I have never been a fruit guy, but my girlfriend is a fruit bat – we have a fig tree in the backyard and she’s out there every morning. Now I really appreciate eating a fig that is ripened straight from the tree, which has never come in contact with a fridge. The senses are different in this situation and the smells really kick.
Figs are a fickle fruit. From one tree you might have a four-week window to get them at their best. This recipe is about trying to capture that point of harvest, hence the use of the fig leaf to really heighten the scent that is almost reminiscent of green tea and coconut.
Fig leaves now are a seriously underused part of the tree but historically have been used in making cheese and wrapping proteins. To preserve them, pick the more tender leaves and keep them in coarse salt for a week. The leaf also works really well to cook in or on – it imparts a gentle flavour and a gentle steam. Try wrapping fine white-flesh fish on the bone, as you would with a vine leaf, then place it on a grill.
This is a fairly classic tart recipe using things that come into season together. For mine, it’s second only to experiencing the fruit straight off the tree.
– 200g toasted hazelnuts
– 100g sugar
– 80g butter
– 1 egg
– 20ml brandy
– 30g plain flour
– pinch of salt
Blend the hazelnuts with the sugar to a fine powder, almost to the point of a paste. Add the butter, egg and brandy, then fold through the flour with a pinch of salt.
– 200g butter
– 250g plain flour
– 125g sour cream
Using a food processor, mix the butter through the flour so it resembles a crumb, then add the sour cream and combine. Cover the dough in cling wrap and let it rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. Roll the dough out to about one-centimetre thick then press into two tart tins. Blind bake using baking paper and a dried pulse (such as rice) for 15 minutes at 180ºC, then remove the pulses and bake for a further 10 minutes.
– 2 fig leaves
– 4 ripe figs
– 100ml fromage frais or quark
Powder dry the leaves at 90ºC in an oven for about 15 minutes, then pulverise in a spice grinder. Pass the dust through a fine sieve to remove the stems.
Smash a fig into the bottom of each tart case, then top with the frangipane. Bake at 160ºC for 20 minutes or until the frangipane is set. Slice the other ripe figs over the frangipane, then blowtorch the top to caramelise – a sprinkle of fine sugar will help if the fig isn’t entirely ripe – then rest to room temperature.
Serve the tarts with a spoon of the fromage frais and top with the fig leaf powder and some microplaned hazelnut.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 28, 2018 as "Reaching for a fig leaf". Subscribe here.