Thought to be the sweetest fruit, figs are also one of the oldest fruits recognized by man. Ficus carica, known to us, as the common fig, originated in northern Asia Minor. Spaniards brought the fig to America in 1520.

The fig tree was mentioned prominently in the Bible and some scholars believe the forbidden fruit picked by Eve was a fig rather than an apple, but it has been around much, much longer than the stories depict. Sumerian stone tablets dating back to 2500 B.C. record the usage of figs. The fig tree can live as long as 100 years and grow to 100 feet tall, although domestic trees are kept pruned to a height of about 16 feet. The fig actually bears its flowers inside the fruit and relies upon wasps to crawl inside to pollinate them. This unique fertilization process is called parthenocarpy.

There are hundreds of varieties of figs, ranging in color from nearly black to almost white, and only the female fruits are edible. The green varieties are normally reserved for drying. Cooked figs were used as sweeteners in lieu of sugar in historical times, and this usage continues today in North Africa and the Middle East. High in potassium, iron, fiber and plant calcium, figs are also used for medicinal purposes as a diuretic and laxative.

Italians have been eating figs for a very long time — figs, together with cheese, bread, and olives, were among the staple foods of the Roman Legions — and many of the immigrants who came to America from southern Italy, where fig trees grow very well, planted trees where they settled, harvesting the bounty in the summer and covering the trees in the winter if it got cold.

Times have changed and most of us have to make do with what we can find in the markets. Figs range from pale green to blackish burgundy red, and should look firm, with a rather voluptuous roundness to them. There should be no whitish sap emerging from the stems, though a drop or two of nectar from the depression at the base of the fig and slight splits in the skin are acceptable. If they’re overripe they become very sweet, but can also begin to ferment.

California is the largest fig producer in the United States, with most of the harvest ending up dried. It takes over six pounds of fresh figs to produce two pounds of dried figs.

Here are the more popular varieties:

• Adriatic: light green or yellowish-green in color with pale pink or dark red flesh. Not as sweet as other varieties. Noted for its pronounced flavor, especially when dried.

• Brown Turkey: medium to large, maroon-brown skin with sweet, juicy pulp. All purpose usage.

 

 

• Calimyrna (Smyrna grown in California): large, green skin with white flesh. Less moist and not as sweet as the Mission. Most popular in its dried form. Having thick skin, they are usually peeled when eaten fresh.

• Celeste: small to medium, violet skin with extremely sweet, juicy white pulp. Good fresh or dried. A favorite for container gardening.

 

Kadota: medium size, yellowish-green in color, thick-skinned with sweet white to amber-pink pulp. It has only a few small seeds. All purpose usage.

 

• Mission: purplish-black in color with red flesh, full-flavored, moist and chewy texture. Best for eating fresh, but also good dried. They are named for the California Franciscan missions where they have been cultivated since 1770.

It’s important to keep fresh figs cold to slow deterioration. Use them immediately or store in a plastic bag in the coldest part of your refrigerator for up to two days. Figs can be frozen whole, sliced or peeled in a sealed container for ten to twelve months.

Canned figs will be good for a year in your pantry. Opened canned remainders can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for a week.

Though serving them at the end of the meal obviously comes to mind — they are, after all, fruit — they also go very well with thinly sliced prosciutto as an antipasto.

Figs produce protein-digesting enzymes that break down muscle and connective tissue in meat, making them an excellent tenderizer as well as flavor-enhancer.

Fig Equivalents – How to Measure Figs

• 1 pound fresh figs = 9 medium

• 1 pound fresh figs = 12 small

• 1 pound fresh figs = 2-2/3 cups chopped

• 1 pound canned figs = 12 to 16 whole figs

• 1 pound dried figs = 44 whole figs

• 1 pound dried = 3 cups chopped

Dried Figs

Not to worry if you don’t have access to fresh figs. Dried figs are readily available.

Dried figs can be stored in the original sealed package at room temperature for a month. For longer storage, keep them in the refrigerator, six months to a year. Opened dried figs should be transferred to a sealable plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator.

 • Dried figs can be used interchangeably with prunes, dried apricots, and dates in most recipes.

• When chopping dried figs by hand with knife or scissors, dip cutting implement into warm water occasionally to prevent sticking.

• When chopping in a food processor, add some of the sugar called for in the recipe to prevent the figs from sticking.

• If dried figs seem hard or too dry, they can be soaked, steamed or poached to restore moisture.

• To separate dried figs that are stuck together, pop them in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds.

Cooking with Figs

You have probably had figs wrapped in prosciutto or stuffed with gorgonzola cheese as an appetizer. You may have had figs sliced over a salad or cookies with a fig filling. Have you tried figs as an accompaniment to your meat entree?

