This is a tart that came to happen by means of foraged fruits. For figs aren’t the kind of fruits a Venetian countryman or woman would ever buy. You’ll either pick them from the tree in your yard or go out on in the fields and find some there. I have been doing both, reverting to the second option as soon as our young tree was spent. Even now that the season for figs is coming to an end, I managed to gather enough fruits to try this fig tart twice. After the second attempt, having grown quite fond of its aromatic flair, I was keen to share my impressions (and the recipe) here. I hope I’m not too late, and that you can still find figs where you are, no matter whether in the wild or at the market.
Back to the foraged fruits. A few years ago, I discovered a tree not far from where my parents live and named it the secret fig tree. It’s a wide-crown specimen that was planted near the edge of a property, only to end up leaning onto the side of the road. The property had been closed for so long that if felt as if it was abandoned – the windows shut, the garden a neglected jungle of high grass and weeds. The figs drying on the branches.
The dismantled state of things encouraged me to think that I could help myself, albeit furtively, to the fruits dangling outside the fence onto the public pavement. Wasn’t it all going to waste anyway? So I parked my bike and got hold of a branch that had a couple of soft figs still attached to it. With a gentle rotating movement, I detached one and immediately felt my fingers turning sticky with sap. I pushed the purple-green skin back and popped it in my mouth at once. and then chewed in a state of trance. Now, as cliché as this might sound, it really was the most intense fig experience I’d ever had. Jammy, vaguely herbaceous, honeyed, its tiny seeds popping under my teeth, I remember thinking that it just wasn’t going to get better than that. To date, I think that that was an accurate assessment.
I filled my bicycle basket that day, even though my modest height prevented me from reaching the highest fruits. Biking back, triumphantly, briskly, sugar high, I remember thinking ‘I needed to visit my parents this time next year, and the next, and the next’. Then I moved to London, and never saw the secret tree again.
Five years forward, I went to pay it a visit it last week and was glad to see it alive and thriving. Sadly, only a few fruits remained – it mustn’t be a secret anymore – but enough for me to sample a few on the spot (I stand by my assessment: they are the best figs I’ve ever had) and to bring back a sizeable bundle to bake with. The thought of cooking those wonderful fruits felt like an aberration at first – I was tempted to eat them straight from the fruit bowl. But in retrospect, I’m glad I dared to try. This tart proved to be worth their while, and managed to make them shine in return.
The recipe is quite straightforward. It’s basically a version of a classic Italian crostata. You have pasta frolla (sugar pastry) as a base for a fruit and jam filling – in this case, figs and fig jam. Then, instead of the traditional lattice topping, you have crumbles of pastry (a streusel of sorts) and crunchy and resinous pine nuts to boot.
The wild card here is the rosemary. It might sound like a hazardous pairing, but it isn’t. In fact, its piney aroma works wonders in enhancing the aromaticity of figs. What it also does is defining the nature of this tart as quintessentially Mediterranean. Of course, you can leave it out, or replace it with cinnamon for a more autumnal take. Likewise, you can use whichever variety of figs you can find. I used black figs, but I can see those tiny green ones being just as lovely. As for the nut topping, I suspect almonds would be nice here, as would some raw pistachios. I haven’t had the chance to experiment much, but I encourage you to do so.
Fig Tart with Pine Nuts & Rosemary
For the crust:
250 g plain flour, sifted
120 unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes, plus more for greasing the pan
100 g caster sugar
Pinch of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large egg
For the filling:
700 g fresh figs, peeled and chopped
100 g fig jam
1/4 teaspoon minced rosemary leaves
50 g pine nuts
Icing sugar, for dusting
In a food processor, pulse flour, butter, sugar, salt and cinnamon together until you have a coarse, sandy mixture. Crack in the egg and carry on pulsing until it all comes together into sticky bits of dough. Tumble the dough onto a floured working surface and work it together to form a ball. Wrap it in cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour.
To make the filling, combine the chopped figs with the jam. Add the rosemary and stir to incorporate evenly. Set aside until ready to use.
Next, preheat the oven to 170°C/340°F and grease a 26cm/10 inch tart pan.
Take the dough out of the fridge. Divide it into two parts, one being about double the size than the other. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the bigger chunk of dough onto a lightly floured working surface until it’s about 2mm thick. It should also be wide enough to cover the entire surface of the pan. Delicately transfer it onto the pan and press it down to make it adhere to the base and sides. Trim off any excess. Add the fig filling and spread it evenly. Using a box grater, grate the remaining chunk of dough over the entire surface of the tart to cover the filling, and then sprinkle the pine nuts.
Bake the tart for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the pastry is light brown and crisp. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Dust with icing sugar and serve.
More fig recipes:
Turkish Yoghurt Cake with Figs
Easy Fig Cake