Fresh figs and grapes, walnuts and red onion, on a bed of rocket and dressed with a simple grape vinaigrette make a stunning autumn salad.
I couldn't have been happier when we moved into our home and discovered a fig tree and a grape vine, among the countless other edible plantings in our garden.
Every year as late summer rolls into early autumn I find myself wandering the garden, checking for the first blush of ripeness and hint of the lush fruit to come. I cloak both the figs and grapes in netting to protect them, but nonetheless end up losing a lot of fruit to determined birds every year. We must have some of the most well fed birds around.
So imagine my delight when I found the first ripe figs of the season, untouched by birds. They could have stayed on the tree to ripen for longer, but I wasn't going to play Russian roulette with the birds. Dusky on the outside and blushingly pink inside, they're fragrant and sweet and it was all I could do to resist eating them straight from the tree, still warm from the sun.
I'm glad I waited though. The grapes are also beautifully ripe right now, and anyone who has home grown grapes will attest to the fact their flavour is far superior to standard supermarket varieties. Their tart sweetness is well suited to salads, and as I recently discovered - to salad dressings.
I crushed and strained the juice from a handful of freshly picked grapes, before creating a light vinaigrette with it. This was the perfect dressing for an autumn salad featuring figs, grapes and walnuts. I included chunks of almond milk pulp cheese. If you eat dairy then the addition of a creamy feta or blue cheese would also be stunning.
Somehow I doubt I can take credit for the flavour combinations here. Fig leaves are best known as Adam and Eve's loin cloths and meals including figs, grapes and walnuts would have featured high on the menu in Roman times. I love knowing these flavours would have been enjoyed thousands of years ago. Despite all modern 'advances' in food, tried and true flavour combinations will always stand the test of time and trends.
Fresh figs can be particularly hard to get your hands on in New Zealand if you're not lucky enough to have a tree in the back yard. Keep your eye on road side stalls and farmer's markets for your best chance of nabbing some. If you find some, eat them that day - they don't store well at all.
For the salad:
- 100 g baby rocket (arugula)
- 1 small red onion finely sliced
- 8 fresh figs halved or quartered depending on their size
- A few handfuls of fresh grapes halved
- ½ cup walnuts roughly chopped, 60g
- 125 g cheese of your choosing (a vegan option such as almond milk pulp cheese or dairy feta or blue cheese)
For the dressing:
- ¼ cup fresh grape juice pressed from approximately 150g grapes - see instructions
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1-2 tsp red wine vinegar if needed - see instructions
- Begin by dry toasting your walnuts in a medium hot frypan (skillet) until golden brown. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
- To extract the fresh grape juice, put grapes in a sieve over a glass jug or bowl and press them with the back of a spoon to extract as much as juice as possible - leaving behind the skin and any pips. I used approximately 150g grapes to extract ¼ cup of juice.
- Put the grape juice into a small jar or lidded container, add olive oil, salt and pepper and shake until well combined. Taste the dressing and adjust acidity with red wine vinegar if required. If you're using home grown grapes with some tartness, you probably won't need any vinegar - but if you're using sweet grapes, or supermarket bought grapes then 1-2 tsp of vinegar will balance it out.
- Arrange rocket (arugula), red onion, figs, grapes, walnuts and cheese on a platter and drizzle with grape vinaigrette.
- Serve as a side dish, or with crusty bread, olives and home made hummus for a more substantial main meal.