Sunday, August 19, 2007
Weekend Cookbook Challenge # 19 - Broiled Figs
These two Marcel Pagnol novels were adapted for the screen by Claude Berri, who also directed the films, and Gérard Brach. They are cautionary tales with biblical undertones that are set against the backdrop of what is often today still regarded as paradise: Provence.
This, however, is not the Provence most of us know. Its endless golden, rolling hills - often the epitome of Summer - are, here, the setting for greed, captured in the landscape through drought and unabating heat. In Jean de Florette, Gérard Dépardieu, playing the titular role of the hunchback, arrives in the provençale countryside with his loyal wife and adventurous daughter, after having inherited a large plot of land with a water source. What he doesn't know is that the spring has been sealed by his neighbours, the dim-witted though single-minded Ugolin (Daniel Auteuil) and avaricious entrepreneur César Soubeyran (exquisitely portrayed by Simone Signoret's husband, the elegant Yves Montand). The neighbours help the well-intentioned tax collector-cum-organic farmer to his ruin with the expectation of purchasing his land for their carnation venture. Manon des Sources sees Jean's daughter, Manon (portrayed by then ingénue, now international film star, Emmanuelle Béart) exacting vengeance on the conspirators.
This isn't meant to put you off your food, of course, for the landscapes are stunning, as are the village scenes: the farmers gathering in sunlit cafés despairing at their poor harvests, afternoon pastis under the shade of leafy trees, the gentlemen playing pétanque in the town square...In this oppressive Californian heat, and I proffer in any temperature, it is easy to be romanced by the azures and yellow ochres of la vie provençale.
The location of the source of life, as in the Garden of Eden, is amongst life-affirming trees. In this case, it is the fig tree. To eat while watching this film, I, thus, offer baked figs. This, to my mind, is the best way to have figs if one is to do anything to them - that is to say, not have them right off the tree. My usual additions to this Nigella Lawson recipe are a tart berry - this time red currants - and thyme (though, today, I couldn't find any in the fridge or on the spice rack; if you happen to have some, chuck in a tablespoon of fresh thyme or half a tablespoon of dried thyme). My substitution, as seems to be typical this Summer, is pistachios for almonds.
(Closely following Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer, in which they are described as Figs for A Thousand and One Nights)
12 Turkish or Mission figs (if medium-to-large, otherwise add more, as I did)
1/4 cup/55g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon vanilla sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons rosewater
1 1/2 teaspoons orange-flower water
4 stems red currants
2 1/4 cups/510g mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1) Quarter the figs without pushing your paring knife through the base of each fig. The key is to leave them open-mouthed. Place them cosily in a baking dish that can withstand the heat of the broiler.
2) Melt butter in a saucepan before adding the cinnamon, sugar, and garden-scented waters. Stir to combine and pour over the figs.
3) Pull red currants from their stems with the tines of a fork and scatter over the figs.
4) Fire up the broiler, and once it is fierce, put the figs under it and blister them for a few minutes.
5) Serve figs with a dollop of mascarpone and strew with almonds.
Not only does this capture the heat of Provence, where figs are abundant, but its magical properties, by way of the waters, lift one on the cloudless skies of Summer. This is the perfect dish to which one should watch the exquisite Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring. After the viewing, knock back a pastis and contemplate the philosophical debates addressed in these films.
What does it taste like, Shaun?
Haven't watched Jean De Florette for an age. Must see if I can track it down.
Sara - I'm glad you got a rest from hosting WCC. As you know, it is my favorite blog event, so participating is always a great pleasure.
Susan - We are of the same pod, you and I. These, too, are some of my very favorite things. While in New Zealand, I missed the dried figs that are offered at the Long Beach farmers' market when figs aren't in season. Figs themselves are very expensive in NZ, so I have been enjoying the glut of them found all over the place at present. A great friend of mine makes a compote from the yield off her tree, and this year is trying a new recipe that requires shallots and port. I would have saved some of these for you, but...
Kelly-Jane - This is one of my very favourite Nigella recipes. It works on every level for me - taste, smell, appearance...This is the perfect quantity of flowery waters, which is partly absorbed by the figs, imparting an ethereal and complex flavour.
Lucy - These are a dream, and I hope when the season is favourable where you are, that you give them a go. They are perfect Summer bites, any time of the day, except maybe breakfast, unless it is a late one. I hope you can find Jean de Florette; it is a great film.