This time last year, the little stone terrace outside the kitchen was littered with ripe figs, the fruits squashed – the result of their long fall from the tree. Too brittle to climb – unless you happen to be a squirrel – the tree produced more fruit than I have ever known, a balm for the frustration of being unable to travel south. A year on and the terrace is spotless, the figs still green and clinging tight to their branches. There will be no scarlet glut this year.
Few of my own figs will ripen now, but no autumn is going to pass without a plate of the fruit – soft, decadent and luscious – on my table. Purple, green and somewhere in between, Turkish, Italian or locally grown, they will find their way on to plain white plates with folds of San Daniele, Bavarian speck or Iberico the colour of dried blood; they will be tucked into salads with walnuts and red chicory or simply wolfed as they are. I sometimes make a few stretch a little further by slicing and overlapping them on hot focaccia then melting a small, ripe cheese and a trickle of honey over them.
A more substantial plate this week came about when I made a batch of beanburgers, patting the paste of black-eyed beans, basil and chilli into little cakes with flour-dusted hands and frying them until their outsides crisped. We ate them for lunch with a tomato salad and some of the whole beans and basil we had set aside earlier.
Focaccia with goat’s cheese and figs
A sandwich of goat’s cheese and figs is a thoroughly good thing, but you will take it to an altogether different level if you toast it. The honey – scented with thyme and spiked with grain mustard – soaks through the hot, crisp toast. The cheese melts over the ripe figs and the whole thing becomes a gorgeous mixture of textures, sweet and savoury. Enough for 2
rosemary 2 or 3 sprigs
honey 4 tbsp
grain mustard 1 tbsp
small figs 6-8
goat’s cheese 130g
First, heat an overhead (oven) grill. Then remove the rosemary needles from their stems – you need 2 tsp of them. Chop them very finely. Put the rosemary in a small saucepan with the honey and grain mustard and place over a moderate heat, warming the honey gently, until it is liquid, then set aside.
Slice the focaccia in half horizontally to give 2 flat pieces, then place them on a grill pan or baking sheet, cut side up. Toast under the hot grill until lightly coloured and just starting to turn gold.
Brush the toasted side of the focaccia with two-thirds of the honey and mustard dressing. Slice each fig into 4 from stem to base then lay them on top of the focaccia. Thickly slice the goat’s cheese – you need about 3 slices per toast – then lay the slices on top of the figs.
Trickle the reserved honey and mustard dressing over the cheese, add a few spare thyme sprigs if you wish, and return to the grill until the cheese starts to bubble. Eat immediately.
Black-eyed bean and herb burgers
There is a somewhat worthy undertone to the word “beanburger”. To extinguish this, I find myself seasoning my little bean cakes with extreme generosity. Those I made this week were flecked with fresh herbs – basil and chives – and with the lingering heat from a spoonful of sriracha. Crisp outside and soft within, they work in a soft bun or a wrap, but also as a stand-alone dish, with a tomato salad.
Serves 3 (makes 6)
black-eyed beans 1 x 400g can
butter beans 1 x 400g can
parsley 15g (weight with stalks)
basil leaves 25g
garlic 2 cloves
sriracha 1 tbsp
olive oil 2 tbsp, plus a little extra
cherry or other small tomatoes 8
Tip the beans into a colander or sieve and rinse them under running water. Shake the beans dry then tip them into a mixing bowl.
Finely chop the chives. Remove the parsley leaves from the stalks and finely chop them, then finely shred the basil leaves. (I find the easiest way to do this is to place the leaves on top of one another, roll them tightly then shred them finely with a knife.) Add the herbs to the beans.
Peel and finely crush the garlic cloves to a paste. (I like to use a pestle with a pinch of salt.) Scrape into the beans, then season the mixture with salt and black pepper. Reserve a quarter of the mixture in a small bowl, then mash the rest with a potato masher or briefly in a food processor. Take care not to overmix. Stir in the sriracha.
Shape the mixture into 6 small patties, about 8cm in diameter, then set them on a tray in the fridge to rest for half an hour.
Thickly slice the tomatoes, toss with a little olive oil and black pepper and set aside.
Warm 3 tbsp of olive oil in a shallow pan over a moderate heat, place the patties (or as many as will fit into your pan) in the hot oil and cook for 5 or 6 minutes until golden underneath. Turn the patties over carefully with a palette knife, then cook the other side for a further 3 or 4 minutes.
Divide the tomatoes between 4 plates, then scatter the reserved beans over them and divide the cakes among them.