Saturday, June 11, 2016


If it’s coming up to midsummer, the festival of San Juan (June 24), it’s the season for brevas, early figs. Brevas are the first of two crops that a fig tree produces (sometimes). They arrive in early summer. A more abundant picking follows in late summer—August into September. 


To me it seems strange that a tree can produce two harvests and that the fruit from the two crops doesn’t even look alike. The first are larger, elongated, deeply purplish black. The second are smaller, usually green with a violet blush.  (The early figs actually develop from “embryonic” figs from the previous year that never matured.) 

Brevas are early figs, ripe by midsummer's eve.

Birds are pecking figs on my tree.
Brevas, the early figs, are so esteemed (and expensive) that it seems a shame to do anything other than eat them, raw, in all their glory. Brevas should be soft and, when fully ripe, may have slightly wrinkled or split skin. They don’t keep well, so it’s best to enjoy them when they first arrive in the markets (or, on the tree).

How to serve figs?

  • Slice the figs (you don’t need to peel them), macerate in a little sweet Málaga wine or PX Sherry. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.
  • Quarter the figs, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and freshly ground black pepper. Serve with sliced ibérico or serrano ham. The sweet fruit and salty ham make a brilliant pairing.
Serve ripe figs with sliced Spanish ham.

  •  Arrange sliced figs on top of a custard tart. Glaze them with a little melted fig jam or orange marmalade.
  •  Spread toasts with softened cream cheese. Top with sliced figs. Sprinkle them with drained green peppercorns. 
  • Stuff whole figs with softened blue cheese.
  • Garnish white gazpacho (ajo blanco) with chopped brevas in early summer (muscatel grapes in late summer).
Garnish white gazpacho with figs.
  •  Add fresh figs to salad. Here’s a recipe for a chicken salad with figs and a dressing of ajo blanco.
Summer salad--grilled chicken and sliced figs.

 Salad with Grilled Chicken and Figs
Ensalada con Pollo a la Plancha y Higos

 Serves 4,

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 ½ pounds)
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh thyme
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil + more for the grill
Salad greens
4-6 ripe figs, quartered
Ajo blanco sauce (recipe follows)

Place the chicken breasts in a shallow bowl. Sprinkle them with 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, thyme, vinegar and olive oil. Allow to marinate 30 minutes at room temperature or up to 8 hours, covered and refrigerated.

Use a ridged grill pan to cook chicken breasts.
 Heat a ridged grill pan until very hot. Brush it with oil. Lift the chicken breasts out of the marinade (discard marinade) and grill them 3 minutes. Turn 90º and grill 3 minutes longer. Turn the chicken breasts and again grill 3 minutes and turn. Grill until they are just cooked through, about 3 minutes longer. Remove the chicken to a cutting board.

Arrange salad greens on 4 plates. Slice the chicken breasts and place on the greens. Place the figs around the chicken. Spoon about 1 tablespoon ajo blanco sauce over each salad. Serve remaining sauce separately. 

Ajo blanco sauce (almonds, garlic, vinegar) complements chicken and fruit.

Ajo Blanco Sauce (Almond-Garlic Sauce)
Salsa de Ajo Blanco

Ajo blanco, which actually means “white garlic,” is a chilled summer soup, a white gazpacho (there’s a link to that recipe at the end of this post). This is a version that serves as sauce or salad dressing. Could ajo blanco sauce be the new tahini? Made with almonds, garlic, vinegar (or lemon juice) and garlic, quickly combined in a blender, it’s certainly just as versatile. Serve it with grilled chicken or fish, with green beans, potatoes or eggplant.

I used subtly sweet Pedro Ximenez Sherry vinegar in this recipe (see last week’s blog for more about vinegars).

Makes ¾ cup.

1 slice bread, crusts removed
2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
½ cup water
¼ cup skinned almonds
1 clove garlic
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt

Make sauce in blender.
Break the bread into pieces and place them in a blender container with the vinegar and ¼ cup of water. Allow to soak 15 minutes.

Add the almonds, garlic and oil to the blender. Process until very smooth. Season with salt and thin with remaining ¼ cup of water.

Store the sauce, covered and refrigerated. If necessary, stir in additional water to thin the sauce.