The fig is one of the oldest fruits known to humankind and one of the earliest
cultivated fruits: The earliest evidence of figs known to us today are remnants
of the fruit that were found in excavations of Neolithic sites that date back at
least to 5000 BCE.
Figs picked not quite ripe can be kept at room
temperature for a day or so, but dead-ripe figs are very perishable and must be
refrigerated if you want to keep them longer than a few hours. Even then, they
may not last more than a day or two.
In stores, select the ripest figs
you can find, but avoid any that are obviously overripe – mushy, bruised,
discolored or exuding liquid.
One of the best ways to enjoy figs is out
of hand, warm from the sun or chilled from the fridge, and they are delightful
halved or quartered and eaten with cheese as an appetizer, with honey-drizzled
yogurt for breakfast or with a sprinkling of brown sugar and a spill of heavy
cream as dessert.
But their uses in cooking are myriad, in both sweet and
savory dishes. Roasting or baking intensifies their natural sweetness and
concentrates the flavor, which can sometimes be a little bland.
flavor partners for figs include yogurt, mascarpone and almost any cheese,
especially blue and aged cheeses such as Parmesan; nuts; cured meats, lemon and
orange; honey or brown sugar; ginger; pears; sweet onions (in savory dishes);
balsamic and other mellow vinegars; fortified wines such as port or sherry. Some
cookbooks suggest that figs be peeled, but their skin is so thin that I cannot
imagine why anyone would go to that trouble.
For something a little
contemporary, I like to halve fresh figs, add a dollop of goat cheese to the
cavities, top each with an almond and bake them at 200 degrees until the cheese
softens and the figs are heated through, about 10 minutes.
vary the formula by using blue cheese and pecans, which makes for an even more
Another sophisticated idea: Slice figs to top a
sweet-savory pizza, all the rage in the hippest Italian bistros these days. Add
crumbles of blue cheese. If you like, just before serving, strew some arugula
leaves over the top.
Here are some other tempting ideas gleaned from
recent cookbooks, followed by a couple of recipes from my own kitchen, that
demonstrate just how versatile – and trendy – this ancient fruit can be:
At the legendary Inn at Little Washington in Virginia, chef
Patrick O’Connell serves this wonderful syrup over puffy, light cottage cheese
and buttermilk pancakes.
Melt 11⁄4 Tbsp butter in a skillet over medium
heat; add 11⁄4 cup sliced peaches and 1 cup quartered figs. Cook for 2 minutes,
stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a simmer.
Add 1⁄4 cup maple
syrup; bring to a boil and cook 2 minutes more. (Can be made in advance and
rewarmed before serving.)
(Adapted from Patrick O’Connell’s Refined American
e, Bullfinch, $45) Vanilla-roasted figs
At California’s much-lauded French
Laundry, chef Thomas Keller makes vanilla-roasted figs to serve warm with ice
cream: Cut split vanilla beans into 5- cm. lengths, slice off the tops of the
figs and insert a piece of vanilla bean into a small slit at the top of each
fig. While preheating oven to 250º, melt 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter in an ovenproof
pan that will hold the figs standing upright; then add 11⁄4 tsp. sugar and stir
Stand the figs in the butter, add any remaining vanilla bean
pieces to the pan and bake for 10 minutes.
(Adapted from The New York
Times Country Weekend Cookbook, St. Martin’s Press, $23) Broiled figs
writer and cookbook author Melanie Barnard suggests broiled figs as a romantic
dessert for two: Quarter four figs and divide them, cut side up, among two
generously buttered gratin dishes. Sprinkle figs with 2 Tbsp. light-brown sugar,
a tsp. of grated lemon zest and 11⁄4 Tbsp. lemon juice. Broil for a
minute or two, until sugar is melted and bubbly, watching to prevent burning. We
might be tempted to pour some heavy cream over the top before
Adapted from Short & Sweet: Sophisticated Desserts in 30
Minutes or Less
(Houghton Mifflin, $14.95) Figs and goats’ cheese salad
maven Catherine Walthers tosses arugula, goat-cheese crumbles, shelled pistachio
nuts and figs roasted with a little brown sugar in an oiled ovenproof skillet at
200º for 15 to 20 minutes. She dresses the salad with a balsamic
(Adapted from Raising the Salad Bar
, Lake Isle Press,
FIG-AND-CREAM-CHEESE- STUFFED FRENCH TOAST
The mascarpone cheese adds a
touch of luxury but is optional; offer warm maple syrup and a bowl of plain
yogurt as toppings.
✔ 1 cup chopped figs (about 10 small figs)
100 gr. softened cream cheese
✔ 1 Tbsp. mascarpone cheese
✔ Zest of 1 small
✔ 12 slices halla or other white bread, about 1⁄2 to 1
✔ 2 eggs
✔ 1 cup milk
✔ 1⁄4 tsp. salt
✔ 3 Tbsp. butter, divided
In a medium bowl.
Place the chopped figs, cream cheese, mascarpone and all but
1⁄4 teaspoon of the orange zest and fold together until thoroughly blended.
Spread the mixture on each of 6 slices of the halla and top with the remaining
slices to make sandwiches. In a large shallow dish, beat the eggs well and add
the milk, salt and remaining 1⁄4 tsp. of orange zest.
Heat 1 Tbsp. of the
butter over medium-low heat in a skillet large enough to hold two sandwiches.
Place each sandwich in the egg-milk mixture, turning to coat both sides; do not
allow bread to remain in the mixture long or it will soak up too much liquid.
Cook the sandwiches, two at a time, until they are browned on both sides; add
another Tbsp. of butter for each round. Keep the sandwiches warm in a low oven
while you are cooking the second and third batches.
mother’s recipe for fig preserves did not survive her, but I have arrived at
something similar, with the addition of ginger-root, which she might have liked
but wouldn’t have been able to find in stores in the days when I was growing up.
I make these as refrigerator preserves, but if you want to store them
unrefrigerated, feel free to go through the additional steps required for safe
canning (among the many resources offering canning instructions is
Yields 6-7 cups
✔ 8 cups chopped figs
✔ 2 4-cm. knobs of ginger-root
✔ 2 small lemons
✔ 1⁄4 cup lemon juice
In a large bowl or dish, cover the chopped figs with the sugar and mix lightly
to make sure the figs are thoroughly coated.
Cover and place in the
Peel the ginger-root with a swivel peeler and chop
Wash the lemons, cut them into quarters lengthwise and remove
all the seeds you can see; then slice the quarters very thinly crosswise. You
will have thin triangles of lemon with peel still attached. Search out and
discard any remaining seeds. Transfer the figs and sugar, with any liquid that
has accumulated, to a large saucepan or a deep skillet. Add the chopped
ginger-root, the lemon slices and the lemon juice and heat over medium-low heat to
keep the mixture just bubbling. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture
is thick and preserve-like; watch carefully toward the end and stir often. (Cook
to a consistency slightly thinner than what you want the preserves to be, as the
preserves will “set up” as they cool.) This may take up to 2 hours, depending on
the moisture content of the figs.
Ladle the preserves into clean,
sterilized jars and store in the refrigerator, or proceed with water-bath
canning steps. McClatchy Newspapers MCT