Figs, Glorious Figs

Flavorful and fresh, figs are versatile and simple, and yummy in a variety of iterations.

Fig mélange.

Photography by Scot Gordon. Food by J Frank. Styling Julie Vanden-Bosch. Location thanks to Historic Tuckahoe Plantation.

Where would we be without the fig? Well, to start with, embarrassed, if you’re Adam or Eve. Or Michelangelo’s David. Indeed, what fruit—except the apple—has the distinguished provenance of the fig? It features prominently in the history of man, from the Garden of Eden to the Sumerian civilization 3,000 years B.C., through the Renaissance and to your kitchen table.

Plump and sweet, its juicy pink flesh has survived centuries and outlived entire civilizations, all the while maintaining its reputation as a culinary delight worthy of the gods.

There are hundreds of varieties, all with their own distinctive qualities. But Americans are most familiar with about a half-dozen. Chances are you know them best by their colors. There are green ones (Calimyrna) and brown ones (Brown Turkey), yellow ones (Adriatic and Kadota), even purple ones (Celeste and Mission). Brown Turkey, Kadota and Celeste are sweeter; Adriatic and Calimyrna, less so. Black Mission and Celeste are good when dried; Calimyrna and Kadota are spectacularly full-flavored fresh off the tree.

The joy of the fig is that there are myriad ways to enjoy them. Stuff them. Roast them. Dip them in chocolate. When preparing a dish with figs, be sure not to overwhelm them with stronger flavors. A nice crème fraîche is a perfect complement; tangy goat cheese, the perfect foil.

Or, more simply, just pluck and eat—the fig is at once elegant and rudimentary, all by itself. Figs appear in salads, in main dishes and desserts. You can sauté them, dress them or turn them into jam. What can the fig not do?

If there is a downside to the fig, it is that it is only with us Easterners for a couple of months a year, and grocery store prices rival those of, say, a decent steak. On the bright side, contrary to what most gardening experts say, fig trees are trouble-free, save for a little staking at first and some sheltering from the wind. Enough about all that fertilizing or the need for a vast area of space. Mine has thrived on neglect; the only real threat being the possum that makes nightly raids on my tree. Proof that people aren’t the only ones who love them.

Fresh fig tart

Fresh Fig Tart

For the almond crust:

2 cups almond flour

1 cup pastry flour

½ cup cold butter, cut in pieces

2 tablespoons sugar

pinch of salt

Mix all ingredients in food processor until it forms a ball. Chill for an hour. Using a rolling pin, roll dough on a floured surface to 1/3-inch thickness. Place dough in pie pan and cover with parchment. Weight parchment using rice or pie weights. Bake 25-30 minutes until golden. Cool.

For the filling:

1 cup crème fraîche

3 tablespoons brown sugar

2 egg yolks

2 teaspoons vanilla (not extract)

2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed orange juice

enough Black Mission figs to cover crust standing up

Mix all ingredients, and cream well using a hand-mixer or mixing bowl. Pour filling into cooled crust.  Quarter figs and arrange standing up in filling. Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.

Chilled almond and fig soup; fig kisses; grilled chilled figs, Smithfield ham and citrus cream.

Chilled Almond and Fig Soup

8 ounces almonds

5 ½ ounces white bread

approximately 13 ounces cold water

7 ounces olive oil

1 ½ tablespoons sherry vinegar

2 cloves garlic

2 teaspoons lemon oil

salt and pepper to taste

Pulse almonds, bread and garlic in food processor. Add water with motor running. Slowly drizzle in olive oil and sherry vinegar. Chill. Pour soup into bowl and add quartered figs. Drizzle with lemon oil.

Serves 2-4.

Fig kisses

Fig Kisses

6-8 figs any variety, at room temperature

1 ½ cup white chocolate, melted

1 cup toasted, coarsely chopped salted or unsalted pistachios

Dip figs into white chocolate, roll in pistachios and let set until ready to serve.

Grilled Chilled Figs, Smithfield Ham and Citrus Cream

2 Calimyrna figs

2 Black Mission figs

2 very thin slices of Smithfield ham

For the citrus cream:

4 ounces mascarpone

4 ounces heavy cream

¼ cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

zest of one lemon

juice of half lemon

zest of one lime

juice of one lime

pinch of salt

Mix citrus cream ingredients until smooth. Quarter figs.

Arrange ham on plate and top with figs. Spoon cream around plate.

Serves one.

Grilled figs and goat cheese on arugula and mint

Grilled Figs and Goat Cheese on Arugula and Mint

6 figs, halved and lightly grilled

3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

3 cups of arugula

½ cup fresh mint leaves

olive oil

Toss all ingredients. Drizzle lightly with olive oil.

Serves 2-3.

This article originally appeared in our June 2012 issue.

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