I had always been upset with my displeasure for the taste of fresh figs, thinking that, how can I be a true queen of all things sensuous if I cannot indulge willingly in eating the most historically provocative fruit? I mean, figs: they are contoured to a woman’s cures, and the inside is so seedy, so fleshy, that one cannot help but feel as if they’ve committed a cardinal sin in biting into it. The firm flesh, the seductively silky interior. It’s a shockingly erotic combination.
So, being a fiend for beauty and all of its sinful little minions, I could never reconcile the distaste I had for this fruit with the image I had of eating them. The only fresh figs I had had were sour, rank, flavorless, industrial, plastic. Not like how they look. The ultimate deception. A book with a beautiful cover and a crappy story.
But, yesterday, I saw a beautiful flat of fresh figs at the natural market nearby in Fremont and decided I would jump in, head first. Make myself love them. How could I not? They represent everything I advocate: late, wine-soaked lunches on sultry Meditteranean avenues, ancient Provencal men complete with newsboy caps and baguetted bicycle baskets, the fruit dangling like a jewel from a tree that provides the most sensuous shade. A fruit with a Franco-Italian accent: an available exoticism.
Toting my box of figs home, I examined them, my new project (next to fully understanding species counterpoint , orchestration, and expanding my symphonic knowledge). An image flashed of last summer, on the Amalfi coast in Italy, of gigantic green figs with magenta organs being devoured by some singer friends of mine on the cobblestone street. Those probably taste like what figs should taste like, I told myself, and vowed to go to the market the next day to buy them; but they were gone, elusive, fleeting, like a mirage of the perfect romance. The one that got away.
That was my fig. You can see how loaded this subject is for me.
When I got home, I selected the plumpest, most inviting of the figs, closed my eyes (and then opened them, wanting to see the pretty magenta), and brought the fig to my lips.
And it was everything I had ever imagined it would be. Sweet, like lavender honey, with a slight crunch of the seeds, a crispness, and a sour tautness of the skin that came together like all the elements of a Ravel orchestration.
You can imagine my euphoria at realizing that the only figs I had previously were bad figs – that was the deception! Which, much to my delight, was completely concurrent with my fig fantasy. How romantic. The fruit that, completely mysteriously, not linked to look, smell, or feel, can either send you to the sky with pleasure, or make you burn with anger. This was my kind of fruit.
As of now, I am enjoying these figs raw, unadultered, just as they are, considering I am without kitchen for the next week. And who knows how long the season of sensuous figs lasts – quite short, I would imagine, so perhaps its best to just enjoy them in their naked beauty, with a bit of fresh goat or sheep cheese just to make it extra special. Throw on a little balsamic reduction, a barefoot picnic, and a glowing afternoon sun and you have the exact situation in which I hope to live the rest of my life.
But, since I can’t cheat you out of a recipe, here’s one I developed a while ago. It uses dry figs, since they have a higher sugar content that brings in a bit of a headier flavor (and they’re available year round, and, unromantically, reliably delicious). It’s an interesting pasta, not for the faint of heart. Give it a shot. I have black mission figs in the recipe but gold Calmyrnas would probably be quite an interesting twist.
And because this is the Culture Queen, how can I leave you without a synergy of the senses? The logical composer to pair with figs is, of course, the illustrious and flamboyant Frenchman, the person that I first hope to see my first Friday night in heaven, Francis Poulenc. His music is the perfect balance of playful, anti-romantic humor, neo-classical craft, and pure, delicious aesthetic. Undoubtedly there will be a post to come exclusively devoted to Poulenc, my boo, the love of my life.
This particular piece is one I’m singing at my senior recital next year, and in fact, you can find a recording of me singing it last year in Italy on youtube. I’m pleased with my performance so I wouldn’t be bothered if you looked it up, but for now, I’m giving you my uncontested favorite singer of all time, Elly Ameling. She sings it with pure brilliance.
First the recipe:
spicy linguine with figs and lemon
1 package dried figs
white wine, hot water
olive oil and walnut oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon chile flakes
3/4 cup greek yogurt
zest of 1 ½ lemon
juice of 1 lemon
tablespoon each of olive oil and walnut oil
small handful of mint, chopped
¼ cup chicken stock (more or less, depending on desired consistency of sauce)
½ cup grated parmiggiano reggiano cheese
whole wheat linguine
Chop the figs in halves or thirds. Soak the dried figs in white wine and a little hot water, until slightly plump.
While the figs are soaking, stir the greek yogurt, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, walnut oil, and mint together in a small bowl.
Heat the olive and walnut oils over medium heat in a pan big enough to hold the sauce and the pasta. When hot, add the garlic and sauté until slightly softened. Add the chile flakes. When fragrant, add the figs and soaking liquid. Cover and cook until figs are softened, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat water and cook pasta according to package directions.
While pasta is cooking, add the yogurt mixture to the figs. Cook until bubbling to meld the flavors. Add enough chicken stock to thin the sauce to desired consistency.
When pasta is cooked, drain, and add to the fig sauce. Stir until combined and add half the parmiggiano. Serve remaining cheese at table with pasta.
Now the music: