Roasted Black Figs, Lavender, Honey, Walnuts
The postcard Provencal scene is a field of lavender – row upon row of flowering purple, disappearing towards the horizon. Some of these famous fields, as it happens, are not far from where we were staying, but all completely over-run with tourists, crouching with their cameras among the bushes, trying to replicate the postcard picture! My own take on the cliché is culinary instead - left to infuse a while in some honey, the lavender in this dish seems to deliciously scent more than flavour the roasted figs.
On the question of figs, you can use any sort you have on hand, but I love the elegant elongated shape of the small black figs that are ubiquitous in summertime Provence.
With regard to honey, because we will be flavouring this with the lavender flowers, it’s best to use a neutral variety as opposed to anything with a strong flavour of its own.
Walnuts in their shells are a recent obsession of mine – worth the extra bother with a nutcracker I promise! Once shelled and packaged, they seem to me to immediately to lose their flavour and become musty.
Finally, I could not decide whether I preferred this dish as dessert or a kind of cheese course, so I’ve included pictures of both sweet and savoury options. Choose one, or offer both!
- 4 ripe black figs
- 6 sprigs of lavender in flower (plus extra to garnish if you wish)
- Approx. 100ml of runny honey
- 8 walnuts in their shells
- Small knob (approx. 1 tablespoon) of unsalted butter
To serve, either:
Toasted baguette, fresh goat’s cheese, and black pepper
Vanilla ice cream
To infuse the honey with the scent of lavender, place your lavender sprigs on a clean tea towel, fold this over to cover the sprigs, then lightly bruise using the heel of your hand. This should release the scent of the lavender without causing the sprigs to come apart too dramatically, (which would become problematic later when it comes to separating the honey from the sprigs).
Next, place the bruised lavender in the base of a shallow bowl and pour the honey over the top. Leave this somewhere warm to infuse, either overnight, or for at least 5 hours. During this time, the lavender will slowly infuse the surround honey with its delicate scent.
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. How you’d like to prepare the figs is up to you, either slice the stem from the fig and slice a cross shape down into the fruit (as per the preceding photo), or halve each one by cutting longitudinally, from stem to base, (as per the pictures of the plated dish), and arrange in a baking dish.
Carefully remove the lavender sprigs from the honey – it’s not a problem if a the odd bit of lavender comes off and remains stuck in the honey, but do the best you can. Drizzle the scented honey over the cut figs, and then place in the oven for approximately 15-20 minutes (or until the figs have become soft, but not so soft as to fall apart).
While the figs are in the oven, crack the walnuts, attempting to remove the nut in two unbroken hemispheres from its shell – lightly toast these in unsalted butter, for approximately 3 minutes, over medium heat in a small frying pan.
When the figs are done, place either one whole, or two halves, per plate – and accompany with either sweet or savoury: a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or a slice of toasty baguette topped with fresh chevré and plenty of black pepper. Additional sprigs of lavender to garnish are a scenic reminder of all that time spent infusing, and may serve as a prompt for anyone struggling to place the flavour!