Like most Americans growing up in the 70’s, my only contact with a fig was in the form of a Newton. I didn’t even know what a fig was, much less what it looked like or tasted like (unlike S. who grew up in Louisiana and had daily access to fresh figs right in his maw-maw’s front yard). Flashback to June of 2000, when I, along with my new francophile friends, Wendy, Norma and Norma’s 14 year-old daughter Brianna, spent three weeks in a gîte near St. Rémy de Provence. We had just spent our first night in the region in a lovely old chambre d’hôte near Les Baux de Provence (where Wendy and I sealed our friendship by battling a terrifying creature in our room that night, most likely a cicada, unknown to us then). Wandering the grounds of this lovely property (whose name is completely lost to me now) , Wendy encountered an unusual fruit tree along with a cute old Frenchman. “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” she pointed and asked. “Mais c’est une figue,” the cute old man replied as he yanked it from the tree and offered Wendy a bite. Needless to say there were many fig tastings that summer along with other culinary discoveries such as tapenade (that delicious Provençal black olive spread), Cavaillon melons draped with jambon du pays at the Fête du Melon (where I also learned the French word for cotton candy, le Barbe à Papa, or Daddy’s Beard–isn’t that charming?), giant pans of Paella at the St. Rémy Bastille Day Festival and the now familiar Caprese Salad. Though these dishes show up regularly these days, this was over a decade ago and we weren’t foodies yet. Provence does that to you.
Flash forward to present day Ann Arbor, Sparrow Market to be exact, and I can’t even look at a fig anymore without saying, sometimes out loud(to my embarrassment) , “C’est une figue” in memory of that sweet old Frenchman. I’d been eyeing them for a couple of weeks when finally I had to buy them. Thankfully, Bitty once again provided an easy solution for my impulse buy with his suggestion to grill them with chicken and prosciutto Et voilà, it couldn’t have been easier–or tastier. I served Donal Skehan’s Roast Pumpkin Salad as a side and in doing so discovered my new favorite vegetable–have you ever roasted a pumpkin before? So delicious and easier than it sounds. This meal truly had one foot in summer and one in fall, which is pretty much how we’ve been living here in Southeast Michigan lately. No complaints from me. It’s been lovely.
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express and Donal Skehan’s Kitchen Hero.
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts (why must they come in packs of three and not four?)
1 tsp. each chopped fresh rosemary and sage
3 slices prosciutto
1 pint mission figs, halved
1/2 tsp. each kosher salt and pepper
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Cover the chicken breasts with plastic wrap and pound until they are a 1/4″ thick. Rub with kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, the chopped herbs and drizzle with the olive oil. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat and brush with the rest of the olive oil. Add the breasts and grill about 4 minutes on each side or until cooked through. During the last minute of cooking, lay the prosciutto on top of the breasts to warm. Remove to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Unfortunately the prosciutto changes to a lighter, almost grey, color when heated but not to worry–it tastes fantastic! Next add the sliced figs to the pan, along with another brush of olive oil, and grill them for about 4 minutes, turning once. The figs will soften slightly and carmelize to a lovely color, which will cover up that not so lovely prosciutto when served. Drizzle with about a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar (which I forgot to do and didn’t miss, but Bitty suggests it).
For the salad:
1 medium-sized pumpkin, about 2 lbs. (or use butternut squash, available pre cut these days)
1/4 c. pine nuts or walnuts, toasted
1/4 c. crumbled goat cheese (or feta)
1 bag baby spinach
For the dressing:
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. honey
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
sea salt and black pepper
Preheat oven to 425°. Cutting the pumpkin may seem daunting if you’ve never done it before. I treated it like a cantaloupe, quartering it, then slicing into eighths, scooping out the stringy inside bit, and finally slicing it from the peel with a large kitchen knife. Place slices on a foiled baking sheet and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Using your hands, toss to coat. Roast for about 40 minutes or until slightly blackened around the edges. At this point, try not to eat it all before adding it to the salad!
While the pumpkin is roasting, whisk the dressing ingredients in a large bowl and add the spinach. Toss to coat. Once the pumpkin is done roasting and slightly cooled, add to the salad along with the toasted pine nuts and goat cheese.
I didn’t get a good picture of this salad since we gobbled it up too quickly. Here’s the one in Donal’s cookbook.
Since that long ago summer in Provence, there have been other memorable trips (and dinners) with Wendy, Norma and others: to Burgundy, the Dordogne, Rome and of course our first love, Paris. But like your first kiss, you don’t forget your first trip to Provence.