When we first arrived in Greece in July, it was so damned hot in our tiny, uninsulated abode that I figured we might never get a chance to use the oven we had brought down from Bulgaria. But this week the temperature plummeted, the light changed, the recent rains brought forth a whole new batch of plants, the pomegranates are almost ripe, and autumn—also known as baking season—arrived, allowing us to expand our culinary repertoire beyond salads and quick-cooks on the stovetop.
We also happen to be in the tail end of the season of fresh figs, or φρέσκο σύκο. Our trees are no longer weighed down with the delectable, green-purple wonders, but one can still find them at roadside stand or farmers markets. And when it’s fig season and baking season there’s just one thing you can do: Bake a fig galette.
Ahhh, figs. That wacky apple Adam and Eve ate? Very likely a fig. The prophet Mohammed said, “If I could wish a fruit brought to paradise it would certainly be the fig.” Spartans ate almost nothing but figs, and generally kicked ass. Ancient Olympians ate figs like modern Olympians eat energy gels. Pliny the Elder found figs could heal “eruptions of the eyelids,” whatever that might be, their milk soothed scorpion and wasp stings, and “boiled with wine they heal maladies of the fundament, and tumours of the jaws.” He added: “This fruit invigorates the young, and improves the health of the aged and retards the formation of wrinkles.”
I find figs to be the most sensual—okay, let’s be honest, sexual—fruit, even though they are not fruit but flowers turned in on themselves. Maybe I feel this way because I’m from Colorado, where fresh figs were so rare and treasured. Occasionally they’d show up in the supermarket, but tended to be prohibitively expensive and bruised from shipping. In Greece fig trees grow like weeds, poking out the windows of abandoned structures, popping up from cobblestone walkways. But even here fresh figs aren’t ubiquitous; the dried variety are far more common. So, when we saw some on a table at the Argalasti farmer’s market, which we visit every Saturday morning, we grabbed them. They were a deep purple color, their flesh firm but supple, their ripeness confirmed by their extraordinary weight, begging to be devoured right then and there.
We resisted the temptation and took them home, instead, to use on a galette, or a rustic, free-form tart. I’ve been using this particular crust recipe, with a few modifications, since Wendy and I came across it in Baking with Julia when we had the Silverton Baking Company many years ago. It’s buttery with a bit of a crunch, flaky but sturdy, and lends itself equally well to sweet or savory toppings.
I decided to do a savory galette with cherry tomatoes, zucchinis, and feta and, for desert, one with blackberries foraged from bushes near our house, lavender, and the fresh figs, of course. We paired that up with baked, very fresh white sea bream (σαργοσ or sargos) and a crisp Greek white wine, all of which we ate under the olive tree, Circe, next to our house.
Colorado folks need not fear: You don’t need fresh figs to make a delectable galette. This crust stands up to anything you might want to put onto it: peaches; apples; pears; caramelized onions, blue cheese, and rosemary; roasted winter squash and sage; and so on. This recipe makes two 8-10 inch galettes.
2 cups flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
14 Tbs or 200 grams butter (cold)
6 Tbs plain yogurt
1/2 cup ice cold water
Cut up the butter into small chunks, then put it in the freezer while you prepare other ingredients
Add the yogurt to the water in a small bowl, and put in the refrigerator or freezer
Mix the flour, cornmeal, salt and sugar together in a bowl or in a food processor.
Cut the butter into the flour mixture until it is in pea-sized chunks; this usually takes just a few pulses of the food processor. You don’t want to overdo this step and heat up the butter.
Add the water/yogurt mixture to the flour/butter and mix just until it all comes together into a shaggy dough. Put it in a plastic bag or other container and into the refrigerator for two to 24 hours.
When you’re ready to bake, prepare the toppings before taking the dough out of the fridge—slice up the tomatoes or roasted red peppers, caramelize the onions, slice the figs or peaches, etc.
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Once the toppings are ready, pull the dough out and roll it out until it’s 1/8” to 1/4” thick and about 12” to 14” in diameter. Use plenty of flour to dust with and a cold rolling pin if possible. You don’t want the butter to start melting or it will become a bit of a mess. I often do this directly on parchment paper so I don’t have to worry about peeling it off the table and tearing the dough.
Spread the toppings across the center of the rolled out dough leaving 2” to 3” on the outer edge clear of toppings. Then fold those outside edges over the topping and crimp them together to form a sort of open-topped pocket.
Put on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake until the crust is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Keep an eye on the bottom of the crust to make sure it browns up but doesn’t burn (if you undercook the bottom it may collapse if the toppings are especially juicy).
Let it cool (a bit), slice, and eat!
And there you have it, folks.