An Ode to the Fig: Fig Tart with Mascarpone Citrus Custard

The first and only time I ate a fresh fig in the United States was when I was 17, working at a family-owned upscale grocery store in Mystic, Connecticut.

A coworker had bought a box of four figs and was eating them on her lunch break. I had no idea what the round purple things were. I presume she was familiar with them because her parents were from the Southern US; there was no way a fig tree could have survived the winters in Connecticut without a heated greenhouse.

“You’ve never had a fig? Here, try one.”

The fleshy pink and purple mess didn’t have much taste, and I didn’t like the texture. In retrospect, I think they must have been under ripe and a bit dry.

I don’t know exactly when the passionate fig obsession kicked in, but shortly after establishing residence in Paris, in September of either 2007 or 2008, I began the habit of buying at least a kilo per week while they were in season and trying many of the fresh-fig recipes I’d collected throughout the year as long as they were available. I can’t help but eat one or two before I even get home from the market, before they’re washed. I scope the offerings up and down the market stalls to find the figs that are just perfect: dark purple, with a bit of gooey syrup oozing out from the bottom.

This year, I’ve dreamed up a recipe of my own, after reading dozens of methods for fig cakes, pies, and tarts. Enjoy!

IMG_2627

Fig Tart with Mascarpone Citrus Custard

 

Fig Tart with Mascarpone Citrus Custard

 
Ingredients
Cookie crust:
1 cup wheat flour
¼ cup almond meal
2 Tbsp white sugar
pinch of salt
70 grams (5 Tbsp.) butter, chilled, cut into cubes
1 egg yolk
2 ½ Tbsp. ice water
Filling:
1 250g (8.8oz) mascarpone cream cheese, at room temperature
¼ cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 Tbsp. orange blossom water
½ tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. maple syrup (I used Grade B)
1 tsp. chopped lemon zest
2 Tbsp. almond meal
¼ tsp. salt
Glaze:
20-25 grams (1.5 Tbsp.) unsalted butter
juice of 1 medium lemon
4 Tbsp. brown sugar
Topping:
Fresh figs: about 350 grams, or 6-8 figs
Lightly toasted slivered almonds
Method

 

Cookie crust:

Blend together the wheat flour, almond meal, and sugar in a food processor. Leaving the processor on medium speed, add the salt, and gradually incorporate the cubes of butter. Once the dough is sticky, add the egg yolk, and once it has blended in, add the ice water. The dough will quickly thicken in consistency and roll up into a ball, or a couple of large chunks.

Line a 9 inch/24 cm tart pan with wax paper and press the dough into the pan until you have an even consistency along the bottom, and have covered the sides of the pan – pressing into the crease so the dough is even all the way around. Freeze the dough for 30-60 minutes.

Preheat the oven while the dough is in the freezer to 180C/350F.

Bake the dough for 18-25 minutes, or until it is lightly browned.

Allow the dough to cool on a rack (or outside, on the windowsill!)
Filling:

Prepare the filling while the dough cools. In the (cleaned and dried) bowl of a food processor, combine the mascarpone with ¼ c sugar. Allow the mixture to come to an even consistency, and then, leaving the processor on medium speed, gradually add the rest of the filling ingredients. Once you’ve added everything, turn off the processor and check the consistency- if the mixture is not evenly mixed, pour it in a bowl and whisk manually.

When the mixture is evenly mixed (all ingredients mixed throughout and the texture is uniform,) pour the custard into the cooled tart shell and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the custard puffs up and turns golden brown.

Right out of the oven

Right out of the oven

Allow to cool for 15-30 minutes on a wire rack (or windowsill) and then at least 30 minutes in the fridge. At this point, it can sit in the fridge overnight to be finished the next day, if necessary.
Topping:

Prepare the glaze by combining the butter, lemon juice, and brown sugar in a medium saucepan on medium low heat. Let it cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, about 15-20 minutes until it thickens and forms a puffy foam.

During this time, toast about 1.5 Tbsp of slivered almonds either in a dry saucepan on medium heat, or in a 180C/350F oven, stirring occasionally, being careful not to over-brown.
Slice the figs vertically to about 1cm/one-third of an inch, removing the rough top stem. Place the figs over the surface of the custard and brush liberally with glaze. Top the tart with the toasted almonds.

Allow the tart to cool and set in the fridge for at least thirty minutes before serving.

 

Fig Tart with Mascarpone Citrus Custard

Fig Tart with Mascarpone Citrus Custard

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Sunday Soup: La Trompe-Saison

Celeriac is one of my favorite vegetables. A smooth, nutty flavor – it is filling and satisfying like a potato, but with less than half the calories and a fraction of the carbohydrates.

