love for food : food for love

 

crispy duck confit with fig and walnut salad

I know as a single person I’m meant to hate Valentines Day. I know I should be way to cool to buy in to all that Hallmark generated hype. I know I should be resenting all those happy couples and their intimate candle lit dinners. And while I’m not a fan of perfume-less roses, heart shaped chocolates, or cheesy red lace lingerie, I must admit I do love the day of Saint Valentine. I mean a day that focuses on romantic dinners and celebrates love, what’s not to love about that??

I’ve always had a thing for Valentine’s Day. The excitement at school, wondering if this year you’ll be lucky and receive a red-enveloped card. The burning curiosity when said card is signed by a secret admirer. I clearly remember receiving such a card in my final year of high school and still to this day have no clue who my admirer was. Oh the possibilities.

Over the years we were together my ex-husband and I always did something special for V Day. Invariably there was delectable wine on the menu and a candle lit dinner at our favourite restaurant of the moment. We always had a really lovely evening, just the two of us, wherever we were.

When we ended up going our separate ways one not-so-sunny January a few years ago, I spent easily the worst Valentine’s Day of my life alone. Things were pretty miserable to begin with but being newly single and spending the evening all by myself was really the pits.

So the next year I made sure when Feb 14th rolled around that I had a plan. A picnic in McKell park with my fellow single girlfriends was just the thing. Champagne, candles and lots of laughter; I realized that you didn’t need to be part of a twosome to celebrate love.

This year I have decided to host a dinner at home for a dozen of my single mates. Who knows, maybe some of them will hit it off?

While I’m not that big a fan of describing food as sexy, there are some exceptions and the first that springs to mind is the humble fig. I’m not sure if it’s the Adam and Eve forbidden fruit aura, or whether it’s the moist prettily pink fleshed fruit itself. But to me figs are the sex-pots of the fruit world.

Team them up with some meltingly rich duck confit and a salad dressed with pomegranate molasses to sharpen things up and you have the perfect menu for love. Toss in a second round of figs in the form of a fig and ricotta cheesecake tart and I’m thinking that love will definitely be in the air….all good things.

a valentine’s day menu for twelve*
dukkah with olive oil and olive bread**
crispy duck confit with fig and walnut salad
roast Jerusalem artichokes**
fig and ricotta cheesecake tart***

*Of course if you are hooked up as a couple and prefer to spend the day with just your sweetheart, you can easily adjust the menu for 2. If baking a tart is more work than you’re up for by all means you could skip dessert and go to bed early, or then there’s always the option of drizzling some fresh figs with honey and serving with a big scoop of ricotta.
**click HERE for Jerusalem artichoke recipe and HERE for the dukkah.
***tune in next week for the tart recipe.

duck confit
serves 12

 

Confit, is a process of slow cooking in oil or fat and was traditionally used as a method of preserving meat. The salting at the beginning enhances the preservation by removing some moisture and has the added bonus of seasoning the meat thoroughly. If you’re short of time, you could skip this step and just cook the juniper berries in with the fat but your legs won’t keep quite as long and you’ll need to remember to season them well before serving.

Duck confit makes an excellent mid week dinner party dish, as you can do all the hard work on the weekend and then the duck has time for the flavours to develop and then you just need to pop it in the oven while your enjoying your starter to warm and crisp up and it’s all good.

In the warmer months it’s great to serve with a salad as per the recipe below but you can also put it to good use in a hearty cassoulet, serve on a bed of braised cabbage or sauteed brussels sprouts or even shred the meat and pack into little pots with some extra duck fat and serve with crusty bread and cornichons as a speedy version of duck rilettes.

12 duck legs (marylands)
4T (40g) sea salt
12 juniper berries
1T black pepper
3 bunches thyme
1kg duck fat
olive oil, if required

Combine salt and juniper berries in a mortar & pestle and roughly crush berries. Stir through pepper. Scatter half the thyme and half the salt mix over the base of a large ceramic dish. Place duck legs on top, skin side down and scatter over remaining salt. Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 days.

Warm duck fat in a large cast iron casserole dish until melted. Using paper towel wipe excess salt and moisture from the duck legs and pack tightly into the casserole dish, layering with additional thyme sprigs. If the fat isn’t enough to just cover the duck, top up with a little olive oil or better still extra duck fat if you happen to have it on hand. Cover and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook over a very low heat, just a gently simmer for 2 ½ – 3 hours or until duck is very tender and the meat around the leg has exposed the bone. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Refrigerate for up to a month.

crispy duck confit with fig and walnut salad
serves 12

Duck, figs and walnuts are a bit of a classic combo but you could easily use pecans or hazelnuts and sub in fresh pomegranate or even shaved pear if figs aren’t in season. For that matter you could do a fresh take on the classic duck a la orange and toss through some freshly segmented oranges instead.

If you’d prefer to eat more delicately in front of your beloved(s), by all means shred the meat from the bones and toss through the salad rather than serving on the side. To be honest, you’ll be missing out on the primal pleasure of gnawing and sucking on the sweetest meat, but whatever turns you on.

12 confit duck legs
4 large handfuls walnuts, toasted
18 ripe figs, halved lengthwise
1 head radicchio
1 head baby endive
1 bunch watercress
½ bunch flat leaf parsley
3 shallots, peeled & very finely sliced
4T red wine vinegar
1T pomegranate molasses
8T extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 200C. Remove duck legs from their fat and place on a baking tray. Bake for 20mins or until browned and crispy skinned.

For the salad, remove and discard the tough outer leaves of the radicchio and endive and tear the inner leaves into bight sized pieces. Pick watercress and parsley and discard their tough stems. Wash all lettuce in a salad spinner and spin dry.

In a very large bowl whisk together vinegar, pomegranate molasses and oil. Season well and toss through shallots.

When ready to serve place a duck leg on 12 warmed dinner plates. Toss leaves in the dressing and divide between the plates. Arrange 3 fig halves on each plate and scatter over walnuts.

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