I don’t remember when I first fell in love with fig trees. I just gradually became aware of a sweet scent that would occasionally overpower me on my walks around London. It was intoxicating, both musky and powdery, pungent like tropical fruit and sweet like coconut. Eventually, I discovered its source: fig trees – not the fruits, but the leaves themselves.
Since then, I’ve become fig-obsessed. All my favourite perfumes smell like green, sappy fig leaves; I dose glasses of sparkling wine with Parafante Liqueur; I have a mental map of all the most fragrant fig trees in the city. Yet I didn’t realise you could cook with the leaves until recently, when I saw an Instagram post by food writer George Reynolds. He served slices of tomato with homemade fig oil, an idea borrowed from pastry chef Anna Higham in her cookbook, The Last Bite. I had to use it.
And so, this salad. It is summer turned all the way up, super-saturated. One style of tomato is not enough, so there are three: meaty slices of salted heirloom tomatoes, tomato wedges baked with fresh oregano and halved cherry tomatoes. Fig appears three times too: sliced figs; fig leaf-wrapped goat cheese; even a chlorophyll-green fig oil, which distils the perfume of those sun-baked leaves into a vibrant tincture. (Wondering how to find your own fig leaves? Once you familiarise yourself with their distinctive shape, you’ll see them everywhere. Look for leaves that are vibrant, without holes and away from busy roads; all the better if you can smell them before you can see them.)
As for the pairing, it’s hard to do better than Burning Sky's Saison Ete – “summer” is there in the name, after all. It’s zesty, pithy and faintly tart, made with seasonal elderflowers and gooseberries. Its vinous delicacy adds another dimension to this vibrant salad, and it feels just as emblematic of green and growing things.
Warm Fig-Leaf-Wrapped Goat Cheese and Tomato Salad with Fig Oil
Serves 2 as a main
5 fig leaves (2 large, 3 medium)
2 rind-on goat cheese rounds (I used 100g wheels of Capricorn)
5 large tomatoes (use heirloom varieties, plum tomatoes, or a mix)
100g cherry or torpedo tomatoes
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
Freshly ground black pepper
Small handful fresh oregano leaves
150ml neutral oil
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1. First, blanch the fig leaves. Bring a pot of water to the boil and add one leaf at a time. Blanch for 45 sec–1 min, or until the leaf is bright green. Transfer to a large bowl of ice water and repeat with the remaining leaves. Once cool, wring any water from the leaves and pat to dry completely.
2. Preheat the oven to 180° Celsius. To make the fig-leaf-wrapped goat cheese, take one of your large fig leaves and place the goat cheese in the centre; fold the edges of the leaf over the cheese one by one until it is encased. Flip the cheese over so the leaf is kept in place, or tie with baking twine if needed. Repeat with the second round of goat cheese. Set aside.
3. Next, line a large baking tray with parchment paper. Take three of your five large tomatoes, core them, and slice into wedges. Transfer to your baking tray and drizzle over the olive oil. Season with flaky sea salt and black pepper, and scatter over the oregano leaves. Bake for 15 mins.
4. After 15 mins, remove the tray from the oven and clear a space in the centre. Carefully add both fig-leaf-wrapped goat cheese rounds, spaced slightly apart. Return to the oven and bake for 10-15 mins more, or until the tomatoes are softened and just starting to brown and release their juices. (Be attentive; the goat cheese should be warm, but not so hot that it leaks out of the fig leaf.) Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly.
5. While the tomatoes and cheese bake, complete your prep. Stem and slice the figs into quarters, and set aside. Halve the cherry or torpedo tomatoes, and core and slice the remaining two large tomatoes. Season all the tomatoes relatively generously with flaky sea salt and set aside. Next, add the hazelnuts to a small frying pan and place over medium heat; toast for roughly 5 minutes, tossing regularly, until golden brown and fragrant. Leave to cool slightly before roughly chopping.
6. Finally, prepare your fig leaf oil. Add the remaining three fig leaves to a blender, along with the neutral oil. Blend well, for up to several minutes, until the leaves are very finely ground and the liquid is a vivid green. Leave to infuse for 5-10 minutes; strain using a cheesecloth or similar into a jar or pouring vessel. Set aside.
7. To serve, transfer the warm fig-leaf-wrapped goat cheese rounds to two plates or bowls. Divide the salted tomato slices between two, arranging around the cheese. Top with the roasted tomatoes (and any juices), as well as the halved cherry or torpedo tomatoes, and the figs. Sprinkle over the hazelnuts. Next, zest the lemon over both servings, and then squeeze over the juice. Ladle the fig leaf oil evenly over both. Season with any additional salt or pepper to taste and serve immediately.
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer hound and all-around lover of tasty things. You can follow her at @clairembullen. For more recipes like this, sign up to our HB&B All Killer No Filler beer subscription - you'll receive Claire's recipe and food pairings, plus beer reviews and expert tasting notes with up to 12 world-class beers - like this one - every month.