Salad of Figs with Buffalo Mozzarella, Mint and Fig Vino Cotto
'Figs have a reputation, and it's one of 'those' reputations. Sensual, sexy and erotic. There's a taste of the Garden of Eden in every one'. — Allan Campion and Michele Curtis, fresh.
Speaking of The Garden of Eden, temptation and all that... sometimes, dear reader, I just can't help myself! There’s something about the sight of plump, ripe fruit hanging invitingly out of reach. It brings out the adventurer in me. Suddenly, all five foot two of me becomes tall enough to reach the highest branch—limber enough to scale a splintered old fence—and as brazen as a cat on the prowl.
Fortunately, our neighbour with the bountiful fig tree will barter, so I have no need to pilfer the fruit. On presenting me with a bagful of figs recently, she said—‘Help yourself to more at the weekend’. So I did, because unless you have a productive fig tree in your back garden, figs are something of a luxury.
Originating in Asia, figs have for thousands of years symbolised fertility, abundance and initiation—the seeds signifying unity, knowledge and faith—and the sap symbolically associated with both milk and sperm. Figs were eaten dried or roasted by the ancient Egyptians and dwellers in the Mediterranean region, while the Romans used them for making wine and to fatten and enrich the livers of their prize geese. Homer mentioned a fig tree in The Iliad and The Odyssey (approximately 1000 BC), and Pliny the Elder, who perished when Vesuvius buried Pompeii in AD 79, detailed 29 varieties. Plato said figs were good food for athletes, however figs are not rich in any single nutrient. Figs do contain small amounts of vitamin C and moderate amounts of potassium and calcium; and their seeds provide a good source of dietary fibre.
When choosing figs, select those with good colour for the variety. They should be plump and free from bruises. Avoid those with a shrivelled or sticky appearance. Ripen figs at room temperature, away from direct sunlight. This will allow for full flavour development. Figs are soft when ripe and the skins starts to split. Ripe figs can be stored in the refrigerator for a short time, but ensure they are place in a perforated plastic bag to reduce moisture loss. Figs do not store well, hence they are often dried or preserved. Figs are best eaten from the hand—skin and all—preferably freshly picked from the tree and still warm from the sunshine. Lorenza de'Medici notes that 'sun-ripened figs will often have little beads of moisture coming from the top', per my first image below.
Figs are a beautiful addition to a fruit or savoury salad and the perfect adornment for a cheese platter or accompaniment to prosciutto. A simple and delicious dessert can be made by stewing figs with a little honey and serving with ice cream. Figs also make yummy jams and preserves. I love them in brandy and will share that recipe with you in another post.
This snippet features a receipt I have adapted from Rena Salaman's Healthy Mediterranean Cooking (Hodder 1996). The original recipe calls for the mozzarella to be marinated in a combination of walnut oil, sunflower oil, garlic and lemon; which is delicious, if not a little high in fat. However, I enjoy the simple, clean flavour of 'untouched' buffalo mozzarella with just a sprinkling of pepper and a dot of Maggie Beer's velvety Fig Vin Cotto on the side. I have also held back on the salt, which I don't feel is needed. This salad can be served an as entree or as an accompaniment to a main meal and will serve between two to four diners, though I must admit I could happily eat the lot!
So tell me, what brings out the naughty child or adventurer in you?
SALAD OF FIGS WITH BUFFALO MOZZARELLA, MINT AND FIG VINO COTTO
150g Buffalo Mozzarella cheese
6-8 firm ripe figs
8-10 tiny mint leaves
freshly cracked pepper, to taste
Maggie Beer Fig Vino Cotto
Slice the mozzarella into slices with a sharp knife. Arrange on a serving platter. Slice the ends off the figs and cut into round slices. Arrange the fig slices over the cheese on the platter. Sprinkle with the freshly cracked pepper and the mint leaves. Serve with the Vino Cotto on the side.
If you prefer to marinate the Mozzarella per the original recipe, combine two tablespoons of walnut oil with a teaspoon of sunflower oil, the juice of a lemon and half a garlic clove, peeled and crushed. Marinate the sliced cheese for a few hours in the refrigerator. Drizzle the marinade over the top of the salad just before serving.
My Twitter friend and fellow blogger, Melinda (a.k.a. The Pickled Cumquat) has a baby fig tree. I love seeing Mel's regular updates on the tree's progress on her blog. Mel is so fond of figs, they featured as part of the table decorations at her recent wedding to Mr Pickled Cumquat. The table numbers are in little pots of lemon balm. I love that idea, don't you!?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.