Sliding into a new season always brings with it a glimmer of excitement, no matter how many years pass, shimmering echos of seasons past are never quite a match for those vibrant scents, images and memories that quickly come flooding back as though witnessing them afresh. Along with the newly crisp mornings, faint glow of decay and foreboding chill in the air, Autumn brings with it thoughts of bonfires and molten mallows, inky evenings, pumpkins and lacy leaves. But even more exciting to me, aside from all the obvious cliches, is the arrival of fig season; slowly but surely around now the shops start reducing these little boxes of purple fruit as they begin to arrive in abundance. If you’re careful you’ll avoid the dry, dissapointing, lackluster specimens devoid of flavour that supermarkets are notorious for selling, it’s really worth hunting around and checking out local markets and food centres for properly ripe ones. For example, in my area Lidl get the largest, plumpest figs in for just 19p each when they’re in season and I’ve got some amazing deals at Croydon market when they’re readily available (10 for £1 last year!) I’ve also found Waitrose pretty good for quality; they’re currently half price and where I bought the ones in my photos.
When rudely ripe, a figs sometimes dusty, leathery purple skin will become a heavy little sack with a bead of juice on it’s bum; open it up and it’s prize is a brilliant pink mass of jewel like seeds, delicately fragrant and lusciously sweet. Unsurprisingly this sweetness pairs exeptionally well with anything salty and tangy; I love them in a blue cheese and hazelnut salad with balsamic dressing; draped with salty, paper thin parma ham and punchy, aged pecorino or served sweet; baked with honey and walnuts and served with ricotta. Although in my opinion a perfectly ripe fig needs no accompaniament.
Pizza has always in the past meant an enourmous indulgence, a certain diet breaker, bigger than my head and dripping with cheese. Recently though my disposition has shifted somewhat, partly due I’m sure to my frequent bar loitering at da Polpo and Spuntino nibbling their mini versions; full on punchy flavours without the gut busting heaviness of their larger counterparts. The pizzette has now become a midweek staple for a number of reasons; partly because I can indulge in one of my favourite foods with fewer calories (don’t worry, I’m happy to supersize at the weekend!). A pizzette is simply a flat base for any topping you can think of really, incredibly versatile, I’ve piled all sorts of things on top; keeping it simple and Italian, going turkish with a flatbread theme using aubergines, halloumi and lamb and even giving them an asian twist. Finally and quite importantly, they’re bloody brilliant food to eat whilst sitting at the laptop; I’m a clumsy, messy thing at the best of times and my poor piece of technology suffers, covered in all manner of food smears, there’s usually a selection of jammed keys due to foodstuff fallout; a slice of pizzette offers minimal plate to mouth damage.
Expect to see a few more both fig and pizzette recipes over the next few months…
For the Base, this makes four:
250g wholegrain spelt flour
1 sachet easy bake yeast
half a teaspoon salt
175ml warm water
For the Sauce:
garlic clove, finely chopped
Toppings (for one):
half a ball mozzarella (I love the buffalo mozzarella from Laverstock Park Farm)
2 plump figs cut into quarters, or eighths if they’re particularly big
3 slices prosciutto
Dissolve yeast and sugar in the warm water and leave to froth, weigh out your flour into a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the salt into the flour, make a well in the centre and pour in your frothy water mixture, bringing it all together with a fork. When almost combined, tip onto a clean worktop and knead for a few minutes until it starts to feel smooth and elastic. Place in a bowl, cover with cling film and leave to rise for around an hour until it has almost doubled in size.
Knock back your dough and divide into four balls, these can easily be frozen and defrosted for another time. Sprinkle a work surface with cornmeal and taking one ball, either roll out or manipulate into a circular shape and set aside.
You can either make up a big batch of sauce and freeze in portions to save time but I find it easy enough just to make a small quantity each time I want to make these. Fry your garlic until it starts to colour then add the rest of your ingredients; I find about a third of a can of chopped tomatoes sufficient for each pizzette, if I’ve got it I’ll add a squeeze of Taste #5 Umami Paste. Fry until the sauce thickens and loses it’s wetness.
Heat your oven to it’s highest setting and pop a flat baking tray in to heat up. If your figs aren’t beautifully ripe then I find baking them at this stage for a few minutes helps to release their sweetness, but I wouldn’t bother if they’re lusciously oozing anyway!
Quickly pull out the baking tray and layer up your toppings; smear the tomato sauce onto your pizza base, drape on the prosciutti, add your fig slices and tear over the mozzarella. Pop into the oven for around ten minutes turning half way (you may not to to but my oven is rubbish) until the base is crisp and the cheese is molten.
When it’s ready finish with handfuls of wild rocket and plentry of black pepper.