Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fig, basil and prosciutto salad


Photos by Steve Shanahan


First published Canberra Times 15 February 2012
I’ve fed, talked and sang to them and even visited them in the night. I almost cried on them when I found a few viciously attacked, with their skins pierced and their innards scattered. After the attack, my prolific fig tree was happy to wear a protective white tulle dress, resembling a female nurturing her young. My figs have only just ripened, carefully tended over the spring and summer, now showing their plump green and purple bodies to the sun together with a subtle scented muskiness.

For my first harvest, I fill a small bowl, straight from the tree, still warm from the sun, and it made me happy. With its droopy branches and pendulous ripe figs, it also hides hundreds of baby figs within its leaves with the promise of another harvest in a few weeks time. There is something simply irresistible about this ancient fruit, originating in the Middle East and Mediterranean regions, that many believe descends from a place called paradise.

Although, I love fig jam, it’s a shame to spoil such perfection by cooking these beauties down to a paste, particularly when it’s the first harvest of the year. I have great plans for my future harvest that hints of chocolate and vanilla.

I prefer to use the figs whole, so I prepare a fresh fig salad using basil and wild rocket grown from the vegetable patch together with some good quality proscuitto, a creamy blue cheese and an aged balsamic that perfectly complements the sweetness of the figs.  Choose the best quality ingredients you can find and be generous with the balsamic vinegar and olive oil, as it needs to be seen and tasted. The beauty of this salad lies in its simplicity as further trappings only distract from the figs pristine perfection. Just add some warmed crusty Italian Sourdough to mop up the juices.

This salad is great as a light entrée for 4 or a light meal for 2.

8 to 10 fresh figs
16 basil leaves
50 g good quality blue cheese, alternatively use mozzarella or bocconcini
extra virgin olive oil
10 slices of thinly sliced prosciutto or good quality ham
aged balsamic vinegar
a loaf of Italian Sourdough
freshly ground nutmeg
ground salt and black pepper
wild rocket

Cut a cross in the base of the figs, then push up from the base to open out a little. This allows the dressing to penetrate the whole fig. Place the figs on a serving platter.

Crumble the blue cheese and tear the basil leaves and scatter around the figs.
Drizzle with the olive oil and season with the nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Tear the prosciutto and tuck around the figs, cheese and basil.

To serve, drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and mop with the crusty bread.
Serve with wild rocket.