Sunday, 1 April 2012

Smoked duck, mozzarella and baby fig salad

How utterly gorgeous are these little baby figs? I found them in M&S months ago, but dismissed them as the kind of gimmicky, ludicrous, overpriced fruit that I generally tend to avoid, preferring to buy stuff that's in season and hasn't been shipped from halfway across the world (exceptions: pineapple, bananas, and Alphonso mangoes). They were something like £2.50 a box, which for some reason at the time seemed an inordinate amount of money to spend on just a handful of tiny fruits that would probably prove tasteless, fuzzy and disappointing.

Then I saw them again the other day, and thought...what? Two boxes for £3? Three pounds. That is, in the grand scheme of things, not a lot of money. I couldn't quite think why I hadn't just bought them before. Maybe because real, normal-sized figs were in season. Maybe because they seemed extravagant when I was still a student and not earning money. But now that I am, in fact, earning (some) money, they were just the treat I needed at the end of a long day.

Oh and I may also have just bought a pair of Russell & Bromley shoes...but let's focus on the figs. If only because they seem positively bargainous in comparison.

A fresh fig is just the thing for these grey sort-of-but-not-quite-Spring climes. If Hamlet were still alive, I venture he'd be saying 'The fig's the thing'. I just realise I wrote 'still alive', as if Hamlet were, in fact, once living and not the figment of Shakespeare's imagination. Hmmm.

Anyway, the fresh, sweet, crunchy bite of a fig is a welcome thing at the moment. As is its glorious dark pink flesh and perfect bulbous form. Even more so for being miniature - these baby figs are the perfect garnish to just about anything.

I've used them in a few recipes so far, but this one is definitely a highlight. I found some glorious smoked duck breast at the recent Feast East food festival in Cambridgeshire (more on other delights from there at a future date...), which again was something I'd usually dismiss as extravagantly expensive, but something about food festivals seems to turn me into an unabashed hedonist with an apparently limitless bank balance, so it was all OK. I bought it. Duck and figs are a classic and wonderful combination that I've worked with a few times, and adding a smoky element just makes it even better. This would have been lovely on its own, but I added some mozzarella. I'm not really sure why. I think my thought process went:

"Figs. Mmm, sweet. Good with creamy things. Like cheese. Ricotta cheese. Mmmm. But I always make a fig and ricotta salad. Need something similar. Milky and quite bland but still tasty. MmmmOZZARELLA. I love mozzarella. Haven't had it in ages. Would it go with duck? Hmm. I don't see why not. It goes with most cured meats, and that's basically what smoked duck is. Ooh I can't wait to tear apart that quivering globule of milky goodness."

Bear in mind this entire train of thought either occurred in the swimming pool or while negotiating Cambridge traffic on my bike. Unsure which. Neither are really appropriate, are they?

Now, I don't like salad without carbs. I don't mean dough sticks, Pizza-Express style. But something starchy and filling, otherwise there is just no point - I'll be hungry again in five minutes. For this element I tend to use either couscous, pearl barley, or lentils. Any of those would be great here, but I went for lentils - their earthy, knobbly texture is great with rich meats and also with sweet figs.

Puy lentils, cooked in chicken stock then tossed in a tangy mustardy dressing (I'm obsessed with mustard at the moment...I dress basically everything in mustard except myself), oodles of fresh lemon thyme (so great with figs), some rocket, those smoky slivers of tasty duck curled like ribbons on the plate, fat hunks of torn mozzarella sitting like little milky clouds and finally, those wonderful jewel-like baby figs.

I took this into work the next day and one of my colleagues peered over and said "Ooh, that looks very healthy. Are those lentils?"

I said "Yes - lentils, rocket, smoked duck, mozzarella and baby figs".

I could also have said, "Yes, I'm a massively middle class food snob, the kind that makes her own cheese and muesli and has six different types of flour in her larder, as well as a sourdough starter lurking in the airing cupboard."

Either, really. She replied, "Oh. I have last night's shepherd's pie."

So, if you happen to have some smoked duck and baby figs to hand, give this a go. It's a really delicious combination of flavours and textures, with the smoked duck the star followed closely by the adorable figlets. However, you could also use fresh duck breast, served pink and thinly sliced, or just something like Parma ham, or even bacon lardons. You could use fresh normal figs if in season, or replace with thin slices of pear or quince, or maybe grapes.

But I'd say, live dangerously. Go to M&S and buy a box of baby figs. They might make you smile. If they don't, try a pair of Russell & Bromley shoes.

I'm not going to post a recipe for this, because a) I don't really remember quantities and b) it's so easy that you could probably make it in your sleep. Though I wouldn't recommend that. Basically, you want to boil some lentils (around 80g per person) in chicken stock until tender but still nutty. Toss with a dressing made from 1-2 tsp Dijon mustard, 1 tsp balsamic vinegar, and 2 tbsp olive/rapeseed oil, and lots of salt, pepper and fresh thyme/lemon thyme leaves. Add a handful of rocket/rocket and spinach salad. Toss with strips of smoked duck, torn mozzarella, and halved baby figs. Eat.

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  1. Your writing makes me smile.

  2. Beautiful photos, as always and loving those little figs. Hope you had a wonderful time in Italy and will be blogging some Italian stuff soon too?

  3. Your story about your co-worker asking what you have for lunch ... I had so many of the same strangely awkward moments myself when I was working corporate full time! I ALWAYS brought my lunch and often had to 'downplay' what it was I had packed when asked! SO SO FUNNY.

  4. Tried it, looks and tastes awesome!

  5. That looks absolutely sublime... I had baby figs in South Africa last week and was instantly smitten! Adorableness has a new name. Oh and my favourite line of the post? "I dress basically everything in mustard except myself" - love it :)


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