I have to admit that my love affair with Florence did not start with the typical “love at first sight:” But it wasn’t far off. I was a twenty-year-old art student when I had my first taste of living in Florence, exactly ten years ago.
I arrived at the train station with my luggage and not much else – no where to stay, nothing booked, no contacts. I can’t imagine ever doing that now but I guess I was more of a spontaneous traveller when I was younger. Luckily I didn’t even have to think about any ‘what ifs,’ as I almost immediately found a little flyer advertising a room in a shared apartment. I phoned straight away and in my very broken Italian at the time, got myself a place to live.
I remember arriving at about lunchtime and meeting my roommates for the first time in the kitchen – the room that everyone congregated in, at all times of the day. There were two Mexicans, a Chilean, two English girls, and a Dane (later another – the only boy – joined in, the Mexicans left and a Dutch girl took their place). But it always felt like there were even more people in the house and it soon came to feel like one big extended, international family.
The apartment was right off Piazza Santa Croce on via de’ Pepi, but the kitchen window looked out over via del Fico, street of the figs. The kitchen is where all my best memories are held. It was where all the action took place. It was where Chanette, my Danish roommate, would make bread rolls to warm up the house in the autumn when the heaters wouldn’t turn on until after 6pm. It was where I drank countless cups of tea with my English roommates, Katy and Kathryn. It was where we planned where our regular Sunday day trip would be, Lucca in the pouring rain or a picnic in the Boboli Gardens. It was where Javiera and her fellow Chilean architecture students would fill the house with their festive get-togethers, instantly turning any regular evening into a party.
And it was from here in the kitchen, late at night,that irresistible smells from an invisible bakery would waft up from via del Fico below. It was the heart and soul of the house and the true place where I first fell in love with Florence, my Florence.
Via del Fico, they say, is most likely named after large fig tree that grew in one of the gardens on this street, hidden from sight by thick palazzo walls. The following recipe is inspired by the smell of our kitchen at night and the street of the figs, ten years ago. The frangipane part of the recipe happened by accident, while trying to make Artusi’s Budino di Ricotta and I realised after grinding the almonds that I didn’t have ricotta… But more on that later.
The pastry recipe is adapted from one of Artusi’s three recipes for pasta frolla.
Fig frangipane tart
- 250 grams of flour
- 125 grams of cold butter
- 100 grams of icing sugar
- 1 small egg plus 1 small egg yolk
- zest of 1 lemon
- 100 grams of almonds
- 50 grams of butter
- 50 grams of sugar
- 1 egg
- 500 grams of fresh, mature figs
Note that these quantities will give you enough to make a large tart plus some extra left over. I like to save this extra pastry in my freezer, you never know when later you’re trying to make a crostata and you need some extra for the lattice top!
To make the pastry, chop the cold butter into small pieces and add to the flour and sugar. I always use my hands for this next bit but you can do this in a food processor if you like. With your fingers, rub the butter into the flour until you get a crumbly mixture and there are no more visible pieces of butter. Mix in the beaten egg plus an extra yolk until the pastry comes together into a smooth, elastic ball. Do not over handle the dough, but if it is a bit too sticky, add a bit of flour (this will depend on the size of the eggs you use). Let it rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes – as Artusi says if you do this the day before, even better.
After resting the dough, roll out the pastry on a floured surface to cover your pie dish and prick holes with a fork all over the pastry.
Prepare the frangipane by first pulsing the almonds in a food processor until fine and grainy. Add the butter, sugar and an egg and pulse again until it becomes a paste. Stir in the lemon zest and turn the mixture out onto the pastry.
Add the fig halves, face up, to cover the entire tart, I like to start from the centre. Push the figs down gently into the frangipane so that the surface is even.
Bake at 180° Celsius for about 35-45 minutes or until golden brown.