RECIPE: ROASTED WHOLE FIG TARTELETTES
When I was a kid, I hated eating fruits. Juices were sometimes okay, but eating a whole apple? Gross. It felt too strange in my mouth, both crunchy and soft, firm yet juicy. Not to mention its overpowering tangy taste… it was too confusing for a kid used to a modern diet of spaghetti and meatballs, Doritos, and the Brazilian staple of steak with arroz e feijão. Every Rosh Hashanah I was tortured to eat apples with honey for a sweet New Year. And it was not only apples that scared me but all kinds of fruits. Some were surprisingly soft and mushy inside and had all kinds of seeds and deadly pits hidden in the center. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that by the time I would grow up this would have to change. It would be too ridiculous to refuse a tangerine at the ripe old age of twenty on the grounds that I felt “icky” about eating fruit. And probably like a lot of other children, I started getting used to fruits by consuming them when they were almost unrecognizable: transformed appearance, engineered consistency and/or taste, loaded with sugar (e.g. fruits roll-ups, gushers… you get the idea).
The other night, we went to one of our favorite restaurants in the area, La Coulemelle, a great bistrot-style place in Saint-Bonnet-le-Froid (which would literally translate to Saint-Beanie-the-Cold — probably one of the best village names I ever heard). They had just entirely changed the menu and when dessert time came, I couldn’t help but feeling a little disappointed at first. They only had desserts with fruits in them. No chocolate. No caramel. No nuts. Just lemon, fig, and peach. There it was; my childhood reluctancy to eat fruits was still lingering in my grown-up body.
Adélaïde managed to convince me to order the figues rôties. As the waiter brought my plate, it struck me to see that the figs were not distorted like in most desserts. I was wriggling in my chair. They were whole, beautiful and a little intimidating but as I started eating spoonfuls of them, I realized I love figs just as they are. Because you could really feel the taste of figs exploding at every bite. It was like I could suddenly swallow all the fruits in the universe and enjoy it. It was actually so good we went to see the chef and asked for the recipe. Luckily, Michel was kind enough to share it with us: dribble honey, butter, Maury wine (from Roussillon), and salt on the figs and put them in the oven for 5 minutes. Disarmingly simple. A couple of days later, we made a tartelette version of this dessert de la maturité.
Aromatic fruits like figs and pomegranates remind me of the Mediterranean sea and the lands of my great-grandparents, Izmir and Rhodes. In the book I’m reading at the moment, Belle du Seigneur, by Albert Cohen, the main character, Solal, is a League of Nations officer who also comes from that region, from the island of Cephalonia. And he uses precisely this imagery of oriental flora and Mediterranean paradise to ravish Ariane, the woman he wants to seduce:
What kinds of trees were there in Cephalonia, asked this daughter of wealth, this consumer of nature’s beauties. With a faraway look in his eye he reeled off the names of the trees he had so often recited to others, ran through the list of them: cypress-trees, orange-trees, lemon-trees, olive-trees, pomegranate-trees, citron-trees, myrtle-trees, mastic-trees. Reaching the limit of his knowledge, he went on inventing lemonella-trees, tuba-trees, circass-trees, prune-trees and even puple-trees. Wonderingly she inhaled the vanilla-sweet fragrance of his miraculous forest.