Figs are abundant in Jerusalem and many trees, bearing the most delectable fruit, actually belong to no one, so anybody can help themselves. Summer months are always tinted with the smell of wild herbs and ripe figs. The mother of Sami’s childhood neighbour and friend, Jabbar, used her roof to dry the glut of figs (and tomatoes) in the hot summer sun, spending hours cleaning and sorting them meticulously. Poor Um Jabbar, Sami and her son never wasted time and used to sneak up to her roof regularly, stealing her figs at their peak and causing havoc. This wasn’t enough for Jabbar though. The boy had such a sweet tooth that he always carried around with him an old match box full of sugar cubes, just in case. Unfortunately, this habit had clear ramifications, evident in his 'charming’ smile.
This unusual combination of fresh fruit and roasted vegetables is one of the most popular at Ottolenghi. It wholly depends, though, on the figs being sweet, moist and perfectly ripe. Go for plump fruit with an irregular shape and a slightly split bottom. Pressing against the skin should result in some resistance but not much. Try to smell the sweetness. The balsamic reduction is very effective here, both for the look and for rounding up the flavours. To save you from making it you can look out for products such as balsamic cream or glaze.
4 small sweet potatoes (1kg in total)
75 ml olive oil
Maldon sea salt and black pepper
40 ml balsamic vinegar (you can use a commercial rather than a premium aged grade)
20 g caster sugar
12 spring onions, halved lengthways, cut into 4cm segments
1 red chilli, thinly sliced
6 fresh and ripe figs (240g in total), quartered
150 g soft goat’s cheese, crumbled (optional)
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Preheat the oven to 240°C.
Wash the sweet potatoes, halve them lengthways and then cut each again similarly into 3 long wedges. Mix with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, 2 teaspoons of salt and some black pepper.
Spread the wedges out on a baking sheet, skin-side down, and cook for about 25 minutes until soft but not mushy. Remove from the oven and leave to cool down.
Meanwhile, to make a balsamic reduction, place the balsamic vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 2–4 minutes, or until it thickens. Be sure to remove the pan from the heat when the vinegar is still runnier than honey; it will continue to thicken as it cools. Stir in a drop of water before serving if it does become too thick to drizzle.
Arrange the sweet potatoes on a serving platter. Heat the remaining oil in a medium saucepan and add the green onions and chilli. Fry over a medium heat for 4–5 minutes, stirring often, making sure not to burn the chilli, and then spoon the oil, onions and chilli over the sweet potatoes.
Dot the figs among the wedges and then drizzle over the balsamic reduction. Serve at room temperature with the cheese crumbled over, if using.
Recipe from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, with photographs by Jonathan Lovekin. Published by Ebury Press.