Tag Archives: figs

Sun-drenched fig and zucchini salad

beach-06

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.

beach-02

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 –

beach-03

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.

fig-salad-06

Continue reading

A Sicilian Christmas: buccellato

buccellato-01

I was walking through the maze-like backstreets of Newtown, and stopped in my tracks. In the air was a scent that was heady, sweet, fresh and just dive in and luxuriate. I think, am almost sure, it was the scent of jasmine flowers.

The memory of it so strong that I was still thinking about it days later, when I read about jasmine scented confectionaries and pastries that were made in Sicilian convents. Jasmine-scented ricotta, Sicilian pastries, the legendary fruits of the nuns’ labour. These ideas lingered like a line of poetry or music. Like a food earworm.

I didn’t have jasmine water, instead, I had lots of Sicilian pastries bookmarked under ‘must make this soon, really soon’. One of the recipes was Buccellato. 

buccellato-07

That’s how two of the Sicilian Christmas/new year ‘cakes’ found their way into our Christmas gift boxes, along with other goodies like thousand-layer spiral mooncakes (pictured above). I made a Sicilian version of Buccellato based on a recipe from Manu’s Menu, which is more like a giant cookie log with a fig-chocolate-wine filling. After I made it, I realised it’s like a larger version of the cuccidati or fig cookies from the Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) group, using a recipe from Baking with Julia.

Another version of Buccellato, from further North in Italy, is a yeast cake with the filling ingredients folded into the dough (see here, for example). But I couldn’t go past a Sicilian recipe just now, especially something that can be described as a giant cookie.

It’s a forgiving recipe. My circles weren’t perfectly circular, the pastry was perhaps unusually dimpled, but they still had an appealing home made look. The original recipe has an apricot jam glaze topped with pistachio and glace cherries. I also drizzled royal icing and sprinkled over finely grated dark chocolate. Gilding the lily? Me?

buccellato-05

Continue reading

What’s in a name? Cucidati and X cookies

cucidati1

What prompts you to try a recipe? Is it the ingredients? A technique to learn? The photo?

Or the name?

I am attracted to names that have culture or history behind them, especially if they evoke the smells and flavours of places long ago and far away. Why have pinwheels when there is rugelache, sweet bread when there is krantz or babka, meat loaf when we can have farsumagru, pasties instead of borek or saltenas, or chocolate scrolls when there is kakaós csiga?

(Then, I am also fascinated by recipes with unusual ingredients and techniques. Like turduken, or the Tabrizi kofteh, or 90% hydration bread, or making Ratatouille’s ratatouille.)

Reading about these recipes, their origins and histories, and each step involved, is almost as good as tasting the food itself. I suppose, I studied literature at university and have always been susceptible to the magic of a well-turned phrase. Also as the saying goes: “This is what recipes are, stories of pretend meals.”  

cucidati4cucidati7

Cucidati is one of these recipes that got my attention with an intriguing name. A spiced Italian fig cookie that is made at Christmas, the name means ‘little bracelets’. Italians, especially Sicilians, still call these “mum’s cookies” and for them, it wouldn’t be Christmas without cucidati.

While the cookies might be like a version of fig newtons or other filled cookies, the name cucidati and the distinctive crescent shape made the recipe intriguing. I’ve read different versions of the recipe and wondered about who made the first batch of cucidati (and is the singular form of the noun cucidato?), whether it came from Sicily and shows the influence of Arabic cuisine in the spiced fig filling, and whether anyone ever tried to wear it as a bracelet.

Continue reading

Fougasse with walnuts and fig paste (don’t mention the focaccia)

fougasse-1

Fougasse, panis focacius, fogatza, fouace, hougasse, fouasso.

Just don’t say focaccia.

Fougasse is a type of flat bread made in France, with a name derived from Latin and Occitan (the language of the Languedoc region, among others, and apparently a close relative to modern Catalan). The most famous variety is slashed to look like an ear of wheat, and is savoury, though other varieties include a sweet bread flavoured with orange water. Fougasse is baked until it’s very browned, and should have a crispy crust and a soft interior.

The English and French Wikipedia both tell me that fougasse was used by bakers to test if their bread oven was at the right temperature. If the French Wikipedia says so about a French bread, it must be right, right??

I also quickly learned it’s not focaccia. For a variety of reasons, including focaccia is Italian and fougasse is French.

Having got these preliminaries out of the way, I can get on with this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) assignment, sweet fougasse. I’ve wanted to make fougasse, with its distinctive wheat or leaf shape, for a while. Who could resist the idea of slashing dough, pulling on dough, until there are giant holes in the dough? It’s all of my “playing with food” wishes come true.

But.  Like a stroll through Alice in Wonderland, nothing turned out quite the way I expected.

fougasse-3a

Continue reading

Fig-honey-caramel

long-fig-tart6

Sometimes, we need very few words to explain. This may be one of those times.

