Fig Pizza with Juniper
You can learn a lot of lessons that apply to cooking from a great mixologist. My buddy Kate, from the 365 Kitchen, has a real talent for mixing cocktails. She knows the flavor of each type of alcohol, and how to bring out subtle characteristics using syrups, bitters, and sodas. Seeing her logic behind particular combinations in her cocktails has been fascinating for me.
In particular, I like what she has taught me about gin. On its own, gin tends to smell a bit like aftershave. But Kate has shown me that all of those aromatic qualities that make it smell like old men would dot it behind their ears actually add character and sparkling complexity to fruit flavors. One of the best drinks she ever made was a mix of freshly foraged green grapes, gin, and tonic water.
Because it is one of the primary flavoring agents of the spirit, eating a juniper berry instantly calls to mind the flavors of gin. The juniper berries I favor, those from J. communis, not only have those gin flavors, but also an underlying sweetness of fruit. These characteristics give juniper a versatility in the spice cabinet that goes far beyond its typical use as a flavoring for strongly-flavored meats, particularly game.
I had been wanting to make a fig and sausage pizza ever since Lacy, of Laughing Lemon Pie, told me about one she had tasted. It seemed to me that juniper was just the thing to tie together the flavors of meat and fruit.
Fig Pizza with Juniperpizza crust
1/2 lb. sweet Italian sausage
1/2 tsp. black pepper
5 crushed juniper berries
1 medium onion, sliced in half moons
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
6 fresh figs, chopped (substitute 3 Tbsp. fig preserves)
4 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese
1. Fry the sausage as crumbles, along with the black pepper and juniper, in a pan over medium heat just until cooked through. Add the onion slices and vinegar, and continue to cook until the sausage and onions take on brown edges.
2. Sprinkle the sausage and onion mixture over your pizza crust. Dot on the pieces of fig. Finally, distribute slices of the mozzarella cheese.
3. As the sausage has already been cooked, bake the pizza according to directions for your crust of choice.
4. Grate a bit of Romano cheese over the pizza before serving.