Posh Picnic: These Are Not Just Figs of Your Imagination

Figs are in season, and it’s time to celebrate their sweet flavor in a variety of dishes.

Dan Peretz

Fig trees bore fruit on the banks of the rivers that once filled this land, thousands of years before our ancient people was ingathered to its homeland. Perhaps because our ancestors recognized the fruit’s goodness and sweetness, they named it one of the seven species with which the land was blessed, and perhaps, as they wrote the mythology of our people, they sat in the shade of the fig tree, and thus chose its leaves for Adam and Eve to cover themselves with, in the ancient tale of the Garden of Eden.

Perhaps the sweet fruits got their Hebrew name, kayitz, because they were chopped up (from the same Hebrew root) to make dried fruits for preserves to be eaten during the rest of the year, keeping some of their sweetness on hand. Or perhaps the sweet liqueur distilled from the fruit, which keeps the ketz, the end, away and brings the Redemption closer, gave the fruit its name. In our garden, too, the fig awoke, hekitza, early this year. This is the end of the yearly cycle, when we joyfully reap what was sown with tears, sip some of the wine and the liqueur, and anticipate the next cycle of planting.

On the Shavuot holiday, our ancestors made a 
pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the start of the season, and on Sukkot, the harvest holiday, they made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate its end. At the start of the season, our ancestors ate the aviv – the green wheat harvested early, what we now call frika. Then they plucked the kayitz, the figs, and picked the grapes, and for Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, they picked the pomegranates and collected the dates, and before the rains came they harvested the olives and 
extracted the oil.

Fig saltimbocca

(makes 12 servings)

Saltimbocca is a classic Italian dish that literally means “jumps into the mouth”). In Rome, it takes the form of a thin slice of veal wrapped in a slice of prosciutto or bacon with sage leaves lightly fried in butter, and served with a white wine sauce – so tempting it just wants to jump into your mouth – hence the marvelous name. In the Israeli summer version, the veal is replaced by a fig stuffed with blue cheese, and the bacon or prosciutto can be replaced with lamb pancetta or even thin slices of goose breast. But make sure to retain the white wine – both in the 
recipe and in a glass to accompany the dish.

Ingredients:

6 large, ripe figs

50 gr blue cheese

12 slices bacon or proscuitto or lamb pancetta

12 sage leaves

50 gr butter

1/4 cup (60 ml) dry white wine

sea salt

coarsely ground black pepper

Preparation:

Rinse the figs and cut them in half, lengthwise. Cut the blue cheese into small pieces and press a piece into the center of each fig. Place a slice of bacon or prosciutto or pancetta on the work surface and top with a sage leaf. Place the fig half with the cheese inside perpendicular to the bacon or prosciutto slice and roll up so that the middle section of the fig is well 
covered, and then tighten it around the cheese. Lay the wrapped fig down on the seam, or use a toothpick to keep closed.

Place the butter in a heavy skillet over a high flame. Fry the wrapped figs until the sausage wrapping is nicely browned. Add the wine, shake the skillet a little and reduce the sauce a bit. Serve immediately with a glass of chilled white wine.

Fig and nut rolls

(makes 12 servings)

These marvelous rolls absorb the sweetness of the figs and wrap them in a rich dough that’s just right for a Saturday morning, or a picnic lunch. Up to half of the white flour in the recipe can be replaced with whole wheat flour or even spelt flour. You can also add grated Parmesan or Gruyere cheese to the dough or sprinkle some on the rolls before baking.

The dough can also be used to make two large round loaves or be divided to fit into two loaf pans. Whatever you do, sprinkle a little semolina or pasta flour round the dough to obtain an extra-special crust.

Ingredients:

1 tbsp salt

1 kilo white flour

6 tbsp sugar

1 1/2 tbsp dry yeast

240 ml tepid water

1 egg

180 ml leben (buttermilk)

120 ml corn oil

12 ripe figs

1 3/4 cups walnuts, shelled and halved

1/4 cup pasta flour or semolina for flouring

Preparation:

Place the salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a dough hook and sift the flour over it. Sprinkle the yeast and sugar on top and pour on the water. Add the egg, leben and oil and process at low speed until the dough just comes together. Cut each fig into eight pieces and add to the dough along with the walnuts. Continue processing, adding a little water if needed, until a soft and pliable dough is obtained.

Remove the dough from the mixing bowl and knead a bit longer on a floured work surface, until the texture is smooth (aside from the bits of fig and nuts). Return the dough to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise for an hour until it doubles in volume. Poke the dough with your fingers to deflate it and then knead a little to force the air out.

Spread a little pasta flour or semolina on the work surface. Divide the dough into 12 parts and shape each part into a ball. Roll each ball in the pasta flour and place on a baking sheet lined with baking 
paper. Leave enough room between the dough balls to 
allow them to rise. You may need to use more than one pan. Cover the pan with a slightly damp towel or with plastic wrap and let the rolls rise a second time for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 210 degrees Celsius, place the rolls in it and bake for 25 minutes or until they are slightly golden and thoroughly baked. Be careful not to let the dough dry out. Remove from the oven, let cool a bit and serve with butter or slices of Gruyere or Maasdam cheese.

Dan Peretz