I usually associate it with winter – roasted in a tray with carrots and parsnips, or boiled in milk and blended into a puree. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t grow in the summer – but its flavor is so often paired with winter vegetables than with the tomatoes and eggplants of summer.

Brainstorming between the market stalls at the Marché Aligre, I decided the newly harvested celeriac would go well with radishes – still available in abundance and on sale at €2 for 2 bundles.

This summer I have experimented with adding radish and turnip greens to soups and serving them cold. First try, too stringy – I learned that you must cut the stems off and only use the leafy green part. Then, too bland – needed more salt, and a bouillon cube. The third time was the charm, with homemade chicken broth and plenty of coarse grey sea salt from Noirmoutier.

The greens need to be very thoroughly washed – I find three water baths in the salad spinner to be the bare minimum. Dirt particles and small stones stick easily to the thick leaves, which have an almost fur-like surface. I also find that the soup needs to be made the same day I purchase the radishes – otherwise, the leaves go limp and yellow in the fridge.

 Soupe Trompe-Saison

La Soupe Trompe-Saison

Ingredients:

35 grams (2 Tbsp.) unsalted butter

½ bundle or 130 grams (4.5 oz) radishes (red or white/pink)

700 grams (1.5 lbs) celeriac, skin cut off

300 grams (10.5 oz) potatoes (two medium)

1 bay leaf

500cl (2 cups) chicken stock (homemade is best!)

greens from one bundle of radishes (well-washed)

coarse grey sea salt

 

for serving:

crème fraîche

thinly sliced radishes

salt, pepper

 

Method:

  • Wash the radishes and cut them in halves or quarters, roughly
  • Melt the butter in a soup pot over medium heat
  • Soften the radishes in the butter for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. If using red radishes, the color will fade while they cook
  • Chop the celeriac into rough cubes and add to the pot. Let it sweat and soften with the radishes, 5-8 minutes
  • Once the celeriac and radishes are soft, add the potato, peeled and cut into rough cubes. Let it warm up in the pot, then cover with the chicken stock and add the bay leaf
  • Add salt to your liking: my eyeball says about 1-2 teaspoons
  • Cover the pot and let it come to a boil. Stir, reduce heat, and let cook about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft
  • Remove the bay leaf and add the washed radish greens, cooking for about 3 minutes more
  • Mix the soup with a hand blender off the heat. Serve hot with just salt and pepper, or cooled the next day with a dollop of crème fraîche, thinly sliced radishes, and salt and pepper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FiorDiFesta

Last summer, Italy beckoned. The way simple things taste in Italy blows my mind. Pizza, ice cream, coffee, tomatoes, and cheese – all held up to their highest possible standard, excruciatingly delicious. Excruciating because I’ll ask myself “Why doesn’t it taste this good elsewhere?”

I wanted to find a food festival. A celebration of wine, cheese, a specific vegetable, whatever – my only criteria were that it happen sometime between late July and mid August. After various extensive Google searches, I came up with the Fiordilatte Fiordifesta: a festival celebrating the cow’s milk mozzarella “fior di latte” in Agerola, south of Naples.

What my Parisian-American food loving brain was expecting: a regional cheese festival with samplings from different producers, perhaps explanations of why their cheese tasted different from other cheeses, milk samples, etc. Maybe there would be a cow or two, a tasting flute, a wine pairing – you see where I’m coming from.

What we got: a charming town-fair atmosphere with carnival toys for little kids, Christmas-season style lighting in the streets, and glow-stick laden teenagers. (There was also a concert by Italian pop star Umberto Tozzi, but I didn’t learn who he was until we were in the school bus shuttle from the parking lot, and a friend who went to Swiss boarding school got to singing “Te Amo” with the driver…)

FiorDiFest_Teenagers

Since this was taking place in Italy, in the country’s foremost cow-milk mozzarella-producing region, there was also excruciatingly good fair food.

FiorDiFest_Signs

The food was extremely organized: it was not a sandwich OR pasta type of festival, it was a sandwich AND pasta AND mozzarella plate AND melon AND cake type of festival. Meal tickets were sold at €10 apiece, and stands were scattered throughout the town’s main street for each of the six courses (plus wine.)

FiorDiFest_Ticket

Having eaten an enormous lunch earlier that day, my travel companions and I all shared one ticket’s worth of food.

FiorDiFest_Secondo

The food looks simple but the thickness of the pasta, the quality of the cheese and the tomato sauce, even the fried cheese balls – this is not your average fair food:

FiorDiFest_Pasta

FiorDiFest_Sandwich

After dancing the night away to Tozzi’s 30 and 40 year old hits, we scurried back to the rental car and back down the hills to Naples.