food and wineIssue 29

In Season: Figs

By Ashley Stinson

Middle eastern peoples learned to cultivate figs more than ten thousand years ago, a full millennium before cultivating other plants such as wheat and barley. If you’ve ever had a ripe summer fig, I think you’d understand where they were coming from.

The first figs brought to California came with Spanish missionaries in the late 18th century—mission figs, which have remained a popular cultivar. Figs love warm, mediterranean climates, which makes California a perfect match for this juicy, vibrant fruit.

Figs are often dried or made into jams or preserves because the fruit does not stay fresh very long once it’s picked from the tree. Dried figs are a popular ingredient in fruit cakes, alongside dates and raisins. Finely minced and then rolled into a cookie log, dried figs can be made into fig rolls, or they can be finely minced and then stirred together with oats, nuts, granola and other dried fruits and honey to form quick, healthy snack bars.

For those lucky enough to live where fig trees flourish, like those of us in California, however, fresh figs are plentiful at area farmer’s markets, or can be grown in your own backyard. That’s excellent news because fresh figs are not only delicious, but make for an extremely versatile ingredient, which can be used in sweet dishes and savory dishes alike to give your meal a little extra something.

The unique flavor of the fig complements a wide range of dishes. Diced fresh fig is a great addition to greek yogurt, along with a little honey and granola, to make a parfait. For something a little fancy, but still easy, a halved fig can be sprinkled with raw sugar and then bruleed. At the other end of the sweet-savory spectrum, figs can be sauteed with a splash of water and balsamic vinegar to make a sauce that’s a great complement to any pork or poultry dish. Figs are also a natural complement to cheeses, and fig slices or fig jam are a must-have for any cheese platter at a dinner party. Even low effort fig dishes will net you huge compliments from all your friends.


LEMON FIG BARS

Ingredients:
Crust:
1 cup butter
½ cup granulated sugar 2 cups flour
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt

Filling:
5 large eggs
¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice Zest of 2 lemons
2 ripe figs
1 cup sugar
¼ cup flour

Directions:

  1. Let one cup of butter soften to room temperature and then cream with ½ cup sugar. Add salt and vanilla and mix. Add flour, stirring until just incorporated. Dough should be soft and malleable.
  2. Take an ungreased 9 by 13” pan and pour crust mixture in, using your fingers to press it flat against the bottom and up the sides until you have even coverage. Place in preheated 350 degree oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until crust is golden and just set.
  3. While your crust is baking, beat together your eggs and one cup sugar, until mixed. In a blender or food processor, puree the figs. Whisk together the egg mixture, lemon juice, lemon zest and fig puree until combined. Add flour and mix until it comes together.
  4. Pour the filling into the pre-baked crust and put it in the oven for 20 minutes, or until lemon fig bars are set and the filling no longer sloshes when the pan is moved. Let cool completely and then dust with powdered sugar and serve.

ROASTED PROSCIUTTO WRAPPED FIGS

Ingredients:12 large, ripe figs
12 thinly sliced pieces of prosciutto, pancetta, or bacon
8 ounces goat cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 450 F.
  2. Portion your goat cheese into 12 chunks of roughly equal size. With a paring knife, slice an X into the bottom of the fig and open it up a little. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt and pepper and then insert a piece of goat cheese. Press the fig gently around the cheese and then begin to wrap the prosciutto around the stuffed fig, making sure to wrap the cut end first and work your way up toward the stem end to ensure the fig is sealed properly.
  3. Pin the prosciutto in place with a toothpick and place the fig in a baking dish with the stem end facing upwards. Repeat the process with the rest of the figs until all have been stuffed and wrapped.
  4. Place your baking dish full of figs into the center of the preheated oven and cook for 8-10 minutes, until the prosciutto is crispy. Allow to cool before serving.
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