But if you happen to be among the culinary cognscenti who understand just how luscious, unctuous, and utterly sensual a fresh mission fig can be on a late summer afternoon, you're nodding your head knowingly. You blush just thinking about how that velvet skin gives way to your gentle nibble, revealing wildly pink, honey-sweet flesh. Your heart beats just a little faster as you imagine the titillating crunch of tiny seeds, as the fig's heart slides satisfyingly over your palate and down your throat. You can feel yourself reaching for another tender orb, wanting, needing to experience it all again. And fast....since the magic time when figs arrive at the markets in late summer is over faster than a first kiss. (There's a crop in springtime, but I always miss it. And the summer crop supposedly ends in mid-October, but I am seldom able to find them so late.)
If you're not yet a fig fan, consider this your wake up call. Run out and hunt down whatever vendor is smart enough to sell them--your local greenmarket is a great option, my local King's also sells them for a royal ransom. Sure, you can rinse 'em and eat 'em just like that. But figs are so wondrous because of the way they make other foods sing. For breakfast, I chunk them up, fold them into thick Greek yogurt, and sit out on my deck pretending I'm in Santorini. Sliced, they are the star of the most sophisticated dessert in my repertoire: a fig-and-lemon mascarpone tart in a cornmeal rosemary crust. And notched at the top and drizzled with honey, fresh lemon juice and fruity olive oil, they are the cornerstone of an appetizer that guest after guest at my home--die-hard fig lovers and virgins alike--have variously raved about as "a salad that the best restaurants could charge big bucks for," "crazy, insanely delicious," and "so obscenely yummy it should be eaten in private." I still favor the name that came from its creator, Jamie Oliver: "The Easiest, Sexiest Salad in the World." It really is crazy simple. It showcases some of the best foodstuffs on the planet. And after you make it once, you needn't follow the recipe at all. Give it a try and I promise--you'll get lucky, even if you manage to keep your clothes on.
Fresh Fig, Mozzarella and Prosciutto Salad
6 ripe figs, black Mission preferable (not too ripe; you don't want them to be super mushy)
6 slices of prosciutto (splurge on good di Parma or something similar--a little goes a long way and this recipe is so simple, it's all about the quality of the ingredients).
1/2 pound fantastic mozzarella, torn into strips (I get mine from my local Italian grocer while it's still warm and practically pulsating; you can also do very well with a hunk of beautiful buffalo mozzarella. Just don't use that rubbery stuff from the supermarket.)
Healthy handful of green or purple basil
For the Honey and Lemon Juice Dressing
1 Tbsp good honey
6 Tbsps extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsps lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Putting It All Together:
Cut a criss-cross in the tops of the figs, but not quite to the bottom, and then, using your thumb and forefinger, squeeze the base of the fig to reveal the inside.
Place the figs on a beautiful serving plate and weave the slices of prosciutto around and among the figs. Intersperse this perty arrangement with strips of mozzarella and the ripped up basil. Drizzle honey, making sure each fig has some in the the middle, then sprinkle the olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper over all. Or mix all the dressing ingredients together in a bowl and season, to taste, then drizzle everything with the honey-and-lemon-juice dressing.