Recipe #5 in my new vegitalian series
August is right in the middle of the Italian fig season and shops, markets, and the ubiquitous trees are heaving with the fruit. What better way to eat them than in this simple salad which enhances but respects the integrity of their flavour. Perfect for a summer lunch or antipasto.
If you’d like to read more about Italian figs, with some history, legends, and anecdotes, scroll down beyond the recipe. Buon appetito!
10 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (Aceto Balsamico di Modena IGP) 20 mature figs 2 pieces of fresh vegetarian mozzarella (or mozzarella di bufala) freshly ground black pepper
10 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (Aceto Balsamico di Modena IGP)
20 mature figs
2 pieces of fresh vegetarian mozzarella (or mozzarella di bufala)
freshly ground black pepper
A legend, put about by the Roman writer Cassius Dio, claims that Augustus, the first Roman emperor, was murdered by his wife while staying at Nola near Naples. The murder weapon? Fresh figs.
‘So Augustus fell sick and died. Livia incurred some suspicion in connexion with his death, in view of the fact that he had secretly sailed over to the island to see Agrippa and seemed about to become completely reconciled with him. For she was afraid, some say, that Augustus would bring him back to make him sovereign, and so smeared with poison some figs that were still on trees from which Augustus was wont to gather the fruit with his own hands; then she ate those that had not been smeared, offering the poisoned ones to him.’
Whether this is truth or legend, Augustus died when the fig season in Italy was in full swing: 19 August 14 AD. What is definitely true, is the ancient Romans ate a variety of fig called Liviana, named after the empress. This was either because of the legend, or because she was passionate about gardens and gardening. Certainly, the dining room at her villa in Rome was decorated with frescos depicting fruit trees and birds. Amazingly, these two-thousand-year-old frescoes can still be seen today, preserved at the Palazzo Massimo museum near Rome’s Termini train station.
I stumbled across some punnets of sweet green figs, as well as some fresh mozzarella, at the local market and took them home to make a quick but indulgent vegetalian lunch. Note that mozzarella is not always vegetarian as it is traditionally made with animal rennet but you can find it made with natural rennet.
I whipped up a quick reduction of balsamic vinegar as a dressing, but you could serve them drizzled in honey as an alternative. Whatever condiment you use, the combination of figs and cheese is divine—rather like the emperor Augustus himself who was pronounced a god after his death.