Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fresh Figs with Fleur de Sel, Aged Balsamic & Hazelnuts



Nursery school just began, and I am proving even less adept at the transition than previous evidence had suggested I might be. I have a few things in the works, but in the meantime, can I just say that the figs are magnificent this year? Nary a tannic, dry disappointment in sight. I've been making this dish a lot - tonight actually as dinner in its entirety, along with a fresh wedge of Cantalet and a glass of Malbec. It was soul-restoring perfection.


Although Spanish and Portuguese missionaries brought figs to the New World in the 15th and 16th centuries, the fruit wasn’t really grown in Northeastern U.S. until the 1800s when Mediterranean families moving to the States nursed cuttings all the way across the Atlantic to plant in their new gardens. These days locally grown fruit is available for a small window each year, though it’s still rare to see figs at a farmer’s market here. The harvest tends to come a little later than in the northern Mediterranean – it usually starts towards the end of August or in early September.

I like my fresh figs with as little done to them as possible. In fact, I far prefer them raw to cooked. Though I’m often tempted to try new fig recipes, I have yet to be convinced that there is any way to improve on the light sweetness of a perfectly ripe fruit – perhaps slightly split by its own fecundity and often weeping a little honeyed nectar from its blossom end. Ferociously pink and very nearly liquid within, and with a floral fragrance reminiscent of both blossoms and earth, tree-ripened figs are something I dream of all year. And I can’t see why I’d want to mask their perfection with cooking.

Of course, when celebrating such a short and longed-for harvest, it’s only human nature to feel an urge to adorn. So I’ve come up with a number of preparations that make a platter of fresh figs seem more of an event – why isn’t this country more comfortable with serving a bowl of perfectly ripe seasonal fruit at the end of a meal? Why doesn’t it seem like enough to most of us?

I’m not sure, but this is my compromise. The syrupy twang of good aged balsamic vinegar and the gently floral flavor of fleur de sel meld with the juicy interior of the opened figs. And the toasted hazelnuts layer a faint autumnal smokiness over the whole thing. It’s one of my favorite late-summer/early-autumn desserts and a lovely way to end a meal.



Serves 4

¼ cup hazelnuts
1 lb ripe figs (I like to use green figs here, such as Calimyrna), rinsed and patted dry
good quality aged balsamic vinegar – should be thick and sweet
fleur de sel or other good sea salt

Preheat the oven to 300 F.

Spread the hazelnuts in a small baking tray or dish and roast for 15 – 20 minutes until lightly browned and fragrant. Be very careful not to burn them. Once slightly cooled, chop the hazelnuts or pulse them a few times in the food processor.

Trim any stems from the figs. With a sharp knife, gently score an “X” on the top of each fig, being careful not to cut more than ¾ of the way down the fruit. Press your fingers into the base of the fruit until the 4 “petals” you have created open to expose the pink center.

Arrange the figs on a platter. Drizzle with a little aged balsamic, sprinkle with a little fleur de sel, and finish by showering with some of the toasted hazelnuts – you may not need them all. Serve immediately.

41 comments:

Maryann said...

Fresh figs. Now you have my complete attention haha. I have been dying for these for a month now and can't find them anywhere.Maybe it was still too early like you said in your post. I'll keep my eye out :)

Mercedes said...

Figs- the word alone is enough the inspire rhapsody. I agree, they are best when presented as simply as possible. I love tasting all the different varieties, my local market in Damascus always had at least five different kinds.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Maryann, the harvest really only began last week, so not to worry! I'd been craving them too.

Mercedes, how absolutely incredible that market must have been! Usually I can only find Turkish Brown, Black Mission, and Calimyrna round these parts. Do you remember the names of the varieties there? Were they labeled?

Rose said...

I agree. There is little to do to fresh figs to enhance their natural sweetness and beauty. My grandma used to have fig tree in her garden and the milk that comes out of the fig when picking it always fascinated me. Your version with the hazelnuts on top looks scrumptious. Like you said, with all the abundance of fruits this season, I don't know why people don't eat more of them after meal? I know there are two things I can't live without at noon: a bowl of salad and a fruit. This Labor Day weekend was spent eating Brie with grapes and figs. That's what I call life.

Casey said...

These look incredibly wonderful. Figs are abundant in our local farmers' markets --which is where I have to get mine, even though we have a huge old fig tree on our property. Our figs are much coveted by the local squirrels -- a gourmet group of rodents who *always* rob us of 90% of our crop.

sognatrice said...

