Cactus Figs, Salted Ricotta, Shiso Cress & Ras Al Hanout Dressing
Cactus figs, or "prickly pears" as they are know, may not be everyones cup of tea- and you may indeed have not ever tried them... unless you are Sicilian that is! These beautiful and prickly fruits come in many colors- pink, yellow and green being the most common, and are well loved on my little southern Italian island.
The main reasons that people may not like them are pretty easy to understand- they ARE covered in almost invisible, fine thorns and they ARE filled with seeds. If you already get all worked-up abaout eating water melon because of the seeds- these are not for you! You are supposed to eat them, seeds and all- and they are indeed very good for your digestion... but I am not going to go into that matter any further right now!
I decided to make an final course of sorts with these- a cross between a sweet and a cheese course and I have to thank my friend Stephen for the inspiration to combine them with cheese! The combination was great!
Peeling is a little tricky- you MUST be careful how you pick these critters up! Obviously, they are safe to touch in the visibly smooth areas, so take one carefully, lay it on its side first and cut off each end, so that you can then stand it up on your cutting board easily. Now, slice the skin away in sections, revolving the fruit little by little... it really isn't as tricky as you might think.
How to describe the flavor if you have never eaten them? Well, it IS somewhat reminiscent of water melon- juicy and refreshing- but like I said- lots of seeds! The best thing to do is to chew them, obviously, but not excessively so. Enjoy the freshness and the flavor but don't chew everything down as much as you normally might do- just swallow and enjoy!
I arranged the slices and segments of fruit on my serving dish and sprinkled a few, thin slices of salted ricotta around it... not too much as it IS very salty! This is otherwise not really a cheese to nibble on, but in combination with the sweet fruit if works fine. Especially in combination with the spicy dressing!
I made the dressing by blending a little olive oil and lemon juice, then adding a little honey, salt and pepper and some Ras Al Hanout Rouge powder. Maybe a strange combination, but I guess I was thinking of those figs growing on a cactus out in a desert landscape somewhere, and the Arabic part of Sicily's multi-cultural history... who knows?
The only thing that I do know is that the flavors were just fantastic together- especially with a scattering of shiso cress leaves for a bit of peppery freshness! Strange maybe, even weird, but also wonderful! And in any case quite a change from the usual! And I am always all for that! Buon apetito!