There was a dearth of figs in Oregon in the 1980s when I was growing up. It wasn't until a couple of years ago when I signed up for one-day cooking class at Apicius in Florence, Italy that I learned how to eat and prepare the succulent little pillows of fruit. Once I got that down, I was pounding them down like vodka shots at a Ukrainian wedding. Where had they been my whole life?
The Apicius kitchen, a spare, functional space with several stovetops, offered just enough room for 15 students to make four dishes. That June day, I joined my cooking partner, a thin, blond American woman, in making the starter. We sliced open bright green figs, pan-grilled them, rolled them in prosciutto, and placed them on baby greens dressed in balsamic vinegar and oil. The flavors of the sweet fig and salty prosciutto were a revelation.
This recipe plays on that theme, pairing sweet, pan-seared black figs with crunchy bacon, shaved parmesan, and peppery arugula.
I served this for dinner for guests recently as a first course to two of my favorite dishes: heirloom tomato pizza and roasted sweet pepper and kalamata salad. Each dish was a tasty celebration of summer.
Fresh Fig, Arugula, and Bacon Salad
5 ounces baby arugula
8 black figs
4 strips of bacon, cooked until lightly crispy, then chopped
1/4 cup shaved parmesan
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
3 parts high quality olive oil to 1 part fig balsamic vinegar (I start with about a 1/4 cup of olive oil and eye-ball the amount of vinegar)
Salt and pepper
For the dressing. Whisk together the oil and fig balsamic vinegar until it's emulsified. Add several generous grinds of salt and pepper and whisk once more.
For the figs. Slice each fig lengthwise in half. Heat a tablespoon of sunflower oil or other high-heat oil in a cast iron grill or regular pan until very hot. Nonstick pans are fine too. Place each fig flesh down in the hot oil and sear for about a minute. Flip them over and sear the skin side for 30 seconds, then remove.
For the salad. Lightly dress the arugula leaves by pouring the dressing over the leaves a few tablespoons at a time, gently massaging in the vinaigrette with your fingers, until the leaves are just barely coated. Plate the arugula, then place four seared figs halves flesh side up in the middle of each plate. Top with shaved parmesan and bacon bits. Season with salt and pepper.