“When time who steals our years away
Shall steal our pleasures too,
The mem’ry of the past will stay
And half our joys renew.”
I cannot discuss figs without a nod to my beloved grandfather whose contagious passion for life and food was unparalleled. While many of those around us pooh-poohed the humble little fruits he raved of their value and shared it with me. In his “Shangri-La” home he ceremonially planted a fig tree for me and every fall I had one of the truest joys life offers, that of picking ripe fruit from a spectacular tree and enjoying it’s pleasures. Fig trees are so poetically beautiful with the very leaves Adam and Eve used to cover their nakedness in the Garden of Eden. Legend has it that the Greek goddess Demeter first revealed to mortals the fruit of autumn, which they called the fig. The fig tree was held sacred in all countries of Southwestern Asia, and in Egypt, Greece, and Italy.
Every inhabitant of ancient Athens, including Plato, was a “philosykos”, literally translated, “a friend of the fig.” I pity those who’ve not yet fallen under their spell, fig lovers are not common people, we are a sensuous bunch who find pure satisfaction indulging in the sun warm fruit unaltered, straight out of hand with their gentle, leathery skin and squishy, moist, sweet center. Although considered a fruit, the fig is actually a flower that is inverted into it self.
The prophet Mohammed once exclaimed: “If I should wish a fruit brought to Paradise it would certainly be the fig.” And alas here in paradise six types of fig trees florish. These are some beloved recipes if you’d like to take advantage of this ancient treat.
Grilled Prosciutto wrapped Figs, filled with Minted Goat Cheese with a Honey Mint Drizzle
25 black mission figs
½ bunch mint
4 oz goat cheese
½ tsp sugar
6 oz prosciutto
Drizzle: ¼ cup honey with 1 tbl. minced mint stirred in
Gently snip off stem and slit the figs in half lengthwise, scoop out part of center w/ small melon baller. Blend mint, cheese & sugar then fill the figs. Cut each slice prosciutto in half lengthwise. Wrap the filled figs with prosciutto strips & secure with toothpicks or small skewers. Grill or bake till a bit crisp and tender. Drizzle with minted honey to serve.
Grilled chilies balance the potent sweetness of figs in this exotic salsa, a perfect duet.
2 baskets ripe figs
¼ cup minced red onion
1 serrano grilled, minced
1 jalapeño grilled, minced (use half for medium spice)
1 grilled Anaheim chili, minced
2 Tb. fresh basil
¼ cup cilantro
2 Tb. lemon juice
2 t. olive oil
Dice the figs and onions. Grill or char the chilies over open flame (I use the stove most often), and then pop them in a plastic bag to steam a bit. Remove the charred skin, stem and seed, and then dice the chilies as well. Chop the herbs and blend all together.
Shallot Fig Port Wine Marmalade
Ripe figs, a good Port and honey…it doesn’t get any better. Fantastic with a dark game, squab or duck breast.
Sautéed in butter, add;
Caramelize until golden, add;
3oz. good port wine
tad fresh ground pepper
8 very ripe figs, diced
Toss in the pan until heated through.
Seared Fig Salad
8 cups loosely packed seasonal salad greens, endive, and mache
12 ripe figs
Olive oil or spray
Fresh ground pepper
½ cup toasted chopped hazelnuts
Hazelnut Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
Halve the figs lengthwise while you heat an iron grill pan to near smoking. (Alternately a medium hot grill can be used). Spray or brush on olive oil and season with pepper. Grill quickly cut side first. Serve on the greens topped with the toasted hazelnuts and vinaigrette.
Yield ½ cup
2 Tb. vinegar (champagne, red or white wine, as you choose)
1/2t. minced garlic
1/3 cup hazelnut oil
fresh ground black pepper and salt
Whisk oil while gradually adding it to the other ingredients. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Pollo con Higos Borachos
Tender bronzed chicken doused with saucy drunken figs. One of my favorite meals on earth. Prepare the figs several hours or a day in advance.
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup water
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 slice of lemon
1 cinnamon stick
1 lb. fresh black mission figs
In a medium sized heavy bottom sauce pan bring to a boil sugar, water, vinegar, lemon slice and cinnamon stick. Simmer 5 minutes. Add the whole figs, return to a gentle boil and simmer over medium low heat 10 minutes more, swirling them around occasionally. Remove from heat and cover or let sit out several hours or overnight.
For the chicken:
3 /4 cup red wine
1/2 lemon, zest only
2 double boneless, skinless chicken breasts or 6 pieces of bone in chicken
salt and pepper to taste
3 slices of bacon, cut up
1Tb. olive oil
3Tb. chicken stock
1Tb. lemon juice
45 minutes before dinner will be served;
Transfer the figs to a small bowl reserving the fig soaking liquid; discard the cinnamon stick and lemon slice (or reserve for garnish). Pour the wine and lemon peel over the figs in the small bowl. Let that sit while preparing the chicken.
I like to trim the double breasts into halves then diagonally split the individual breasts into thinner versions, they cook faster and serve more tender. Season the cut chicken well with salt and pepper. In a large cast iron or heavy skillet slowly heat the bacon pieces until they begin to turn golden and give off their oil. Remove the bacon and add the olive oil to the hot oil in the pan. Sauté the chicken over high heat until golden on all sides, approximately 3 minutes on each side, (or 7 if you’re using bone in or thick). Remove the chicken from the pan and add the wine that the figs have been soaking in. Leave the heat high and reduce the sauce 5 minutes. Add the original reserved fig stewing liquid and reduce over high heat 3-4 minutes. Add the stock and lemon juice to the pan. Return the chicken with any accumulated juices, the figs and bacon pieces as well if you want. (The bacon can also be crumbled on top later or discarded.) Simmer 5 to 10 minutes more turning the chicken over in the sauce half way through. Turn off the heat and allow to rest and thicken a few moments then serve. Top each with a quarter of the sauce.
Originally published in Food & Home Magazine.
Lynette La Mere, Pure Joy Catering Executive Chef and a fig lover