Q: I’d like to make a summer salad but I’m over the “house salad” of lettuce, tomato and onion. What Italian alternatives can I use at this time of year?
A: This salad of Prosciutto di Parma and figs is simple and classic, light and indulgent. The combination of figs and prosciutto is centuries old—the salty ham is an irresistible complement to the sweetness of the late summer fig. It is a confluence of deliciousness.
Fig is the fruit of a tree that was first cultivated thousands of years before the Common Era. Fresh or dried, they work well in both sweet and savory dishes.
Figs come in three main varieties—white, black, and red—with color ranging from pale green to dark gold, golden brown, or deep purple, though skin color is little indication of taste. Ripe figs are not juicy in the conventional sense. They have a delicate sweetness and soft crunch (from the seeds) that makes the flavor so versatile.
Figs should be soft to the touch with a pleasant aroma. The fruit spoils quickly and bruises easily, which explains why only 10% of the crop are shipped fresh. The remaining figs are dried, canned or jarred. Store fresh figs in a paper bag or shallow bowl lined with a paper towel.
Italians would likely serve figs raw with the prosciutto. Sometimes a lightly dressed salad of butter lettuce leaves with extra virgin olive oil, lemon and a big fistful of figs right on top makes for a nice summer salad surprise!
This recipe is all about summer, when figs are easy to find and exploding with complex sweetness.