I often spend summers in Italy. In the evenings, when the vine- ripening summer sun begins to soften and the incessant squeak and rattle of the plough eventually dies, I usually clamber up the nearby hill, meandering across the crest. On one of my walks, I headed towards the nearby palazzo, along the path bordered by Cyprus spears.
Lizards basking in the heat still held by the pale ochre walls scuttled away at my footsteps, and a green shutter creaked in the mild breeze.
The knobbed tree in front stood with its arms filled with waxy green dewdrop-like figs, nodding gently like a recently metamorphosed Ovidian nymph. I reached to tug at a branch, and a cluster melted softly off it. The pink juices dripping down my fingers, I gathered two handfuls and made my companion fill his pockets with the good intention of bringing some back for others to try.
As so often happens, the thoughtful food gift didn’t reach its destination (I ate it), but I went back the next day, and the next. I was converted from someone with a slight aversion to figs to an obsessive.
This salad combines the earthy lusciousness of figs with caramel to add depth and sticky sweetness to the dish. This contrasts with the fresh tanginess of oranges – blood oranges are currently in season so are fantastic to use – and the saltiness of the feta and peppery rocket leaves.
The dressing is fresh, sweet, salty and savoury, tying all the elements together.
Ingredients Serves 2 (or 4, as a side)
8 figs, halved
50g caster sugar
juice of 1 orange
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses (substitute with balsamic vinegar, if necessary)
¼ tsp salt
2 oranges, peeled and sliced into 1/2 cm discs
100g feta, sliced into ½ cm cubes
- Place a shallow frying pan over a medium/high heat, pour in sugar and allow to melt, stirring occasionally to prevent it from burning.
- Place halved figs face down in the molten sugar and cook in the caramel for 2 minutes. Turn them over to cook for a further 1 minute. Remove from pan and place on serving plate.
- For the dressing, pour the orange juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pomegranate molasses into the caramelised sugar pan and stir until the caramelised sugar has dissolved into the liquid. Remove from stove and stir in lemon juice.
- Scatter rocket, orange slices and feta on the serving plate with the figs and drizzle with the dressing.
Inspired by Ottolenghi