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The Girl and the Fig Cookbook

by Sondra Bernstein

The Girl and the Fig Cookbook

The lucky people near Sonoma have The Girl & the Fig restaurant, a place to wind down over a simple dish of Heirloom Radishes with Anchovy Butter and Sea Salt, or maybe Fresh Figs with Fromage Blanc and Pine Nuts, glass of Grenache in hand. The rest of us, meanwhile, may dream of a life where it’s not a big deal to find a perfect Endive Salad with Pears and Blue Cheese (with Pomegranate Vinaigrette), and Broiled Halibut with Spring Vegetable Ragout. At the right time of year, dessert might be a glass of Tawny Port next to Warm Fig and Thyme Crisp with Fig Syrup, or figs stuffed with honey-sweetened goat cheese.

Read our review of The Girl
& the Fig restaurant!

Wine Country sensibility is so pervasive, so deeply rooted in the region, it begs to be celebrated every day, and at every meal. The remarkable culinary traditions of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys begin in the fields, farms and vineyards, and are skillfully translated by abundant talent in the kitchens and wineries of this remarkable area.

Sonoma’s The Girl & the Fig restaurant, one of three in the area, fills its menus and delights its patrons with house-made charcuterie, salads of Grilled Asparagus with Lemon-Thyme Vinaigrette, plates of Lamb Medallions with Sonoma Mustard Sauce, Sonoma Rabbit Two Ways (legs braised, loins seared) with Baby Artichoke Pan Sauce, and Wild Mushroom Ragout. Its pastry chef turns out Profiteroles with Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce, and Pear Clafouti. Their wine lists are sensible but exciting. Occasionally, the forces behind such a restaurant does the hard work it takes to write a cookbook, making it possible to bring the Wine Country into our own kitchens. This is the case with Sondra Bernstein’s the girl and the fig cookbook: More than 100 Recipes from the Acclaimed California Wine Country Restaurant.

The book, like Bernstein’s restaurants, embodies the meaning of “simple and sophisticated.” These words are frequently used but rarely fulfilled by so many restaurants—especially after you’ve spent an entire meal trying to sort out precious combinations of flavor and texture, often from foods deserving restrained treatment.

the girl and the fig cookbook approaches food and cooking with French culinary skill and respect. As expected, figs are abundant throughout—perhaps because Bernstein’s first “fig experience” occurred in Florence. Or maybe because she has eaten her way across the globe and finds the greatest satisfaction working with fresh and seasonal foods that also make it possible to eat a nutty, vibrant Asparagus and English Pea Soup with Pistachio Butter in Springtime, Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho in Summer, Apple-Yam Gratin in Fall, and Potato Leek Soup in Winter. the girl and the fig cookbook contains more than 100 recipes: twenty-some you’ll want to line up for your next party; like Goat Cheese Fritters, Herb-Marinated Olives, Pernod-Scented Mussels, Pork and Dried Cherry Pâté, and Prosciutto-Wrapped Figs.

Salads like Green and Yellow Bean Salad with Peas and Sherry-Truffle Vinaigrette remind us again of why we yearn for the warm-weather seasons. Anything with Heirloom tomatoes (Heirloom Tomato Salad with Feta and Balsamic Reduction) makes us dream of endless summer.

For the home cook, the girl and the fig cookbookok provides an uncomplicated path to impressive food. Large Plates range from rustic to brilliant: multi-dimensional Pasta with Fromage Blanc, Brown Butter, Corn, and Spinach may be good accompanied by scallops or grilled fish, but chances are you’ll want to eat this gutsy pasta solo. Grilled Mahi Mahi with Fire-Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette makes good use of even the most mediocre tomatoes. And what more can one say about a good, solid Coq au Vin or Braised Short Ribs recipe? For side dishes, Bernstein covers Balsamic Onions, Roasted Asparagus, luxuriant Fingerling Potato Confit, and Orange-Scented Braised Endive.

Many of the recipes are not groundbreaking, but they are solid, reliable, and outstanding. And there’s great satisfaction in finishing with a memorable dessert. Try Meyer Lemon Tartlets with Blood Orange Sauce, Bellwether Farms Ricotta Cheesecake with Peaches and Cream, or Roasted Figs with Honey and Vanilla Ice Cream.

the girl and the fig cookbook is about simple food done well. Both the book as a whole, and its recipes, are uncomplicated and compelling. Most recipes are scaled for six servings—perfect for families (or fabulous leftovers). Seasonal menus and wine pairings are thoughtful. Bernstein includes primers on Artisan Cheese Makers, and the California Rhône wines which dominate her wine lists.

Best of all, this book is about food you’ll return to frequently. It always tastes good. It’s always appropriate. If you can’t be up in the Valley, eating like this all the time, the girl and the fig cookbook is a great solution.

Reviewed by Kevin Schoeler

(Updated: 11/25/08 SB)

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