This post comes from Elizabeth Stark of Brooklyn Supper!
In my old Brooklyn neighborhood, I knew all the fig trees by heart. Cold winters meant they did best tucked up against buildings that provided a little heat and shelter from the wind; even then, they needed a little help from a person to really thrive in the face of hungry squirrels, polar vortices, and ill-timed deluges. During my daily walks, I kept an eye out for these fig-tenders, hoping I might befriend one and find myself the beneficiary of any fig surplus they might face. Because in the east, if you want local figs, you’ll usually need to find (and pick) them yourself.
In California, figs are a different story. They have a more predictable season – with a brief harvest in June and another in the early fall – and are widely available, even from small growers. Happily, California is kind enough to share with the rest of us, and for a few months a year, you can track down a number of wonderful varieties no matter where you live.
The fall figs are rolling in now, lending their pretty jewel tones to all kinds of inspired dishes. Fresh figs are fleeting and delicious, and are best enjoyed simply. That’s what this fall salad is all about, the foods that are great right now – young frisée, not yet overly bitter; pears, possibly overripe (because they’re pears), but really good anyway; and a big pile of figs. The mix of bitter and sweet flavors in the salad called for an irreverent dressing, and this one is dotted with vanilla beans and flecks of lemon zest. I was concerned that the vanilla would overwhelm the more quiet flavors of the fruits, or maybe just be too much, but it lends a surprisingly subtle depth that bridges the flavors beautifully.
Fig and Pear Salad with Vanilla Bean Vinaigrette
serves four as a side or two as a light lunch
1 5-inch vanilla bean pod
2 tablespoons lemon juice plus 1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
pinch of sea salt, or more to taste
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch frisée, woody stem removed
1 – 2 ripe Bartlett pears, sliced
10 fresh figs, quartered
Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into a small bowl. (Reserve the pod for another use; they’re great for steeping in milk or tea.) Add the lemon juice and zest, and then whisk in vinegar, honey, and sea salt. Drizzle in the olive oil and whisk until emulsified.
Arrange the frisée in a large bowl. Pour half the vinaigrette over the leaves and turn to coat. Tuck the pear slices and figs into the frisée. Finish with a tiny pinch sea salt, several twists of black pepper, and a few more drizzles of dressing. Enjoy!