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Fried Figs and Capers Piccolo Fritto with Crunchy Lentils

Fried Figs

Piccolo Fritto is a signature dish at Zuni Cafe in San Fransisco. Notice I said dish and not recipe, because like my version with fried figs and capers, piccolo fritto is a little fried plate of whatever is seasonal in whatever combination appeals to the cook.

The trick is to look for complimentary flavors. I chose fried figs, which might surprise you. It’s August and I’ve stolen more figs this year than ever before. I have to use them in more and more creative ways. Once I had decided on fried figs, it was easy to pick capers to go with them. Capers have a strong salty flavor. Figs love strong, salty flavors (think prosciutto and blue cheese). But to keep things fresh and creative, I also included a few crunchy roasted lentils on the plate. I don’t think Zuni serves their piccolo fritto with crunchy lentils, but I’m sure they’d approve because these roasted lentils add textural contrast to the luscious jammy interior of the fried figs.

These lentils really did add another layer to this little aperitivo snack plate. I’d recently had deep fried, chick peas in Carmel, CA so the idea of a crunchy bean as a cocktail nibble was bouncing around in my head. Then at a dinner at Girasol I noticed crunchy lentil beans served on a plate with perfect nectarines. I casually asked if they were fried. When the server said, “roasted” I knew instantly how to make this crunchy little addictive treat. I didn’t even have to ask for the recipe. I’ll have more about these beans in the next post.

Fried Figs

Right now I’d prefer to talk about fried figs. Maybe figs aren’t the first thing that pops into your head when someone says fritto misto, but why not? This is fig season and this little mixed plate of fried food is a wonderful sweet and savory combination of tastes and textures. I’m hoping you’ll see how fried figs can make a great small plate accompaniment to a simple Italian apertivo. Make a bunch and serve them communally on a big plate at cocktail hour. It’s still summer and figs are still in season. So come on and give fried figs a try. GREG

fried figs with capers and crunchy lentils

Fried Figs and Capers with Crunchy Lentils

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Fried Figs and Capers

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cooked lentils (black, green or “French”)
  • 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • pinch kosher salt (or more as needed)
  • pinch freshly cracked black pepper (or more as needed)
  • peanut oil (as needed depending on pan)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup semolina
  • 12 ripe figs (halved or quarted into bite size wedges)
  • ¼ cup capers (well rinsed and very dry)

Directions

Make the crunchy lentils: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the cooked lentils into a medium bowl and toss them with oil, garlic powder, onions powder, and a pinch of salt. Spread them out in as close to a single layer as possible on a parchment lined baking sheet. Place them in the heated oven and let them roast 25 to 30 minutes, shaking and stirring them every 8 or 10 minutes to assure even cooking. Let them get quite browned and crunchy, but not burned. Use your judgment on total cooking time.

Remove from oven and slide the parchment off the sheet and onto the counter to cool. Try and keep the lentils in place during this transfer. Once cool, they may be stored covered at room temperature for up to 3 days.

To fry: Heat 2 to 3‑inches of peanut oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat until temperature reaches 365 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Meanwhile, pour buttermilk into a wide shallow bowl; add a pinch of salt and set aside. Combine flour and semolina in a separate wide shallow bowl; add a pinch of black pepper and set aside. Line 1 large baking sheet with parchment paper and another with paper towels and set aside. Use a slotted spoon to dip fig wedges into the buttermilk, then transfer the wet fig to the flour mixture. Do not let the spoon touch the flour. Using just one hand roll the fig edges in the flour mixture; coating it on all sides. Using the same hand lift out the breaded fig, tapping it on the edge of the bowl to remove excess flour; transfer to the parchment lined baking sheet. Note that you will have one clean hand. Follow this breading procedure, keeping one hand clean throughout, until all the figs are breaded.

Working with a just a few at a time, fry the breaded figs in the hot oil without crowding. Fry undisturbed, until a pale golden crust sets, about 2 minutes. Using tongs, very gently turn any pieces that won’t otherwise brown on the top, but don’t disturb them too much as the crisp breading is fragile. Once golden, lift out the pieces with tongs or a mesh skimmer, letting the oil drip back into the pan for a moment, then set gently set on the paper towel lined baking sheet to drain. Repeat with remaining figs.

While the oil is still hot place the capers into a long handled, heat-proof fine mesh sieve. Place the sieve in the oil taking care that the capers are submerged fully, but the sieve handle hangs over the edge of the pan and sits securely on its own. Let the capers become quite crisp, about 2 minutes. Then, using an oven mitt if necessary, lift the sieve up to let the oil drip off, then dump the fried capers onto the paper towel lined baking sheet with the figs.

To serve: Scatter the crunchy lentils onto a serving plate, top with figs and capers. Serve communally with forks and napkins, while still hot.