Figs! I was at the grocery store roaming through the produce section when I came upon them, sitting nonchalantly on a shelf. I picked up a case triumphantly, taking care to not bruise their tender flesh.
Upon returning home, I showed the figs gleefully to Stefano, and then started in on a batch of dough for pizza bianca, thrilled to begin preparations for our once-a-year treat of Pizza e Fichi. The dough needs to sit all night, so in the meanwhile we will tell you about our passion for this fruit steeped in history and tradition.
The fig was considered a sacred fruit in Ancient Rome. The twin founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, were said to have rested under a fig tree, the Greco-Roman deity Bacchus was worshiped for introducing the fig to humankind, and the Roman author, naturalist and philosopher, Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) once said, “Figs are restorative. They increase the strength of young people, preserve the elderly in better health and make them look younger with fewer wrinkles.” Figs are similarly regarded in other ancient cultures. (sounce: California Fig Association)
There is a beautiful, old fig tree at the start of Stefano’s family’s olive groves in the hill towns outside of Rome. In summer, a trip to tend to the olives also involves bringing a newspaper-lined crate to gather the ripe fruits.
The last time we were there, Stefano took our two sons right under the tree. With their faces pointed to to the sky and the branches of this this expansive tree extending out and over them in all directions, they looked up at the pretty purple-green figs and listened to their papà tell them stories about eating figs from this tree when he was a boy.
On cue, an especially ripe fig chose that moment to detach from its branch, and fell right onto 5-year-old Luca’s forehead. To this day, whenever figs make their annual appearance at the market and we return home with a case of them to make Pizza e Fichi, we have a good laugh about the time the fig from Papi’s tree in the olive groves fell on Luca’s head.
Pizza e Fichi
Whole ripe figs
450 g (approx. 3 1/2 C) flour, plus extra for dusting
1/4 tsp. baker’s yeast
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 C warm water
The night prior, add the yeast and salt to a large glass or ceramic bowl. Add the water and stir until both the yeast and the flour are dissolved. Fold in the flour, stirring just until the dough has formed a round, lumpy ball. Cover the rim of the bowl with a layer of plastic wrap, sealing the dough from the outside air. Let sit overnight at room temperature.
The next day, when the dough has risen for 12 hours and is wet and porous, remove the plastic wrap and turn the dough out onto a smooth plastic or stone surface liberally dusted with flour. Let sit for 15 minutes.
Using additional flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking, work the dough into a loaf shape, and place it back onto the flour-dusted surface. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and allow it to raise for 2 hours.
Punch the dough down, and divide it in half. Again using flour as needed to keep it from sticking, work each half of dough into an oblong, loaf form. Cover again and allow to rise for an additional 30 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 475° Fahrenheit, and sprinkle flour onto two large baking sheets. After 30 minutes has passed, place each loaf onto a baking sheet. Work the dough with your fingers into a long, rectangular shape approximately 1/2 inch high. Lightly brush olive oil and sprinkle salt over the surface of the pizza.
Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the baking tray and allow to cool.
Once cool, cut the pizza into uniform pieces. If the height of the pizza bianca permits, slice it in half, horizontal to the counter, so that it can be filled just like a panino. If your pizza cannot be sliced in half, simply use two pieces.
Use your fingers to peel the figs, and spread the inner fruit onto the surface of one piece of the pizza bianca. Top with the other piece of pizza bianca, and enjoy your Pizza e Fichi.