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Fig Fest 2023
September has always been my favorite month to cook in France. My local Saturday market in Arles is an embarrassment of riches. My summer favorites – riotous multicolored tomatoes, smooth shiny eggplants, drippy melons and peaches are still around, but the figs and plums are back, and the artichokes are beginning to come in from Brittany.
Anyone who has read my books knows that I have invented my very own holiday (If I don’t, who will?) to celebrate my favorite September arrival: plump juicy fresh figs. I call it Fig Fest, Figapalooza, if you prefer.
Figs. I will eat them any way I can. Cubed into yogurt and museli. Roasted with blue cheese and honey. Tossed with arugula salad and sherry vinaigrette. Whole and perfect, by the yellow light of the fridge at midnight – alas, 20 years in France has not quite cured me of midnight snacking or searching for the meaning of life in front of an open refrigerator door. But today, I thought I would pay homage to my American roots and make Figs in Blankets.
I’ve never met an adult or child who doesn’t love Pigs in Blankets. It’s something about those mini cocktail sausages, they’re just cute. When I was little, I had a giant striped beach towel that we would take to the local swim club. My two best friends and I would wrap it around ourselves and shuffle, like a six-legged caterpillar, to the snack bar. “Three bugs in a rug”, they called us. Bugs in a rug sounds gross, like an infestation. Pigs in blankets, that sounds nice. This little piggie went to market, this little piggie stayed home, this little piggie drank prosecco and fell asleep on the picnic blanket. Adorable.
I’m also a big fan of eating with my hands. In fact, finger food may become a whole subgenre on Forever in France. Almost every Friday or Saturday night since our son was born, we haul out the projector (we don’t have a TV) and watch a movie, so I’m often looking for something we can eat on the couch. Part of this is nostalgia: memories of my grandparents, a sofa bed, a Celeste frozen pizza and The Ten Commandments on TV. The other part is purely practical: if you want to finish Lawerence of Arabia (3 hours and 42 minutes plus intermission) you are definitely watching through dinner.
Like the Pigs in Blankets, eating on the sofa is a nod to my American roots. You will not catch the French eating dinner in front of a film. They take dining – and movies – far too seriously for that.
But back to the pigs. Searching for this week’s finger food, I thought to myself, what else is round, plump and belongs in a blanket? How about a fig. Sounds like a worthy experiment.
Contrary to popular culinary belief, the French don’t make everything from scratch. Just like every other culture, they have their kitchen hacks, and pâte feuilletée, puff pastry, is a big one. At every school picnic you’ll see multiple savory tarts that started life as no more than a round of puff pastry covered with sliced tomatoes and goat cheese and a sprinkle of Herbes de Provence– a working mother’s dream!
So here’s the basic idea. Cut your round (or rectangle) of puff pastry in half horizontally, cut the halves into 3-inch wide strips, and cut those strips diagonally into narrow triangles. The triangle shape is just so you can have that lovely croissant-like point on the top — not obligatory, but I think it adds a little something.
Spread a tiny bit of Dijon mustard on each strip of dough, add a strip of thin-sliced ham (cured or regular), add your fig (or half-fig if they’re large) and roll.
As you can see, the cat was unhelpful, especially with the ham bit. Bake on parchment paper at 400 for 25 minutes or until golden. The fig juices will run over the pan in a lovely sticky, gooey mess.
I won’t pretend this is more than a fancy miniature ham sandwich. But the figs do give it a certain je ne sais quoi (that’s French for wow factor). Sure, you can serve them on the couch in front of a movie, but they certainly wouldn’t be out of place at your next book club or cocktail party.
Figs in Blankets
1 round or rectangle of puff pastry
10 large fresh black figs or 20 really small ones
About a teaspoon of Dijon mustard
6 slices of ham (cured or regular), cut into thin strips
A few sprigs of fresh thyme (or a few pinches dried thyme)
Preheat the oven to 200F (400C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut your puff pastry in half, then cut the halves into 3 inch wide strips. Cut the strips diagonally into long skinny triangles. Spread each strip with a tiny dab of Dijon mustard. Top with a strip of ham. Place the fig (cut the figs in half if they are large) at the bottom of the triangle and roll. The aim is to have the point of the triangle on top. Continue with the rest of the ingredients. Place your Figs in Blankets on the cookie sheet, sprinkle with fresh thyme and bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. (In the photos I tried some with black cardamom for fun – don’t, it was not good). No worries if your figs go oozy in the oven. Goo is fine, goo is good. Serve warm or at room temperature. Bon appétit!
Makes about 20 Figs in Blankets
And so dear reader, until next week, I fly my Fig Flag proudly. Too soon I’ll have to take it down till next year, and move on to the minestrone.
Forever in France,
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