Beet, Fennel, and Fig Salad with Cranberry-Sage Dressing

Fresh figs always trasport me back to Paris. When I was doing the pastry course at Le Cordon Bleu, I stayed in a tiny studio, which belonged to a tiny, elderly lady named Mme Grosfilex. She was a motherly and wonderful landlady, determined to make me love Paris and France, and she introduced me to so many interesting people, including a family with 3 kids whose mother was Vietnamese, and the father French. They took me to their family estate in Normandy (a huge, beautiful, slightly crumbling mansion, straight out of a storybook) for the weekend, and there are two things that stand out about the trip above the sheer beauty of it: the first is that the portraits in the main dining hall had a habit of crashing to the foor, which the family attributed to the ghosts of generations of Normans who lived there (but I suspect it had more to do with the crumbling walls). The other is that we ate fresh figs from a brown paper bag on the car ride out of Paris. I had eaten dried figs many times before this, but had absolutely no idea what I was missing. What a revelation.

I have no recollection what the family’s name was, what we did, or what we talked about, but I always think of them fondly when I eat a fig.

This salad combines all the flavors of the season, and the arugula and fennel stand up perfectly to the sweetness of the beets and figs. Next time I would probably boil the beets instead of roasting them (so much time and energy for a salad), but the combination of flavors and the vinaigrette are definitely going into the repertoire.

Recipe is on page 50.