The heat precedes the fire. Figs heaped along the quay, not loaded in time, begin to bake, bubbling and oozing juice. The sweetness mixes with the smell of smoke. Desdemona and Lefty stand as close to the water as possible, along with everyone else. There is no escape.
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides, An Immodest Proposal
I've read Middlesex only recently. It gripped me completely and flew straight to the top of my favourite books so far this year - I missed my stop on the way to work, disappeared to the park to read at lunchtime and stayed up until 3am trying to finish it on more than one occasion. If you haven't read it, put aside a solid weekend and do so. I'm not going to ruin anything for you, by saying it's a true narrative epic, about three generations of fascinating characters.
The description of the bubbling figs in Middlesex is incredibly evocative, and has stayed in my mind - not least because the Great Fire of Smyrna truly happened. The effect of a fire on figs is also very easy to recreate, either on a barbeque, under a grill or with a blowtorch. It's the singed tops you're aiming for - they'll lend a delicious caramelised sweetness. As Lefty and Desdemona are standing in Turkey on the edge of the Anatolia Sea, I turned again to ingredients easily found in the Istanbul Spice Market - pistachio nuts, rosewater, honey and cardamom. They marry perfectly with the charred fig.
It is fitting that I am teaming my book of the year with my fruit of the year. The cooler, foggier mornings of autumn have arrived with a proliferation of figs at my local greengrocer - an incredibly welcome sight - so now is the time to make this recipe yourself.
40g granulated sugar
8 cardamom pods (crushed)
50g shelled unsalted pistachio nuts, chopped (to decorate)
Edible rose petals (to decorate)
1. Turn the oven grill on. Slice a cross into the top of each fig, going about 3/4 of the way down the fruit. Stand the figs up in the roasting dish, sprinkle the granulated sugar into the cut fruit, and place in the oven.
2. While the figs are grilling, place the honey in the saucepan with the rosewater and cardamom pods. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and allow the mixture to reduce to a thick syrup over a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the cardamom to infuse.
3. Once the figs have started to blacken on the tips (and caramelise inside), remove them from the oven. Divide the figs between four bowls or glasses, trying to keep them whole if possible.
4. Add the roasted fig juices from the bottom of the roasting dish to the honey mixture, and stir to combine. Sieve the syrup over the figs and finish with the pistachios and rose petals. Serve with vanilla ice cream or mascarpone.
ps. This dish owes much to Nigella Lawson's Figs for 1001 Nights... but the alterations I've made following a visit to Turkey turn it into something a little different.