Fig. Honey. Caramel.

I made the fig-raspberry tartlets again, with a few tweaks and in longform. While the tart was baking, I had fig and cardamon poaching liquid sitting in the pan, and a jar of blackbutt honey on the bench. The two came together, simmered, boiled, turned a deeper golden caramel, and fig-honey-caramel was born.

It was the essence of figs and honey. Drizzle the caramel on the sesame-almond tart pastry, drip it onto the tart filling. Watch the caramel form a Jackson Pollock-esque pattern on bits of pastry, before running into sticky, semi translucent pools on nestling fig.

Place the tart under the grill for a minute or so, until the caramel bubbles up. Drop a few sprigs of rosemary on top, so its woody savoury smell mingles with the honey overnight.

My slight obsession with figs continues.

long-fig-tart1

Continue reading

A Winter’s Tale: sesame-almond, fig-raspberry tartlets

figtartlet-5

This week’s Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) challenge began as a quick fig and raspberry tart, and ended with me as a culinary flaneur, discovering food ideas containing sesame, almond, figs, and raspberries. Oh, I also turned them into tartlets.

Sesame and almond pastry made me wonder. An unfamiliar combination, it looked chunky, flecked with almond and cinnamon, “rustic” (that over-used word). Lightly toasted, a nutty fragrance fills the kitchen and trickles through your lungs. The scent of sesame promised exciting things from exotic locations.

figtartlet-4

Then, I looked at the raspberry and fig filling and wondered some more. Figs and sesame, raspberry and fig – I get that. But raspberry and sesame? Delicate raspberries with the bold, strong flavours in the pastry? Curiouser and curiouser.

The recipe for the fig and raspberry crostata asks for fresh figs and fresh raspberries. It’s still winter in our corner of the world, and the fruit shop was charging $4 per fig. Per. Fig. Yikes! Unwilling to spend my weekly coffee budget on a few under-ripe figs, I substituted dried white figs, plumed up in warm water and scented with cardamom and cinnamon. In keeping with the winter theme, I added raspberry jam to the fig compote instead of fresh raspberries, with a generous splash of lemon juice.

Raspberry jam, dried white figs and lemon juice creates a sweet-tart reddish gooey mess, which bubbles up during cooking to leave strands of caramel around the lattice pastry. Its relative simplicity showed off the enriched textures and flavours in the pastry: toasted sesame, toasted almonds, cinnamon. In these tartlets, the pastry wants to be the star.

This mix of textures and flavours make these tartlets grown-up’s treats. Sweet and tart jam and caramel. Crunchy, sesame-fragrant pastry. These tartlets piques your curiosity, then invites you to linger, smell, nibble, and then taste.

figtartlet-3

Continue reading

Lazy sophistication in a goats curd, fig and walnut tart

goat-cheese-pie9

Sometimes, a recipe says to me, ‘Make me, now, don’t wait.’

And I don’t wait. (Really, who would dare say no to a talking recipe?)

I had one of those moments when I saw a goats cheese, walnut, dried figs single crust pie on Johnny’s blog, Feed the Piglet. I recently discovered his blog, and it had me at hello. Those recipes for home made stock, beautifully laid tables complete with tall-stemmed glassware. As someone who often grabs a hasty lunch in the CBD, those tall-stemmed glassware, architectural potato stacks and parsley soup speak of holidays, weekends and fabulous feasts.

When I saw the recipe, I sat there looking at the computer screen for a good few minutes, trying to imagine the mingling of sweet and savoury, soft and crumbly. There was a roux made with home made stock, goats cheese, walnuts, dried figs and plumped-up prunes, all in a made-from-scratch shortcrust pastry case. It was intrigue at first sight.

So I went ahead and made the pie, or a lazy person’s version of. There was goats curd instead of goats cheese, no roux (the stock had run away with the risotto earlier in the week), and puff pastry instead of home made shortcrust. Then, the finished product looked more like frivolous tarts than sturdy serious pies, probably because I made them in mini pie dishes, and the puff pastry was a bit frou frou. 

Nonetheless, the finished tarts were things of beauty, despite my shortcuts and the slapdash rustic presentation (it was the best kind of Sydney winter’s morning, with such an achingly blue, cloudless sky, I couldn’t stay indoors for too long). The sweet, soft figs were set off by the tangy goats curd and the savoury walnuts. I added some roasted apples to the filling mix, and they provided a softer, tart-sweetness that melted into the goats curd filling.

The word that came to mind was sophisticated. There was nothing superficial about the flavours, they pulled you in and demanded that you think about and savour every bite.

And if my slapdash version was good, just think what Johnny’s original would be like.

goat-cheese-pie6

Continue reading