I have been flirting with thoughts of other jobs, other countries. The big wide world, new faces, a different smell in the air. Maybe that travel bug rearing its head again.
These thoughts – idle fancies, what you will – are unsettling yet exciting. Unexpectedly they have also prompted me to look at my street, city, country with fresh eyes.
Like the layers of light on a humid summer’s beach. So bright, impossibly bright, up close. Shimmering-pale-lilac-blue in the distance, the colours muted as though coming through a fog.
Cliched as it might be, this made me think of Dorothy Mackellar’s iconic poem as she describes –
An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land –
Wilful, with our legends of outlaws, and 146km of dead straight road across the Nullabor. Lavish, with super-abundant light, and summer’s fresh produce that seem to be ripening by the minute: berries, peaches, watermelons, figs, mangos, papayas, zucchinis, beetroot, okra.
During these hot, humid, languid days, summer fruit and veges can make the simplest snacks or meals. Like mangoes with a squeeze of lime and a splash of hot sauce; cucumbers with salt-smashed garlic, experiments with watermelon curry, Vietnamese pickled daikons.
Like this fig and zucchini salad.
I first saw this recipe on Not Quite Nigella. It was one of those recipes that just had to be made straight away. We had a bag of figs and a handful of zucchinis, sharp gorgonzola, goat’s feta, and oppressive hot weather that holds out the promise of thunderstorms – soon, but not yet.
The first time I made it, we were out of balsamic vinegar (yikes). So I concocted a dressing with Chinkiang vinegar (a dark, glutinous rice vinegar with lots of wonderful flavours), some date palm syrup and black pepper. Just enough complexity to pick out zucchini’s buttery sweetness and make the figs sing. Contrasting with peppery gorgonzola and slivers of manchego, it was summer on a plate.
I made it again the next day, and managed a few photos.
Both times, I didn’t add the labneh in the original recipe, and the second time I used goat’s feta instead of manchego. The salad tasted like it was just about perfect both times. Even piled on the plate any old how, the sight of figs tumbling over the zucchini ribbons was pretty enough for a dinner party table. As Lorraine says, low fuss and high impact. Isn’t that a hallmark of a great recipe?
While we are on the subject of parties, I’m sending this to Angie’s Fiesta Friday party. Last time we Aussie girls, Margot and I, were so raucous we almost stole the limelight from Johnny’s magenta onesie (!). Next time Margot and I will both turn up as Dame Edna – and possums, that’ll beat any ol’ onesie!
After making the salad a couple of times, I find I like to sprinkle blue cheese over the salad at the last minute rather than muddy up the dressing. And if you’re using Chinkiang vinegar, a longer marinading time for the zucchini doesn’t hurt.
To end, the well-known lines from Mackellar’s poem about hers and my –
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
Fig and zucchini salad, with gorgonzola and manchego cheese
(adapted from Not Quite Nigella)
2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar (or good Chinkiang vinegar)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus extra to drizzle
1 teaspoon honey (I used date palm syrup)
salt and pepper, to taste
4 ripe figs
50g/1.7ozs goat’s cheese (I used goats feta or manchego, and a smaller amount of gorgonzola picante)
A small ball of labneh or dollop of natural yogurt (I omitted this)
2 tablespoons dukkah (I omitted this)
1. Make zucchini ribbons or noodles (ie, use a mandolin). Cut off the bottoms of the zucchini and make strips using the peeler by peeling from the top down to make one piece. Discard the first strip which is just skin. Place the zucchini in a bowl.
2. Whisk the vinegar, olive oil, honey (or syrup) together and pour over the zucchini. Allow to marinate for about three to four minutes.
3. While the zucchini is marinating, trim the very tops from the figs and cut the figs into quarters or eighths. Cut up the blue cheese into small pieces and roll the labne in the dukkah.
4. Twirl the zucchini around a fork and set on a plate. Top with figs. If using gorgonzola, we would prefer to cut it up into small bits and sprinkle over the zucchini, likewise with goat’s feta. If using manchego cheese, just shave tiny slivers. Grind salt and pepper to tatse.