In late August the most luscious black Figs usually arrive from France. Many fig trees, when grown in the hot and dry conditions of a long summer, produce two crops a year. The first fruits, known as breba, develop in Spring on the previous year’s shoot growth and are harvested in early summer. The second crop develops mostly on current season stems. These fruits, grown at the hottest time of year ripen in late summer into autumn and have an unparalleled honeyed sweetness.
The fig is a member of the Mulberry family and is more flower than fruit; being a fleshy flower base that has folded in on itself. The inner female florets develop into small individual dry fruits that crunch like seeds. They contain a surprisingly large amount of calcium for a fruit. Notable European fig varieties include Black Ischia, (dark purple in colour with golden flecks and a luscious violet-red pulp); Adriatic, (a green fig tinged with purple or red with deep red interior); and the sweet Marseilles, (coloured yellow/green with green flecks and a white pulp).
The honeyed quality of their flesh means figs are not only good for desserts but match beautifully with savoury ingredients like anchovies, poultry and air-dried meats. They pair equally well with pungent creamy cheeses like Gorgonzola or Stilton, or a milder soft goat’s cheese. Thyme is a herb that mingles happily with figs. For a sweet end to a meal, they are delicious just as they are – particularly if they are so luscious they have begun to split - but they go well with chocolate, nuts and orange and spices like aniseed, cinnamon and vanilla. Less ripe ones are delicious baked in the oven in red wine, sugar and spices and maybe a little orange zest too. And don’t forget, figs make wonderful chutneys and jams.
This recipe is a seasonal marriage of green beans and figs, both of which are at their best at the same time. You could use Runner Beans, French Green Beans, or the Bobbi Bean variety. If all you want is those beautiful figs, I can’t think of anything better than to cut them in half and eat with a spoonful of ripe Gorgonzola.
Salad of Green Beans and Figs
300g Runner Beans or Green beans or Bobbi Beans
4 ripe figs
1 good handful of Rocket leaves
60g Parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler
1 tablespoon Moscatel vinegar
1 teaspoon runny honey
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Mix the Dressing ingredients.
Bring a pan of water to the boil and salt it. Top and tail (and slice if using Runners) the beans. Add to the water, bring back to the boil and cook for 2-3 minutes until the beans still have a little bite. Drain, plunge into cold water (to retain the colour) then dry on kitchen paper.
When ready to serve, re-emulsify the dressing, toss the beans in it then divide them between four plates. Briefly place the rocket leaves in the dressing left in the bowl then add to the plates. Quarter the figs and arrange on the plates. Add the shaved parmesan and pour over any remaining dressing.