July 14, 2014

On and on to infinity

I wake up in the morning and collect two from the brick patio floor. In the afternoon, if I’m home, there will likely be four more. By evening, another four. EVERY DAY. It continues like this.  

Baskets and baskets of figs. 

The tree gives them to me. I collect them like an obliging servant, dutifully, every morning. Sometimes the birds get there first, but they can’t eat as fast as I can. 

So for the most part, the figs are all mine. I get to eat ALL OF THE FIGS.

I don’t of course. I give them away, as if they’re a nuisance. Hey, friend, please take some of the figs… we have too many, sigh, whimper. It’s ridiculous. It’s completely stupid. It’s the reason why people live in California. Why people (I mean me) move to Oakland, to a little house with a fig tree! There’s also a persimmon tree, an apple tree, two Meyer lemons, and an orange tree. (Don’t kill me.)

I’ll soften the blow by stating this out loud, on the Internet—I’ve been a complete emotional wreck with this move. A bundle of nerves. A panicked, anxiety-ridden mess who could hardly, until very recently, taste the beauty of the figs, of the place. Change will do that to me. I like my routines. I like things to be settled, not in an utter upheaval of boxes and movers and wailing cats and too-long commutes and fights about paint colors and on and on and on to infinity. 

When I was in the grips of my first-world fig problem, I found myself spiraling in an inter-web black hole of fig recipes. There were chutneys, galettes, scones, salads, tarts, cookies, tapenades, jams, savouries, and so much more. This research introduced me to a concept that was totally new and somewhat astounding—you don’t have to just eat figs whole and raw and dripping with honeyed liquid; you can, in fact, use them as you would almost any other edible thing—as an ingredient

Prior to my relationship with the fig tree, figs always seemed too rare a commodity to make this approach acceptable. (At my latest appraisal, a pint of figs was a whopping $8 at Whole Foods. If youre lucky, a pint will get you six, maybe seven, figs—hardly enough for a tart, and certainly not enough for a chutney or jam.) To cook with them seemed almost sacrilege—a pity. But now I’m in a different position entirely. I’m in a veritable race against time to eat and share the figs. Everyday we have a couple for breakfast, and then I place the extras on the kitchen counter, where they slowly accumulate. In one sad moment, I composted about a dozen that we couldn’t get to or give away in time. (This may have kicked off the research to begin with.) I felt that I was letting the tree down.

Enter the savory fig tart using a previously unconscionable sixteen figs (!), along with heavy drizzles of reduced balsamic, honey, blue cheese, scattered rosemary, and thickly sprinkled Maldon sea salt. It comes together in no time and results in something sweet and savory, sticky and salty, crisp and soft, pleasantly crumbling under every bite. 

In other words, completely worth its weight in figs. 

In all of the excitement, I took only a couple of photos on my phone of the thing. Regardless, I hope you will try this tart, even if you have to spend $20 on ingredients. (You could also call me up, and I will donate a few figs to your cause.) 

The tart is best eaten—now I’m really being extravagant—with a cold glass of crisp champagne, which is something that people bring you when you move into a new house. (The perks are just endless.) Before long, Im sure my sardonic, gloomy, New York–inflected tone will be back (in life, if not here on this blog). But for now, I feel like the luckiest. 

Fig and Blue Cheese Tart 
Adapted from Dash and Bella via Food52

1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted but cold
2 tablespoons olive oil
1–2 sprigs rosemary
16–18 figs
Flaky salt (such as Maldon)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, simmered until reduced by half
1–2 tablespoons honey
Blue cheese or gorgonzola

Set out one sheet of puff pastry to defrost (I used Pepperidge Farm brand, found in the freezer aisle). In a small saucepan, simmer the balsamic vinegar for 5 to 10 minutes, until it has reduced by about half. It will have thickened.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the rosemary sprigs in a mortar and pestle, add 2 tablespoons olive oil, and crush to bruise the rosemary and release some of its oils into the olive oil.

When the puff pastry is defrosted, but still cool to the touch, roll it out on a lightly floured surface to achieve a rectangle roughly 8 by 14 inches, and 1/8 inches thick. Fold over 1/2 an inch on all sides to make a loose border. (The tart should look rustic, so don’t worry about the shape too much.)

Stem the figs and cut them all in half. Arrange them on the tart shell in haphazard rows, seed-side up. Brush the rosemary-infused olive oil over each halved fig. Sprinkle all over with flaky salt, then drizzle with the reduced balsamic and honey. Crumble the blue cheese over, to taste. (I do not skimp on this step.) Remove the rosemary from the oil and tear it over the tart.

Bake for 30–40 minutes, or until the figs are caramelized and the pastry is golden brown.

Let cool slightly, and serve warm or at room temperature. This is best the day it is made.