I recently purchased David Tanis’s book, A Platter of Figs. In the introduction, he talks about the idea of understanding the seasons, really understanding them, so that you always get the best out of whatever garden-grown thing you’re bringing into the kitchen.
“Do you really need a recipe for a platter of figs?” he asks. “No. Is that the point? Yes. Does it have to be more complicated than that? Not really. Yet to serve the figs you need to know about ripeness and seasonality — the seasons of the garden — and you need to know your figs. By this I mean, are they sun-ripened and bursting with jammy sweetness? Are they succulent enough to eat as is, or do they want a sprinkling of salt, a drizzle of good olive oil, perhaps a thin slice of prosciutto? A dab of fresh ricotta and honey to heighten the flavor? Or should you roast the figs with onions and thyme and serve them warm with rare-grilled duck breasts?
The platter of figs perfectly illustrates the idea of eating with the seasons. Fresh figs are only available for a few weeks in the summer. The first figs are in June, but June figs usually pale in comparison to the late-summer crop, which benefits from warm August days. As with tomatoes, you wait all year for the best figs to arrive. The reward is heavy, juicy fruit with oozing centers–sweet figs to swoon for. Above all, the platter of figs is a metaphor for the food I like. Fresh figs are voluptuous and generous, luxurious and fleeting. And beautiful.”
His book reminds me of why I wait until July to start buying doughnut peaches in earnest–even within a growing season, the taste and quality of produce is not linear. Incidentally, his book also makes me want to shop at Italian marketplaces, and put on fabulous dinner parties wherein I casually serve my guests octopus spiked with pickled onions and pimentón, or roast rabbit with mustard sauce, you know, as one does.
And every time I gaze upon the cover of the book, I want figs, in all the configurations Mr. Tanis describes. So I bought some. Here are the results. The figs I bought needed a little sugar and heat to be coaxed to a higher plane. I simmered leftover fig slices with sugar and lemon, until they collapsed into fabulous jam I slathered on buttery toast all week long.
Hazelnut muffins inspired by Nigel Slater’s Cake of Roasted Hazelnuts, Muscovado, and Coffee. Makes about 15 muffins. Wrap any leftover muffins in plastic; you can keep them on the countertop for up to 3 days. In fact, I thought the muffins were more moist and settled into themselves the morning after.
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more to grease the tin
1 cup hazelnuts
3/4 cup golden sugar
1/4 cup light muscovado sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 1/3 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 small punnet fresh figs
2 tablespoons demerara sugar
Heat the oven to 350F. Grease the muffin tin well.
Pour the hazelnuts onto a baking sheet. When the oven is warm, move the baking sheet into the oven for 10 minutes. Remove the hazelnuts from the oven, and let them cool until you can easily handle them without burning your fingers. Remove the skins from the hazelnuts; don’t go crazy, if some part of the skins are left on, it’s not the end of the world. Blitz the hazelnuts in a food processor until they are reduced to dust. Measure out 1 cup of hazelnut dust; set the remaining 1-2 tablespoons aside.
Using an electric mixer, cream the butter with the golden sugar and the muscovado sugar in a large mixing bowl for about 5 minutes, until both sugars are truly blended into the butter, and the combination is light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, until they are incorporated into the batter. Mix in the hazelnut dust.
In a small bowl, sift together the flour, the baking powder, and the salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and mix on low speed, just until the batter comes together and is smooth. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, filling each cup about 2/3 of the way to the top.
Slice each fig into thin slices, 6-8 slices per fig. Divide the fig slices evenly between the muffins, 4-6 slices per muffin. Sprinkle the demerara sugar on top of the figs, again, evenly dividing between each muffin. Finish the muffins with any leftover hazelnut dust.
Bake the muffins for 30 minutes, or until they are golden on top. Allow the muffins to cool for 10-15 minutes before removing them from the tin.