"Where can I find dried figs?" asked my friend Dave, a freelance writer, who called me in the middle of the work day for the very important business of filling his shopping cart. I secretly love it when my friends ask me food related questions, and was even happier when I immediately knew what he was planning to do with those dried figs. It's amazing to think about how something as simple as reading a recipe can send us marching like gourmet lemmings in search of the same ingredients. Mark Bittman's Sprouts with Figs and Bacon recipe, featured in the New York Times about a week ago, and surely bookmarked by hundreds, is appealing on so many levels. I've never cooked with dried figs, but since they have all the qualities that make a perfect kitchen staple: uncommon, dried, and cheap, I'm ready to welcome them into my kitchen. Brussels Sprouts are among my favorite vegetables and I'm always looking for new ways to prepare them. And then, of course, there is the bacon. Bacon makes everything taste good.
So after telling Dave to check the produce section and the dry goods bins, I made a mental note in my head to try the recipe myself. I found my dried figs at Whole Foods from the dry goods bins (cheap at .83 cents), where Marcus, with misplaced authority, tried to convince me that dates were the same as dried figs. That one scored high on the wrong-o-meter. Oh, sure, I know that dates and figs are two totally different fruits, but, at great risk of revealing my ignorance to the online community, I'll tell you what I didn't know: Brussels Sprouts grow on long stalks. Imagine me at the farmer's market, standing in front of the sprouts (still on stalks) with my mouth gaping open. That's what I looked like when I realized that I could fill twenty football fields with the things I don't know about food.
But enough about what I don't know. As these photos show, today I made Bittman's fall hash for lunch, and it was just as he says, an "autumn sonata." Everything in life is a lesson, and the next time I make this dish (and it was good enough to make again) I will do a few things differently, starting with reducing the amount of dried figs. One cup of figs created a dish that was too sweet for my taste. I found my self searching for the salty bacon. The balsamic too, increased the sweetness of the dish, so reducing that by a little bit could help. Other than that I would say this dish would make a lovely side to that turkey you are planning to make soon.