Bring Me Some Figgy Pudding!
June 17, 2004

You know, it seems like just yesterday that I was talking about full-flavored figs and lamenting that we still had a few months to go before we tasted them at full succulence. Oh, the folly of a hasty statement! Today I trained a fellow cheesemonger in on opening the freshcase -- are we seeing the progression of my career here? Once the trainee, now the trainer! -- and she ended up making the most amazing salad. The dictated recipe was pears and fromage blanc. However, my fellow cheesemonger discovered that the organic stand next door was out of pears, so she happily decided upon figs. This decision threw Organic Stand Man into a bit of a tizzy, because he's been making a lot of dosh out of his fig sales in recent days. Sadly, what he had today in those little green plastic baskets are the last of his harvest until August, and he certainly wasn't eager want to sell them to us at a wholesale price. Fellow Cheesemonger convinced him he was doing a good thing and we got our figs. We were going to pair the figs with the fromage blanc, but when I reminded her of her astounding chèvre-fig pairing of the other day, she decided to go with that. Some Marcona almonds tossed with the mâche which was so delicately dressed in a light McEvoy-based vinaigrette and can you say "Heaven on Earth?" I knew you could. Man! I kept running back to the fresh case to snatch bits of that salad all day. Finally, I packed up a small container of it and took it out for lunch.

I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if I didn't share this incredible taste sensation with my loved one. After lunch, I dashed over to the produce stand, grabbed a basket of Black Mission Figs, packed up some mâche back at the store along with half a pound of Marcona almonds and a big smear of chèvre. All I had to do was wait. And wait. And wait.

Look, until you make this salad yourself, there is really no way in the world that you can understand how perfectly balanced (which sounds like SUCH a boring word when talking about food, but it fits here, it's just a bit of an understatement) all these elements are: the figs are sweet and meaty, the almonds salty and crunchy, and the chèvre is tangy and smooth. I just love this salad so much I'm going to have to go through the trouble of putting up a picture of it we took tonight.

Fig Salad

You have to get all three elements -- plus a bit of lightly-dressed mâche -- in your mouth to get the full effect. The thing about eating this salad is that it's really hard to pierce the Marcona almonds with a fork tine. They either slip and skitter away or, if you actually do manage to puncture the almond, it shatters. Not to worry, Gentle Eater, I got around this problem just so I could bring you my noshing knowledge. See, what you do is fork up a fig quarter (they should be in quarters because halves are too much and wholes are...gauche), smear it with some chèvre and then use the chèvre smear as sticking plaster to pick up the slippery almond! Ingenious, no?

If the produce stand manages to have any more figs left by the next time I go into work, I'm grabbing some Gorgonzola Piccante from the shop and some proscuitto from the deli and running right home to make Figs in a Blanket. Dr. Mathra loves it when I bring my work home.

The other delight I carted home tonight was of the sweet, sinful, indulgent variety from miette pâtisserie. My in-laws had fallen in love with these little pastries in Paris at Ladurée, and my father-in-law calls them "hamburgers" because that's pretty much what they look like. The French, with a distinct lack of imagination, call them "macaroons," but they are definitely not the same things you buy during Passover in the kosher aisle of Safeway. These are small sandwich cookies classically made of almond paste or ground almond dacquoise with a buttercream -- or whipped ganâche -- filling. The outside part of the sandwich cookie is chewy and crispy and usually flavored to match the filling. The classic flavors are chocolate, hazelnut, strawberry, lemon and pistachio; and those are the ones I brought home -- two of each flavor for ultimate taste-testing.

The French hamburgers (God, wouldn't the whole country just drop morte if they read me describing their petit pâtisseries in such a way?!) I brought home were all very gently colored -- the strawberry was a very delicate pink, the pistachio had only the barest gauze of green, the lemon was pale yellow, the hazelnut was tan with a darker interior, and the chocolate was quite chocolate. When we once found a card at Whole Foods showcasing piles of these macaroons in a beautiful glossy photograph, all the macaroons were quite...colorful. The pink was very pink and the green was very green. Not kelly green, you understand, but unmistakably minty. These French hamburgers bore only the slightest blush of color, but what they may have arguably lacked in color, they made up for in taste.

We started with the strawberry one, because Dr. Mathra thought it might be the most subtle of the quintet. Not at all. It was so very delicious and definitely strawberry with just a touch of coolness. I'm almost ashamed to admit that it threw me back to these wafer cookies of my childhood that came in chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Although, I'm not really ashamed, because, you know, Gentle Eater, we have no secrets now. ANYway, these French hamburgers were just lovely. The pistachio could have been more pistachio-y and less almond-y, because I really didn't pick up on the former nut; but the lemon one was just like eating a slightly crunchy lemon meringue pie. It was refreshing and delicate and deeply delicious. The tip of my tongue detected the tartness before it even recognized that tartness to be of the lemon variety, and I thought that was kind of awesome. What can I say about the chocolate one? It was deep, it was dark, and it was dangerous that Dr. Mathra left his unattended for more than five seconds. I suspect that the middle layer was made with Scharffenberger's bittersweet chocolate and that the middle of the hazelnut one was made with Sharffenberger's milk chocolate. But it's just a guess.

Did I mention that miette's stuff is fully organic? What with our organic mâche, figs, almonds, chèvre, and dessert (which we ate before dinner because, well, I was tired after work and needed to fuel up before I gruelled out that time-consuming salad), we were 100% organic tonight. I always thought "organic" meant "totally and completely devoid of all taste and flavor." I'm so happy to be wrong.

Did I mention that these little French hamburgers were on discount because I was wearing my chef's jacket? By design? Hee -- that's how I work it.

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