This weekend, my friend Guy Ambrosino showed up with a bag full of the ripest figs I’ve ever tasted. These things were solid sugar and so tender that they melted when I took a bite. Figs like these were the reason immigrants that settled in the Greek and Italian neighborhoods of New York City smuggled cuttings from their homelands to plant in the gardens of Astoria and the Lower East Side. Fig trees require care, but they pay you back with their fruits. They become a member of the family. After those smuggled trees matured inside, many were transferred outside. Many are still there, thanks to the mild micro-climate enjoyed by a small set of East Coast islands like those that make up New York City.
But fig trees don’t survive the winters throughout the rest of the northeast. I know; I’ve tried to plant them at my family’s farm. Even when they’re wrapped for the winter, they die.
But the figs Guy gave me were grown in the middle of New Jersey, by Bill Muzychko, who has become somewhat of a local legend for his 200+ varieties of fig trees. He’s figured out a way to successfully grow them.
Bill doesn’t sell his figs, but he does sell the fig trees, complete with an ingenious watering system that he has built into their planters. He also moves them inside for the winter and sends you home with a set of instructions to care for the plants, includes root trimming, pruning, and moving the trees every spring and fall. It might sound a little complicated, but having tasted the fruit, I can tell you it would be worth it. Next spring I’ll be buying a couple fig trees from Bill and start to care for the newest member of my family, the fig tree.
Fig, Goat Cheese, and Onion Pizza
For the dough:
1 teaspoon dry or fresh yeast
3/4 cup warm water
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
For the topping:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium onions, sliced
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely grated pecorino cheese
8 to 10 fresh figs, quartered
3 oz crumbled goat cheese
1 fresh red chile, chopped
Fresh oregano leaves
Make the dough: Stir together the yeast and water and let stand until foaming, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour, 1 tablespoon of the oil, and the salt then beat in a mixer using a paddle attachment until elastic, about 5 minutes (this is a wet dough). Dust the surface of the dough with flour and let it rise in the bowl until it is doubled in volume, about 1 hour at warm room temperature.
Make the topping: While the dough rises, heat the butter in a large heavy skillet over medium high heat until hot, then stir in the onions and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally and then more frequently as needed, until the onions are caramelized and dark golden brown, about 40 minutes. Reserve the onions.
Preheat the oven to 500°F.
Oil a baking sheet with the remaining 2 tablespoons of the oil, then turn the dough out onto the oiled sheet. Working from the center out to the edges, stretch the dough to fill the pan. (This is easiest when done a little at a time over a few minutes. Stretch the dough and let it stand until it relaxes, then stretch some more.)
Bake the dough until it is set and golden in places, about 8 minutes.
Evenly scatter the onions over the dough then sprinkle with the pecorino. Scatter the figs over the pizza, then scatter the goat cheese over top. Bake the pizza until the dough is crisp and and blackened in spots and the cheese is golden in places. Scatter the chile and oregano over the pizza, cut into pieces and serve.