Lonzino di fico, (meaning loin of figs, for the shape, as in pork loin), or salami di fichi (fig “salami”) is a southern Italian concoction of dried figs and nuts, usually walnuts, plus sometimes almonds and/or pistachios, too, and sometimes also dried apricots and/or dates, all finely chopped, laced with anise and lemon (though I prefer orange for the citrus element), wrapped in fig leaves, and air dried until firm enough to slice. With no flour and no added sugar, it’s like a gluten-free fruitcake in a log shape, and it’s my discovery of the moment. I say discovery because there exist plenty of old and new recipes and variations for it, but it’s new to me, and quite sensational! Lonzino’s home is the Marche region of southern Italy, but, with the emphasis on dried fruit and nuts, I imagine some ancient Arabic ancestry, too. Or, perhaps it was originally from somewhere in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia and Armenia, or else the countries that ring the Mediterranean sea from Spain and North Africa on to Turkey and Greece. All grow figs and nuts in abundance and those edible treasures are part of their daily cooking. Notes: Shaping the lonzino. You can form it into thicker or thinner logs according to the size slices you want. Or, you can skip the log shape and the wrapping altogether and press the mixture into a mound to serve more as a paste to, for instance, dollop into yogurt or ice cream or spread on toast rather than as something to slice. You can also roll the mixture into small balls and coat them in toasted white sesame seeds for a “toothpick” hors d’oeuvres.
:The fig leaves are a natural wrapping and they lend a touch of exotica. But they’re impossible to come by if you don’t have access to a fig tree and even then there won’t be any leaves in winter, so just go directly to the cheesecloth wrap. It works fine.
Makes 1 log, 1 1/2- to 2-inches in diameter, about 9 inches long
1/2 cup walnut halves and pieces
8 ounces Turkish or Calimyrna dried figs
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup Marsala, or similar sweet red wine
1/4 teaspoon anise seeds or 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 whole clove
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 pieces fresh organic orange peel, about 1-inch by 2-inches each
2 to 3 large fresh fig leaves, for wrapping the log (optional)
Cheesecloth, for the outer wrapping
1. Cut the stems off the figs, then cut the figs into quarters. Place the quarters in a medium saucepan. Add the vinegar, wine, anise seeds, clove, and black pepper, stir to mix, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook at a brisk simmer, stirring from time to time, until the liquid is basically gone, about 5 minutes. (Keep a close eye at the end because the mixture can go from evaporated to scorched in a blink.) Remove from the heat and set aside until cool.
2. Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in a microwave oven or ungreased skillet on the stovetop until lightly golden, about 3 minutes either way.
3. Transfer the figs to a food processor, add the peel, and process into a textured paste. Add the walnuts and process until they are coarsely chopped and mixed throughout. Form the mixture into a log about 9 inches long and 1 1/4- to 1 1/2-inches in diameter. Wrap the log in fig leaves, if using, then wrap in cheesecloth and tie the ends with string. Set aside at room temperature until firm and somewhat dried out but not hard, 1 to 3 or 4 days or so, depending on the weather. Will keep for 1 month or more in the refrigerator.