Sunday, August 19, 2007


Weekend Cookbook Challenge # 19 - Broiled Figs

This month's Weekend Cookbook Challenge, started and maintained by Sara at one of my daily blog addictions - i like to cook - is being hosted by Paige at The instructions are just as I like them: loose - make a dish of any description to pair with a DVD of a movie or tv show. It didn't take me long to decide what to watch because MGM recently reissued a double-billing: Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring.

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.

Broiled Figs
(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.

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You know I've never had figs before and I feel as if I am missing out on some serious deliciousness.

What does it taste like, Shaun?
Both the movies and the figs sound wonderful! Thanks for taking part in WCC Shaun, I am always so glad to see you there.
Figs, rosewater, orange-flower water, mascarpone - Shaun, these are some of my VERY favorite things. I am sure these blistering beauties are long since gone. They are a perfect fit for the fine French films you have recommended.
I love Nigella's figs, it was probably the name that made me try them, but now it's the lovely aromatic sweet flavours, yum.
Shaun, these are sun-drenched and gorgeous. Things of real and very seductive beauty.

Haven't watched Jean De Florette for an age. Must see if I can track it down.
Cynthia - I guess it depends on the figs you choose, for some are more honeyed in flavor while others I have tried have faint smokey undertones. Some also yield more liquid, like a watery plum, whereas others release little juice, however thick. Some people don't like the graininess of the interior, but I barely notice it at all. In their entirety, I find the combination haunting yet succulent, perfect in Summer and Fall.

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.
Ah Shaun - delicious. I haven't checked in for a while. Holidays and then just settling back into a routine.... I love Nigella's recipe for figs, it is possibly one of my favourites. I've just been planning a fig recipe for SHF, using the flavours from the recipe.
Amanda - Yes, Nigella's recipe is really well constructed, accentuating the flavour of the figs, making it more complex and delicious with the flower waters. I love the tartness of the red currants and the toasty quality of the almonds that I added as well. It made for a very flavourful dessert. I'm glad you are settling back into a routine...It is nice to be on auto-pilot sometimes.





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