When the produce is coming in strong at the farmers' market here, I don't really have the heart to buy figs from "foreign" climes. But when fall arrives and our produce season pretty much comes to an end in Ann Arbor and the figs start showing up from California ... I could eat 'em every day! You can usually find them through the fall and into winter here.
When the fresh figs are finished, I make this salad using dried figs that I soak in hot water for a bit to get them to soften up (how long you have to soak for depends on the dryness of the figs). Either way, I think it's a great way to eat—it livens up my winter evenings with some really nice flavors that remind me more of the Mediterranean than Michigan in the middle of the winter. After all, I'm looking at a bunch of white snow-covered trees right now, not white sand beaches.
It's not hard to do. Start with a base of good salad greens—whatever you can get right now really. Cut a pint (or whatever you like) of fresh figs into halves or quarters depending on how big they are. If you're doing the dry ones, cut them in half too and soak in a bowl of just-boiled water for ... half an hour to a couple of hours. In a sauté pan, heat up a bit of extra-virgin olive oil. Add the figs, sprinkle on a touch of sea salt. If you like the salad sweeter (I don't) you can toss in a pinch of that same Muscovado brown sugar that goes into our butterscotch pudding.
When the figs are starting to get softer (but not mushy), add a handful of chopped hazelnuts. Add some chopped roasted red peppers (Piquillos are of course particularly good). Crumble the cheese onto the greens—I've loved this salad with the barrel-aged feta from Greece. If you've not had it, try it. It is, to my taste, like 10 times better than any other feta I've had here in the States. The salad's also great with good blue cheese (Roquefort from France, Rogue River Blue from Oregon, and Harbourne Blue from Britain have all been high on my list).
The salad will be excellent I'd guess with most any good oil and vinegar. But I've been totally, all-out loving it with the Joseph La Casetta wine vinegar from Joseph Winery in Australia and the Kokoraki olive oil from Greece. Just a few quick notes on the vinegar. I wrote a lot about La Casetta in the last newsletter and I don't want to repeat everything again here, but I'll be glad to send you the copy of the copy.
In a (hazel) nutshell, it's made from the juice of Columbard grapes, which is cooked way down in open kettles to about half its natural density. It's converted naturally in oak and chestnut barrels over the course of about a year, and then aged another four years. It's rich, subtly sweet, alive, amazing—I know that hardly anyone who comes in has ever heard of it, but I don't know why I should let that stop me from saying how good it I think it is. It'd definitely be on my gift list if I was making one up. It's really seriously darned delicious. I'm not messing around here. If I could, I'd give it a Grammy, nominate it for a Nobel Prize, or put it into the James Beard House Hall of Fame.
Anyways ... salad greens, sautéed figs, chopped hazelnuts, crumbled cheese, a bit of vinegar and olive oil. Grind on a bunch of black pepper and add a pinch of sea salt and you're ready to rock. Enjoy! Simple and very good!
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