I came across the first round of truly beautiful looking figs the other day in one of my favorite markets on the Upper West Side. While for me the waning summer days are always a prelude to the beginning of class in the fall, these last warm months are also the grand finale of summer fruits. Blueberries, blackberries, figs and plums dominate the palette with their deep hues of purple and mauve. So when I saw these baskets of figs, I bought two. The first I ate out of hand, popping the tiny, edible seeds between my teeth. For the second basket, I wanted to make something that would highlight the figs, rather than force them into a supporting role next to, say, lamb or chicken.
I settled on Judy Rodgers's Prosciutto with Warm Roasted Figs & Hazelnut Picada because 1) I already had some hazelnuts in the pantry and 2) it gives the figs primary billing. Rodgers acknowledges the Catalan origins of the picada. It is classically conceived of as a paste of nuts, breadcrumbs and herbs held together by oil. However, here, Rodgers thinks of the picada as a condiment, rather than as a thickening agent for stews and sauces, as it is used in Catalonia.
By the way, how luck am I that I can get actual Prosciutto di Parma in my little local store, just a few blocks down? You know, the kind actually from Parma!
Prosciutto with Warm Roasted Figs & Hazelnut Picada
8 small black Mission figs, halved
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoon picada (follows)
4-6 ounces thickly sliced prosciutto
Coat the fig halves with olive oil and place on a cookie sheet, cut-side up. Broil until the figs are warmed all the way through and are starting to caramelize, about 3-5 minutes. While still warm, sprinkle a bit of picada on each half and plate the figs among the slices of prosciutto. Serve.
For the Picada (makes 1/2 cup)
1 cup olive oil, for frying
1 ounce chewy peasant-style bread, in 1/2 inch thick slices
1/4 teaspoon orange or mandarin zest
1 very small garlic clove, or half of a larger one
4 small mint leaves
Pour the oil into a small skillet to a depth of 1/2 inch and set over medium-low heat. To test for the correct temperature, dip a piece of bread in the oil. If it sizzles slightly, reduce the heat a bit and add the bread in a single layer. I also noticed that the oil was ready at just about the same time as it was becoming fragrant. Fry each side of the bread for 2-3 minutes until the bread is a nice light caramel color. Remove the bread and cool on paper towels.
Toast the hazelnuts in a 325 degree oven for about 15 minutes until the skins begin to crack. Remove the skins and finely chop the nuts. Break the now cool bread into chunks in a
paper bag and use a rolling pin to crush it into crumbs. Finely chop the rest of the ingredients and combine it all together. Taste, and add extra salt if necessary.
Oh, this is so good. No, really. I mean, this is so good. As I was sitting there eating it (ravishing it, actually). I found it absolutely divine when the prosiutto was wrapped around the very hot picada-coated fig so that the heat from the fruit could melt the prosciutto a bit. Really take her advice and be careful with the garlic, because it is raw. And let me tell you, raw garlic and cooked garlic are not the same thing. But this dish is just so flavorful. Let' see, who should I share with...