There are few summer foods that taste better than a grilled fig. And since this soft, plump fruit of summer are considered by some experts to be the true fruit of temptation, this sweet treat tops my list of summertime date night foods. So when Chef Sondra Bernstein offered to let me share the recipe from her signature Grilled Fig and Arugula Salad, I couldn’t wait to bring this sexy plate of summertime goodness to you.
If Sondra’s name is familiar to you, it is probably because she is the founder of Sonoma’s beloved The Girl and the Fig restaurant. And she is also a chef who built a career around the use of summer’s sexiest fruit, the fig.
Why fig is summer’s date night fruit
If you’re wondering why I keep referring to the fruit as the sexy fig, that’s because, of all the ingredients historically considered aphrodisiac, fig has one of the best qualifications for a food of seduction. Even the naysayers who are quick to dismiss the concept of aphrodisiac foods cannot deny the sensuality of the fig. (Nor can they deny the fact that the fruit contains several nutrients that can boost sexual health.)
How to choose figs for a fig salad
If you’ve ever purchased a container of figs that turned out to be no good, then you’re probably wondering how to buy figs. When you’re in the store, look for figs that are clean and dry and have unbroken skin. The figs should feel soft but not mushy. If a fig is firm, this means it is not yet ripe and won’t offer the generous, sweet flavor you’re expecting. (Sondra does not specify a fig variety for this recipe but I prefer using Black Mission figs for this summer salad recipe.)
Keep in mind that fresh figs have a short shelf life. You should buy them within about two days of using them. Store fresh figs in the coldest part of the refrigerator until you are ready to use the fruit. Use care when washing them before use as ripe figs are extremely delicate fruits.
What to serve with this grilled fig salad
As I mentioned, I consider this salad to be an ideal summertime, date night recipe. However, it also makes a great choice to impress guests with something simple yet flavorful at your next dinner party.
You can use this arugula salad as a light main course with a side of crusty bread and a great glass of wine. (I didn’t ask for her recommendation but I’m betting Sondra would pair the salad with a white from Southern France like this one.) Of course, this easy salad recipe also works as a brunch dish or an appetizer before a summer supper of something cooked on the grill.
Although you will need to pack the ingredients separately for transport, you can use this fig and arugula salad as a picnic dish. Pack the vinaigrette in one container, the grilled figs in another and the rest of the salad ingredients in a third container large enough to toss everything together before serving. For my recommendations of wines to take along on that romantic picnic, check out my article on How to Choose a Picnic Wine.
Grilled Fig and Arugula Salad
For the vinaigrette:
- 3 dried Black Mission figs
- 1 cup ruby port
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/2 tablespoon minced shallots
- 1/4 cup blended oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the salad:
- 1/2 cup pancetta diced
- 12 fresh figs halved
- 6 bunches baby arugula
- 1 cup pecans toasted
- 1 cup goat cheese crumbled (preferably Laura Chenel Chévre)
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
To prepare the vinaigrette:
- Pour the port in a bowl, add the figs, and rehydrate until soft. Transfer the port and figs to a saucepan. Reduce the port over medium heat to ½ cup, about 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the port mixture to a food processor and add the vinegar. Purée until smooth. Add the shallots and slowly whisk in the oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper to taste.
To prepare the salad:
- Sauté the pancetta in a small sauté pan over medium heat until the pancetta is crisp. Set the pancetta aside, reserving the “oil.” Brush the figs with the pancetta “oil.” Grill the figs for 45 seconds on each side. In a stainless-steel bowl, toss the arugula, pecans, pancetta, and goat cheese with the vinaigrette.
- Divide the salad among 6 chilled plates and surround it with the grilled figs. Grind the pepper over each salad.
Sondra Bernstein is the founder of The Girl and the Fig in Sonoma. She is considered a culinary pioneer not to mention a leading authority on cooking with figs. For more figasmic recipes, check out Sondra’s book, Plats du Jour; the girl & the fig’s Journey Through the Seasons in Wine Country
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