.” I employed the carrot slicing trick of making angled cuts that you stack and julienne rather than pulling out the mandoline. I don’t remember where I learned that trick, but it’s a great one. The third main ingredient for this salad is a whole cup of flaxseeds that were toasted in a dry skillet and cooled. The dressing was made with lime juice, sumac, champagne vinegar, grated fresh ginger, and red chile flakes. I believe there’s a typo in the book for the quantity of sumac. I used almost a tablespoon not one half cup. That was whisked together and set aside. The cooled rice was combined in a big bowl with the julienned carrots and flaxseeds. The mixture was drizzled with olive oil and tossed to coat. The dressing was added, and the mixture was tossed again to distribute. 

The bright, zippy dressing livens up the rice and makes this a fun salad. The flaxseeds add a nice nutty richness to go with the freshness of the carrots. I’m not sure if I’ll keep working through all the salads I want to try or maybe move on to the Eggplant Lasagne next. Then, there’s the Desserts chapter to devour. For today, I’m happy to enjoy the orange and black of this dish. Happy Halloween! 

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Port Wine Prunes with Stilton and Walnuts

When I’m looking for recipes that I know will work without any issue, that I know will be crowd-pleasers, and that I know I’ll enjoy cooking, I go to my collection of Ina Garten cookbooks. I’m so happy to add one more book to that category. The latest is Cooking for Jeffrey: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, and I received a review copy. This one is similar to her other books with soups and salads, dinner entrees, vegetables, and desserts. But this time, there are a few more personal stories included throughout, and there’s a chapter just for the cheese course. Ina occasionally mentions serving a cheese course before or instead of dessert, and it works well for a dinner party since it’s mostly just assembled before serving with any prepped items made in advance. The recipes include a fig jam to serve on goat cheese bruschetta, a roasted plum chutney for serving with Mt. Tam which is one of my favorite cheeses, and English Oat Crackers to go with cheese and fruit. I was so interested in the cheese course chapter I had to make the Port Wine Prunes with Stilton and Walnuts before trying anything else. Some of the many other recipes I want to try soon are the Smoked Salmon Pizzas for cocktails, the “16 Bean” Pasta e Fagioli soup, the Crusty Baked Shells and Cauliflower, and the Vanilla Rum Panna Cotta with Salted Caramel. And, the Herb and Apple Bread Pudding and Pumpkin Flan with Maple Caramel have me pondering Thanksgiving menu possibilities. Getting back to the cheese course concept though, I like the idea of sometimes ending a meal with something not completely sweet or at least with a mix of sweet and savory. For the Port Wine Prunes, my only concern was that they would be messy to pick up and eat with your fingers. I imagined the wine would drip off the prunes and leave stains on the way to your mouth

To begin, the prunes were plumped by placing them in a single layer in a saucepan and adding Port wine. The wine was brought to a boil and them simmered for a few minutes before removing the pan from the heat, covering it, and leaving the prunes to steep for an hour. Stilton was crumbled and mashed together with some mascarpone. The cheese mixture was left in the refrigerator until serving time. Last, walnut halves were toasted. To assemble, the prunes were placed on a platter. Each prune was topped with a spoonful of the Stilton mixture and then a walnut half. 

I should have known that Ina would have had a solution if these were messy to eat. The prunes weren’t drippy or messy at all. These are one-bite items, and they were easy to pop into your mouth with no issues. The classic flavor pairing of Port with Stilton was lovely, and the toasted walnuts added nice crunch. These were a delicious, simple way to end a meal and would also make a great addition to a larger cheese board. 

Port Wine Prunes with Stilton and Walnuts 
Reprinted from Cooking for Jeffrey. Copyright © 2016 by Ina Garten. Photographs by Quentin Bacon. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC. 

serves 6 to 8 

One of my favorite things to serve for a cheese course or dessert is English Stilton and a glass of Port wine. This recipe combines both of those flavors with sweet prunes, and they’re a really surprising addition to any cheese board. 

24 large pitted prunes 
2/3 cup ruby Port wine
2 1/2 ounces English Stilton, crumbled 
2 tablespoons Italian mascarpone cheese 
24 walnut halves, lightly toasted 

Place the prunes in a saucepan just large enough to hold them in a single layer and add the Port. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside for at least an hour for the prunes to become infused with the Port. 

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mash the Stilton and mascarpone together with a fork. Cover and refrigerate. 

When ready to serve, place the slightly warm prunes on a serving platter, place a small mound of the cold Stilton mixture in the hollow of each prune, and top with a toasted walnut, pressing very lightly. Serve as part of a cheese platter. 

make ahead: Prepare the prunes and refrigerate for up to 4 days. Warm slightly, complete the recipe, and serve. 

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