Our figs seemed to come into season a couple weeks ago and they're already pretty much out :(

You did, however, read my mind on this one, cara--which you'll see tomorrow over at my place :)

Joanne Rendell said...

how funny! I was talking to my mum just a few days ago and she mentioned the wonderful figs they're having in andalucia. i'll send her this straight away...

Sylvia said...

Love the idea,simple, natural and fresh

David Hall said...

Truly fantastic, I'll keep this one in my head for when we are hit with Turkish figs over here next month. Balsamic goes so well with sweet fruit doesn't it? I've just poste dup the merits of black pepper and fruit, we sing from the same song sheet!

Cheers
David

winedeb said...

Funny to pop over to see you this morning and found your fig post. We had mission figs last evening for our appetizer. Mission figs sliced in half, popped into the oven to soften and heat, once out of oven, spooned a bit of goat cheese atop and sprinkled with bits of bacon. Oh too good. Have not seen the green figs at our supermarket yet but will keep an eye for them. Amazing how balsamic vinegar works with so many different textures and flavors. Your photo is lovely!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Rose, I completely agree! Whata lovely lunch to have each day - I may need to adopt that! And I loved the milk too. Dandelions and figs - absolutely fascinating when I was small.

Casey, how lovely to live where they are abundant! Those damn squirrels though - they absolutely blitz my friend's peach tree each summer too.

Sognatrice, why oh why are some of the best harvests so short? Strawberries, ramps, cherries, and now figs. Can't wait to see what you post tomorrow!

Jo, why are we not in Andalucia? Let's coordinate it for next figs season! If you think of it, can you ask your mum what varieties she gets there? It'd be interesting to find out, and I can only remember 1 or 2 types from my time in that neck of the woods. xo

Sylvia, thank you so much! It's my favorite way to eat!

David, black pepper and fruit...so perfect. I actually have a recipe coming up that includes that combination too. Can't wait to see yours, as always. We do, indeed, sing from the same song sheet!

Winedeb, how fabulous. I must say that you guys eat (and drink) like kings. Your lucky friends! And by the by, you can absolutely make this with black figs too!

marisa said...

So simple - this looks delicious!

Jen said...

Oh my goodness, this made my mouth water immediately. I completely agree with Mercedes' opinion about figs.

Sandi @ the WhistleStop Cafe said...

We have so much trouble finding fresh figs here... This looks wonderful!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Marisa, thank you!

Jen, me too. And thanks - hope you enjoy fig season!

Sandi, what a bummer! Whole Foods tends to carry them if you have one of those near you...let me know if you have any luck.

Ilva said...

Lovely! Why don't you submit it to this month's HotM, it's PERFECT!

Patricia Scarpin said...

Amanda, I have never cooked/baked with figs - I think one of the problems is NOT eating them all before even getting started with the recipe!
This looks and sounds wonderful.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Ilva, thanks so much! If you think it's appropriate, I'd love to, and I've emailed you the link! Can't wait to see the round up.

Patricia, heehee, I agree! They're at their best straight off the tree, and far too irresistible to ignore long enough for cooking!

Jan said...

The hazelnuts are such a great touch. I love how smoky they get when they're toasted.

Mercedes said...

Ha, labels, names! In Damascus, it was always near-impossible to find a name for anything, usually different varieties were just described as more sweet, less sweet, dark, light, etc.

I can tell you a few names in Arabic. There is one green outside and very red inside- shtawi. Some other green ones are known as hydari and hdari. There's a delicious brown one called hmadi.

There's a french fig I had in Paris, Hâtive d'Argenteuil, that's delicious.

Check out this website I just found for more varieties.

Wendy said...

I've never tasted a good fig. Believe they have to be fairly freshly picked to be any good and figs just don't grow here!
Will perhaps plan my next holiday around figs...

Diane said...

What a beautiful site...you've inspired me to try your approach to fresh figs. Good luck with your recipe submission!!!!

Cynthia said...

I never had figs before but from all that I've heard about them... and now to have them with fleur de sel and aged balsamic?! What a mouthful of joy!

Daniela said...

Anyone in my family can wax poetic about fresh figs until the snow flies (we are Italian, after all.)

I'm happy I read your post today, as I just found out that a couple of my aunts and my uncle are coming to visit next weekend. Since the only figs available here are shriveled up usually moldy specimens at the grocery store (where they are 99 cents each,) I hurriedly called my uncle and asked him to bring me a couple of cases of figs from "home" (aka. Cambridge, Mass.)

