Agrodolce. Let that word roll off your tongue a few times. It is an Italian word meaning sour/sweet and is pronounced agro-doltchay. Many foods can be agrodolce but it was figs that stole my heart recently in New York City at Mario Batali's wildly fun Otto restaurant. Figs agrodolce are one of a few stellar side dishes on offer at Otto, soft, succulent and oozing with a honey and balsamic vinegar infusion. Plumped up by a soft simmer in a sour/sweet bath, the net effect is fruit that is both jammy and savoury, a winning, memorable play on flavours that is immediately addictive.
Of course I came home and started my own agrodolce experiments. Figs and rosemary are something I dream about, so that became the starting point for my little figgy stew, along with honey and balsamic vinegar and a splash of water. Salt and pepper enhance the building of flavours. In a pot cover some good dried figs with a mixture roughly in equal parts - honey, balsamic vinegar and water - add in chopped fresh rosemary, a bay leaf and salt and pepper to taste - and simmer, covered, until your figs are very soft but not mushy and your agrodolce sauce is thick and syrupy. If your figs are cooked but your sauce feels too loose, you may need to boil off some of the extraneous liquid at this point. Just continue simmering the figs with the lid off the pot until the desired syrup-stage is achieved. Cool these babies down a bit and serve up with roasted meats or a platter of cheeses. Cooking time will vary depending on how dry the figs are. A guesstimate is roughly one hour to render dried figs into fat softness.
I need to confess that my recipe is an approximation of the delectible dish I ate in New York. If you want agrodolce advise from the man himself, Mario Batali, here is a recipe of his for onions agrodolce, from which you can extrapolate a figgy treatment if you choose to.
4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil; 2 pounds small white cipolline onions; 1/3 cup sugar; 1 cup white wine vinegar; 1 cup water; Salt and pepper to taste
In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine all ingredients, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook 40 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally so that the onions don't stick to the bottom of the pan. The onions should be easily penetrated with a paring knife but should not be falling apart.
Remove the lid and continue to cook until the liquid has evaporated and the onions are glossy and dark brown, taking care not to burn. Remove from heat and serve.
Fruit and vegetables have a way of speaking to me, inspiring me to play around with them and use them in unusual ways, from sweet to savoury, with agrodolce being an intriguing melding of disparate themes. It's OK to play with your food! Have more fun playing with flavours with these books: