The other day I was passing by the man I like to call my neighborhood fruitier (or the guy who sells cheap fruit from a cart in front of the post office) when I stopped in my tracks and began to freak out: “Figs $2.00” read the handwritten sign above the stacks of boxed, fresh black figs. I wanted to grab everyone who passed, point and scream, “Look! They’re here, they’re here!!!!” When I was a kid figs equaled the dried fig of a Fig Newton, which I also love. (FYI, the best way to eat a Newton is to stuff an entire cookie in your mouth and then take a big gulp of milk. Perfect.) I only discovered the pleasures of the fresh Black Mission fig within the last few years. I’m not sure how I missed out on the sweet, swollen, black teardrops for so long but I think it could have something to do with the limited time they are available in New York, early summer and again in late summer, usually having traveled from California or other points south or west. If I wasn’t looking for them I may not have noticed them and then missed them completely.Rarity is a funny thing and leads us to purchases we might not consider otherwise. I knew someone who used to give parties timed to that third Thursday in November when wine stores posted urgent signs announcing that “Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrive!!” What a perfect way to prompt a panic attack in anyone worried they might be missing out on something. Go, run and grab an armful of those pretty Georges Du Boeuf bottles right now! But really, how good is a glass of that stuff? Not very. Let’s give a round of applause to the mastermind behind this truly brilliant marketing ploy. But that’s nothing compared with the toy industry and the annual Christmas Toys R Us stampede provoked by the release of the jouet d’annee—watch wild-eyed mothers snatching Cabbage Patch Kids out of each other's hands, a team of fathers wrestling Tickle Me Elmo to the ground while they squash a poor, defenseless Zhu Zhu Pet. All this so little Dick and Jane can show off their very special present, play with it for less than a year, and begin their campaign for the next must have toy. Sometimes I wonder about other things that become sought after just because of their limited availability. Whether it’s a priceless painting or a flawless diamond or a special edition car or even a shaved truffle, would we value any of these things as much if they were readily available or affordable? Where does status- seeking stop and taste-making begin?I am not in the position to be doing any art collecting, let’s not discuss diamonds, I don’t drive, and I hate the taste of truffles so thankfully I won’t be attempting to keep up with the Joneses who care about these specific things. However, I do fall prey to summer-produce induced hysteria and I believe my reaction to be completely sane. Think about what we wait for and how we pounce: local strawberries, sweet corn, tomatoes that taste like tomatoes, and juicy peaches. Yes, thanks to modern technology, these warm weather specialties are available during the winter, spring or fall so officially I suppose they aren’t really considered rare, but there is so much wrong with that thinking. I won’t start lecturing, basically because I am guilty of buying bland, steroidal strawberries in December just so my daily cereal medley doesn’t get lonely, but the difference between biting into a peach that may as well be a potato in February and the one I plan on sinking my teeth into next month is so enormous I want to hang my head in shame for buying anything out of season. But, who can blame me, or anyone living on the East coast, for pressuring our fruit to ripen up after having to endure so many months of citrus, apples, and pears? I am tapping my feet until the day when sweet peach juice drips down my chin and vanilla ice cream melts over my nectarine cobbler. It’s never a good idea to wish time away but patience is a virtue I certainly don’t have and I can’t wait.In the meantime it’s fig time. I haven’t stopped eating them—nestled in a pillow of ricotta and covered with a blanket of prosciutto on crusty bread, thrown into a salad, slicked with good olive oil and better balsamic vinegar or simply sliced and stirred into Greek yogurt. The point is always to contrast their figgy sweetness with something a little sour or salty. This crostata is heaven. The crust is sweet and buttery but the goat cheese and lemon push back just enough to keep the tart from being cloying. Plus, it couldn’t be easier. So, come on! The fig clock is ticking! Shake your tail and buy yourself some figs! Now! And you (er, I), can calm down till peach time. Wow, this fruit frenzy is exhausting.NOTE: Keep in mind that figs are very perishable, should be soft and heavy and won’t ripen any further if they are picked before their peak. They’ll only stay fresh for two days or so in the fridge and you’ll be sorry if you let them wither away (see below) and go to waste.Finally Fig and Goat Cheese Lemon Crostata
Pastry recipe adapted from "Giada's Family Dinners", by Giada De Laurentiis, 2006
Filling recipe adapted from "Gale Gand's Short and Sweet" by Gale Gand and Julia Moskin, 2004
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1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
Zest of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 Tablespoons ice water
Combine flour, sugar, zest, and salt in a food processor and process briefly to blend. Add butter and pulse till mixture looks like coarse meal.
Add ice water a little at at time, pulsing between additions, until mixture forms into moist clumps. Dump dough onto large piece of plastic wrap, gather into a ball, flatten into a disk and wrap. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.Ingredients-Filling
6 ounces mild, fresh goat cheese, crumbled
15 ripe fresh black figs, stems removed and cut in half lengthwise
2 tablespoons honey
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
On a large piece of parchment paper, roll the dough out to a rough circle, about 11 inches in diameter. Transfer paper/crostata to a large, heavy baking sheet. All around the circle, fold in the outer 1/2-inch of the pastry to form a raised edge all around the tart.
Sprinkle goat cheese over the bottom of the crostata (not the edges). Arrange the fig halves,cut side up, in concentric circles over the goat cheese and drizzle the figs with honey.Bake about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the underside of the tart crust is browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Yield: 6-8 servings