We prefer to eat them plain with ricotta salata cheese. Sometimes I get fancy and mix ricotta and a drizzle of honey together, stuff the figs, and put them on the grill for about a minute a side.

Figs are indeed the food of the gods.

Lucy said...

The last house the we lived in had an old fig tree that had been hacked at and broken in numerous ways over the years and yet it still managed to produce fruit every year.

Fruit that the birds would abscond with before we ever got a chance to think of what we might do with it all! Less is more. Beautiful, Amanda

Garrett said...

I love figs. Roasted with cheese, made into ice cream, turned into liquor. It's all good! This is just another great temptation you've given the world! ;)

Figs Olives Wine said...

Jan, thank you! I love that smoky note over the figs' gentle sweetness too.

Mercedes, thank so much for this! It's fascinating - the thought of all those figs! Even in northern Mediterranean markets (ie: Spain, France, Italy) there are usually only 2 or 3 types at most. It must be phenomenal to have that sort of selection. Can't wait to check out the link, and thanks again!

Wendy, a holiday planned around figs sounds about as good as it gets! There's still time this year I think - one September/October in Andalusia, I had figs as big as the palm of my hand. Amazing!

Diane, thank you and welcome! Hope you enjoy the figs!

Cynthia, what a great way of putting it! A mouthful of joy - you're absolutely right.

Daniela, now that's a preparation I want to try! I adore ricotta salata. Thank you so much for the tip!

Lucy, thank you! Those bastard birds - between them and the squirrels, I don't know how anyone gets fruit off their own trees. I've read about figs trees dying back completely and then the roots sprouting new fruit-giving branches. Incredible.

Garrett, thank you. I've seen the liquor but can't remember trying it. That's something I must do!

Dave B said...

I put up several bird feeders loaded with black and stripe sunflower seeds. The birds and especially the squirrels go for the easy seeds,and leave my Green Ishia(?) and Marylane Jelly figs alone.
Squirrels.......$00.00
Sunflower Seeds........$$$$$$$$$
Fresh Fig/Hot Summer....Priceless
Dave

Figs Olives Wine said...

Dave, how fabulous! I can't tell you how many folks I hear from who've lost all their figs or peaches or what have you. Thanks so much for the tip!

hmvalois said...

I have some fresh figs and was planning to steep them in red wine. Not a spiced wine syrup ... just split the figs and let them marinate in a good syrah for a couple of days.

Anything I should know/ any cautions before I begin my experiments? If you've tried this before, any hints or suggestions would be welcome.

Figs Olives Wine said...

hmvalois, that sounds absolutely fantastic! What a deliciously simple preparation - syrah's a great choice I'd say. I've never done this myself, but do let me know how it turns out! Can't wait to hear.

hmvalois said...

I sorted through my pack of black mission figs and used the (few) slightly less ripe fruit for sandwich garnish.

The most tender of the basket gave up their stems, and were split open; I covered with the Thierry and Guy "Fat Bastard" syrah, about one-half bottle. Overnight, they'd soaked up most of the wine notes. I kept tasting at intervals, but after 36 hours I couldn't sense any further benefits.

I'm still exploring how to leverage the winefigs to best advantage: a few figs nestled in whipped cream hits both the elegant and delicious buttons for me, but I can see them garnishing a savory dish, too.

I'm looking forward to drinking the fig-infused wine at the end. Not sure which product, the figs, or the wine, is actually going to come out 'most improved'.

PS: Got another basket today. Steeping this batch in vodka. :grin:

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hmvalois, this is fantastic! What a revelation!!! The mild floral flavor of the figs must make a perfect canvas for the syrah! How lovely - this is something I must try. It sounds like it'd be fabulous with both savory and sweet flavors. And I'll bet the wine's going to be lovely too. Thanks for keeping me posted - please let me know what you end up doing!

Georgia said...

Brilliant!

Barbara said...

Just beautiful Amanda.

Figs, Bay, Wine said...

Georgia, thank you!

Barbara, aren't you nice. It's an old favorite. xo

Peter said...

Still love this one too. Thanks for the reminder.

Gloria said...

I love figs Amanda and you always make beautiful things with figs, send you hugs, gloria

Figs, Bay, Wine said...

Peter, I'm glad.

Gloria, aren't you lovely. You have a way with figs too!!

thepassionatecook said...

i picked up some fresh figs the other day at a local deli. i didn't look at the price but nearly had a heart attack at home when i found out i had paid 30SGD (almost the same as USD) for 6 figs!!!!! they better taste good!

Sylvia said...

I love figs they are always a inspiration

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