When I read “Under the Tuscan Sun”by Frances Mayes, one of the things that stayed with me was a description of how a fig is pollinated. A tiny little male wasp is so drawn to the charms of a fig blossom that he crawls up inside and is trapped there, giving us a fig in the process. He dies for his love. Love and tragedy, life and creation all playing out in an orchard.
What is produced from this sacrifice is a fruit that, in its full ripeness, has a sweetness and fragrance that inspires my love. I love it best, though, when it is paired with other flavours. Honey, Prosciutto, Pears, flavourful cheeses, and salty almonds all combine with the fig to produce something that is better than the components are by themselves. An example of true synergy!
And then there is Honey- that golden, sweet miracle of nature. Did you know that the teaspoon of honey you so blithely stir into your tea is roughly the sum total of one bee’s whole life’s work-of hours and hours spent buzzing from flower to flower gathering the nectar to be distilled into golden treasure? They are up from dawn to dusk working away while the other creatures sleep and play. I think the old fable should have been called the Grasshopper and the Bee- not the Grasshopper and the Ant.
Unfortunately, as our respect for nature and her ways seems to dwindle, the honeybee is facing some real problems with Colony Collapse Disorder ,various mites, pesticides and GMOs. It will be a true miracle to see them survive our impositions. Feral hives and those kept organically seem to be in better shape- and what does that tell you? I hope someday to be a patient caretaker of bees and somehow help them to survive- until then I am grateful for those who treat them with respect and care.
We need our pollinators more than ever. There are more and more crops that are being affected by the decline in pollinator population. The almond shortage a few years ago springs to mind. So, if you love food and want the bounty of nature give a little healthy respect to those winged workers passing you by instead of spraying or swatting at them. I am a moderate person- I try to take care to be practical and reasonable and at the same time I think that nature is an interconnected miracle and it is in our best interest to work within her systems instead of trying to subdue her.
Now -off of my soapbox and onto a very delish tart that features some of the fruits of these helpful pollinators:
Honeyed Fig, Almond, Pear Tart with Cream Cheese and Marzipan
- 1/2 recipe of Fast Puff Pastry (recipe follows), chilled and rolled to 1/4 inch thick rectangle
- 5 pears, peeled and sliced lengthwise- use a variety you like
- 1/2 Cup Honey, again use a variety you like
- 1 pint figs, stems and bottoms removes and cut into quarters
- 1/2 cup raw almonds, chopped coarsely
- 2 Tablespoons Pear brandy or Poire William
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- a pinch each of cassia cinnamon and cloves
- 1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
- 1 Teaspoon salt, divided
- 4 ounces Organic Marzipan
- 4 ounces Cream cheese, softened
- 2 Tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
- milk or egg for brushing and sealing
- 2 Tablespoons of regular or vanilla sugar – (store cleaned, vanilla beans as you use them in granulated white sugar in a sealed container- great in baked goods and your morning coffee.)
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Roll out the puff pastry quickly into a large rectangle or circle. Roll out the marzipan to 1/4 in thick, place in center. Spread cream cheese over marzipan. Mix pears, honey, lemon juice, vanilla extract, pear brandy, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, cinnamon and cloves. Using a slotted spoon spread pears over cream cheese, leaving approximately 1-1/2 inch border around edge of pastry. Pull up edges of pastry leaving center open and pinch to seal. Place fig quarters evenly on top of the pears and sprinkle with chopped almonds. Pour over a little of the juice form the pears but not too much or you’ll have a mess. Dot with butter. Brush pastry with milk or beaten egg and sprinkle with 2 Tablespoons of regular or vanilla sugar mixed with remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Bake 45-60 minutes or until puffed, lightly browned, and fragrant. Don’t under-bake or your puff pastry will collapse. Enjoy warm with a little vanilla ice cream or Creme Anglaise or at room temperature.
Quick Puff Pastry
- 2 cups pastry flour
- 2 cups (4 sticks) cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 cup ice water
Sift the flours into a bowl or onto a table surface. Drop in the cubes of butter and coat with flour. Make a well in the flour mixture. Dissolve the salt in the water and pour into the well. Combine all ingredients to form a loose, shaggy mass. On a floured surface, roll the dough into a 1/2-inch-thick rectangle. With the rectangle arranged horizontally on the work surface, fold both the right and left sides into the center, so they meet like an open book and create a neat seam. Fold up the sides as if closing a book. Turn the pastry so the “spine” side is to the left. Roll out the dough to a 1/2-inch-thick rectangle and repeat Step 4 two or three times, allowing the dough to rest 30 minutes in between each fold. Roll out the dough again before use as recipe directs. Makes about 2-1/2 pounds of puff pastry, use half for the tart above.
Make Figgy Piggy Palmiers with the rest:
- 1lb 4oz puff pastry
- 1 jar Fig jam
- 6 slices Prosciutto
- 1/2 Cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Roll the puff pastry out quickly to a 10 x14 rectangle. Spread with Fig jam, lay on the Prosciutto, sprinkle 1/2 of the cheese. Roll from each long side towards the middle, leaving 2 inches in center. Fold in half, one side over the other like a book. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm. Preheat the oven to 375F. Slice “logs” in 1/4 slices and place on parchment lined baking pan. Bake for 10 minutes. You can lay another piece of parchment on top to keep them flat. Enjoy!
The tart is my contribution to Sugar High Friday#35- The beautiful Fig hosted this month by Ivonne at Cream Puffs in Venice. Check out her beautiful blog while you enjoy the tart!