The funniest and sweetest memory I have of figs involves my aunt Luciana’s German Shepherds, Orso and Jgor, who joined the family one after the other, as in: when Orso went over the rainbow bridge, Jgor came along. Never mind the weird spelling of Jgor’s name, it came with the pup, and I am just as mystified. Both sweet fluff balls to begin with, they each became just a little unpredictable in their mild aggressiveness once full grown. And it was very interesting for me to observe how they had exactly the same personality, with the exact same likes and dislikes.
One of the things they both loved were figs. There are two really old trees in my family’s garden, one of green figs and one of purple ones, both yielding an incredible abundance of really sweet and juicy fruit, possibly more than we could manage to gather. Over the years jams have been made and lots of figs have been eaten and shared with family and friends. The birds and the bees have also had their share, as have our dogs, though none more than Orso and Jgor. They would scout the ground under the trees for fallen figs, and even pick their own from the lower branches. They were guaranteed to show up when one of us headed out with a basked during fig season, and then wear their Yoda capes as they focused their mental powers on us: “You will toss me a fig, or two, or five.” Their catching abilities were worthy of Bruce Lee. Balls were cool, but figs were way cooler.
Jgor is also over the rainbow bridge now and, for all of his weird personality, I know he is very much missed. I cannot buy or eat figs without thinking of him and Orso eagerly waiting under the fig tree.
I prepared and photographed this recipe during my latest visit to my family in Italy. It was originally intended for my cookbook, but I decided to share it with you here and now. It is fig season after all, at least in the northern hemisphere. It turned out to be a girls lunch, as my dad was still in the hospital and not due home for another couple of days. So it was just my mom, my aunts Luciana and Adriana – yes, the same ones whose stories and recipes I have been sharing here and there – myself, and my mom’s personal desperado: her dog Snura. And since we seem to have dogs in this post, it is only fair that I share his mug here as well.
Back to the figs and our recipe: originally the plan was to wrap the figs in prosciutto, but once at the grocery store I opted for speck instead. Speck, produced in the Italian region Trentino Alto Adige, is similar to prosciutto but it is smoked, adding another layer of flavor to the experience, at least for me. I prefer speck to prosciutto, maybe because I have had so much prosciutto over the years, but also because I do love smoked flavors like speck, smoked salmon, kalua pork et such.
This is not exactly a recipe, because the ingredients are obvious just by looking at the images. I will list what I used and what I did, and you can adjust the doses and make variations as you please.
SPECK-WRAPPED GRILLED FIGS
– fresh, ripe figs, green or purple as you like
– thinly sliced speck: if the figs are largish (like the ones in the photos) you will need one slice per fig; if they are tiny, like the ones sometimes available in grocery stores, half or a third of a slice will be enough
– green salad of choice – I used what in Italy is called soncino and here I find as Machê
– sea salt
– extra-virgin olive oil
– good quality balsamic vinegar, the kind that is a little thick and a little sweet
The list of ingredients is short, and the procedure instructions are even shorter. This is a really easy recipe, but it is drooling good!
1. Wash the figs and pat dry. Trim off the top pinched end, then make a cross incision, cutting about halfway down the figs. This will help the cooking process as well as release the juices.
2. Wrap the figs in the sliced speck, overlapping and pressing to adhere.
3. Place the figs standing up on the hot grill pan and cook for several minutes, pressing down occasionally with a metal spatula. Turn them upside down and do the same on the other side. Juices will run and caramelize, and the speck will crisp. That day i worked in my mom’s kitchen and used one of those electric grills with top-and-bottom platters that can either lay flat, doubling the space, or fold up book style. If you have one of those it will save you time and work, as it will cook both sides at the same time, as well as add the pressure that you would add manually with the spatula.
4. In the meantime, place the green salad in a bowl and dress it with a vinaigrette made with the sea salt, extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The amounts will depend on how much salad you will have to dress. I hope you have this figured out by now.
5. Distribute the salad on the serving plates, top with a few grilled figs each and serve while the figs are still hot – but they are good also cooled. Enjoy!
This dish makes for a great appetizer, though we ended up making a meal of it, adding only a dessert and, of course, a light red wine. It is definitely perfect for bbq parties, and can even work for picnics and potlucks if served at room temperature.
If you are a vegetarian, you can grill the figs without the speck and add pieces of burrata to the salad, or maybe pieces of brie or a mild goat cheese.
What I would like to know is: do you have dogs? What are their little foibles and idiosyncrasies? Do they like figs or other fruits? Feel free to share your stories in the comments. I am a total dog person and never tire of either talking about mine or hearing about yours.
Talking about which: mine are hungry now, and making cute sounds and faces to remind me that it is way past lunch time.
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This article was originally published on September 2, 2013 in my Food Journey blog, which I am in the process of integrating here.