Fig trees bore their first fruits on the banks of the rivers that once filled this land, thousands of years before our ancient people was ingathered here. Perhaps because they recognized the fruit’s goodness and sweetness, our ancestors named it one of the seven species with which the land was blessed. Perhaps they sat in the shade of fig trees as they wrote the mythology of our people, and so in the ancient stories of the Garden of Eden they had Adam and Eve cover themselves with fig leaves.
The seven species also gave words to our ancient language, words from which our writers and poets created the seasons of the year, scents and flavors, bitter and sweet. For instance, in the hot months, our forebears went out to harvest kayitz, the ancient name for figs, which became the Hebrew word for summer.
Or perhaps the fruit came to be called kayitz because of how they were chopped with knives (katzetzu) to make dried fruits that could be eaten all year long as a reminder of the summer’s sweetness. Or maybe it was the sweet liquor distilled from the fruit that puts off the end of days (ketz) and brings redemption closer, which lent the fruit its name.
On the grain harvest holiday (hag hakatzir), our ancestors made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the start of the season, and on the fruit harvest holiday (hag ha’asif) they returned to Jerusalem to celebrate its end. Between one and the other they tilled the earth and sat in the shade of the fig tree to partake of their crops. The first figs of the season are firm and not so sweet; the sweeter, juicier figs appear later in the summer.
Saltimbocca is a classic Italian dish that literally means “leap into the mouth.” In Rome, it is made with a thin slice of veal rolled up with a slice of prosciutto or bacon and a sage leaf that has been lightly fried in butter, and served in a white wine sauce. It is so inviting, you just want it to leap into your mouth. In this summery Israeli version, the veal is replaced by a fig stuffed with blue cheese, and the bacon or prosciutto may be replaced with lamb pancetta or paper-thin slices of goose breast. But the white wine is still a must – both in the recipe and in a glass to go with it.
Ingredients (12 servings):
6 large ripe figs
50 gr blue cheese
12 slices bacon or prosciutto, or lamb pancetta
12 sage leaves
50 gr butter
¼ cup (60 ml) dry white wine
coarsely ground black pepper
Rinse the figs and slice them in half lengthwise. Cut small pieces of the blue cheese and press a small piece into the center of each fig. Place the bacon or prosciutto slices on the work surface and top each one with a sage leaf. Arrange the cheese-filled fig halves perpendicular to the bacon slices and roll them up so that each fig is well-wrapped in the center section, with the wrapping tightened around the cheese. Place the wrapped fig seam-side down, or close with a toothpick.
Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over a high flame. Fry the wrapped figs until the bacon is nicely browned. Add the wine, gently shake the skillet, and let the wine reduce. Serve immediately with a glass of chilled white wine.
Fig and nut rolls
These wonderful rolls contain all the sweetness of the figs wrapped inside a rich dough. They make a terrific Saturday morning treat, and are excellent to take along on a picnic. You may substitute whole wheat or spelt flour for some of the flour, as long as you keep half of the white flour, which imparts an airy texture. You can also add grated Parmesan or Gruyere cheese to the dough, or sprinkle some on top when baking.
The dough may also be used to make two round loaves or divided between two loaf pans. Whatever you do, make sure to sprinkle some of the semolina or pasta flour around the dough to help give it a special crust.
1 tbsp salt
1 kilo white flour
1 ½ tbsp dry yeast
6 tbsp sugar
240 ml tepid water
180 gm leben
120 ml corn oil
12 ripe figs
1 ¾ cups shelled and halved walnuts
¼ cup pasta flour or semolina for flouring
Place the salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the dough hook and sift the white flour over it. Sprinkle on the yeast and sugar and pour on the water. Add the egg, leben and oil and process at low speed until the dough adheres a bit. Cut each fig into eight pieces and add to the dough along with the walnuts. Continue mixing, adding a little water if needed, until the dough is soft and pliant.
Remove dough from the mixing bowl and knead it a little more on a floured surface until smooth (except for the figs and nuts in it, of course). Return dough to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise for about an hour until it doubles in volume. Punch it down with your fingers and knead a little more to force the air out.
Sprinkle some of the pasta flour or semolina on the work surface. Divide the dough into 12 pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Roll the ball in the pasta flour and place on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Leave enough room between the balls of dough to allow them to rise. You may need to use more than one pan. Cover the pan or pans with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let them rise for about a half hour. Preheat the oven to 210 degrees Celsius and bake the rolls for 25 minutes or until they are slightly golden; they should be well-baked but not too dry. Remove from the oven, let cool a little and serve with butter or slices of Gruyere or Maasdam cheese.