I ate my first figs this week. I didn’t want to, but Mama and Papa kept cajoling me. They were relentless. “It’s sweet,” she’d say. “It tastes kind of like a grape,” he’d say. “You’ll like it,” they’d say. Finally, I took a tentative bite. Then another. The supple flesh yielded a delicate sweetness. I took another bite. Where have these been all my life?
Turns out, they’re not always available. My friend Milo recently picked the first figs from his tree. And, like pomegranates, figs aren’t in stores year-round. You have to wait for them, so savor them!
Incidentally, Fig Newtons are named for the place where they’re made: Newton, MA. Mama says it’s a nice place to visit, particularly in the fall. You also might be interested to know that figs need tiny wasps to pollinate them—wasps that lose their antennae and wings as they excavate a path toward the center of the fruit. I’m sure you can understand what that means: they don’t make it back out! But don’t worry: the fig ends up digesting the wasp, much as we digest the fig, so it’s not like you’re really eating a tiny wasp with every fig. It’s kind of funny to think that, though, isn’t it?
Mama gave me some ideas to get you started. There are no recipes, as this is just what she’d put together.
- Toast pine nuts in a dry pan while you’re blanching or steaming green beans (which are in season right now!) until bright green. Add the beans to the pan with quartered figs, a pat of butter, then finish with a toss of sea salt and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. Serve alongside a grilled or roasted pork tenderloin.
- Whisk together 1 part fig-balsamic vinaigrette and a smidge of Dijon mustard with 2–3 parts olive oil until combined. Season to taste with salt & pepper. Pour over fresh greens, halved figs, crumbled goat cheese, and torn prosciutto.
- Halve figs and place them, cut side up, on a baking sheet (lined with foil or parchment). Drizzle honey over them and bake at 350°F until figs are soft and releasing their juices, about 10 minutes. Terrific on their own as a snack, over ice cream, or serve with strawberries or raspberries and Brie or blue cheese.
- Caramelize onions or leeks in butter, layer them in a pastry shell (either premade or store bought—or heck, break out the phyllo or puff pastry), top with figs, goat cheese, and fresh thyme, then bake until the crust is done. Finish with a swirl of balsamic reduction. Or skip the tart and pile all this loveliness on a pita, naan, or flatbread for a personal pizza; add some arugula or mache for a subtle peppery or nutty note.
- Cook equal parts chopped figs & sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat until thickened, squishing the fruit as you go along. Now you have jam!
- Poach figs in port or Grand Marnier with the seeds of a vanilla bean, and a strip of lemon or orange peel, and aromatics like a cinnamon stick, cloves, or star anise. Then reduce the liquid until it’s of a syrupy consistency. Serve over ice cream, panna cotta, tapioca, or angel food cake.
- Slice them, dehydrate them (in a very low oven or in a dehydrator), then toss into salads or granola or mashed sweet potatoes—or simply snack on them as they are.
- Bake a basic yellow or almond cake in a jelly roll pan (lined with parchment paper). Carefully lift the cake out of the pan, and cut in half. Spread your fig jam over one half of the cake, lay the other half on top, and slice into even squares. How’s that for a fig newton??
I hope you enjoy figs as much as I do.