Fig and Rosemary Pork Pot Roast

6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 1 8-ounce package dried Calimyrna figs, stemmed, halved lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 6-rib blade-end or center-cut pork loin roast, chine bone removed, ribs cracked
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 14-ounce can low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300°F. Bring wine and figs to boil in small saucepan. Remove from heat and let stand until figs soften, about 15 minutes. Drain figs, reserving wine and figs separately.

Meanwhile, heat oil in heavy large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper. Add pork to pot and cook until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Transfer pork to platter.

Add onion and carrot to the same pot. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until onion is golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Stir in rosemary and garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add broth and reserved wine.

Return pork to pot, meat side down. Bring to boil. Cover and transfer to oven. Bake until a thermometer inserted into center of roast registers 150°F, about 1 1/2 hours. Add figs during the last 10 minutes of roasting,

Transfer pork to cutting board. Using slotted spoon, transfer figs to small bowl. Tent pork and figs with foil to keep warm. Spoon fat from surface of sauce. Bring sauce to boil. Stir butter and flour in medium bowl to blend. Whisk 1 cup sauce and mustard into butter mixture. Whisk mustard-butter mixture into sauce in pot. Boil sauce until thickened and slightly reduced, about 8 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer pork to platter, surround with figs, and pour sauce over. Carve pork between rib bones.

Note: You can use a center-cut pork loin roast (the most commonly available cut), but for a more moist roast ask your butcher for a six-rib blade-end pork loin roast. This cut isn’t stocked by many markets, so be sure to order it in advance.

 

Lamb Chops with Fresh Herbs and Roasted Figs

6 servings

Ingredients:

Lamb Chops

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 4 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram
  • 2 2-pound racks of lamb, trimmed of fat and sinew
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil

Directions:

Combine herbs in small bowl. Rub lamb with olive oil, half of chopped herbs, and garlic; cover and chill overnight.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Heat grapeseed oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle lamb with salt and pepper; sear until brown on both sides, 5 minutes total. Transfer lamb to large rimmed baking sheet; roast to desired temperature, about 20 minutes for medium-rare. Transfer lamb to cutting board; let rest 5 to 10 minutes. Maintain oven temperature; reserve baking sheet for figs.

Roasted Figs

  • 12 ripe Kadota figs, halved lengthwise
  • 16 sprigs lemon thyme or regular thyme
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:

Place figs and thyme sprigs on baking sheet. Sprinkle with remaining herbs and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. Roast in oven at 425°F for 10 minutes.

Cut lamb racks into individual chops; arrange on plates and place figs alongside.

Chicken with Figs and Port Sauce

The figs for the sauce need to marinate overnight, so start one day ahead.

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 12 ripe black Mission figs
  • 1 1/4 cups ruby Port
  • 3 bay leaves, divided
  • 1 3 1/2-pound chicken, cut into 2 legs, 2 thighs, and 2 breasts with wings attached
  • 18 slices prosciutto (about 12 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons butter or Smart Balance blend, divided
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped shallots
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 plum tomatoes, seeded, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth

Directions:

Place figs, Port, and 1 bay leaf in medium bowl. Cover and let figs marinate at room temperature overnight.

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Wrap 3 pieces of prosciutto around each piece of chicken, securing with metal lacing pins or toothpicks. Melt 1 tablespoon butter and the olive oil in a large pot. Add chicken and cook until browned on all sides, about 6 minutes total. Transfer to plate. Add shallots and garlic to pot. Sauté until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add 2 bay leaves, tomatoes, celery, and coriander; sauté 5 minutes. Add 1/4 cup Port from fig marinade. Return chicken to pot. Add 2 cups chicken broth. Cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through, adding more broth if too dry and turning chicken occasionally, about 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, transfer remaining Port from fig marinade to small saucepan. Boil until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add figs; cover and set aside.

Transfer chicken to platter. Boil sauce until reduced slightly, about 4 minutes. Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Pour sauce over chicken. Serve with figs in Port sauce.

 Roast Beef with Mushroom-Fig Sauce

Roast Beef with Mushroom-Fig Sauce

8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 pound beef eye round roast
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 ounces fresh cremini, stemmed shiitake, or button mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot or sweet onion
  • ½ cup dry red wine or port wine
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
  • 1 teaspoon snipped fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
  • ¾ cup lower-sodium beef broth
  • ½ cup chopped, stemmed dried figs
  • Fresh rosemary sprigs

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Trim fat from meat. Sprinkle meat with the salt and pepper, rubbing in with your fingers.

2. Place meat on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Insert an oven-proof meat thermometer into center of roast. Roast, uncovered, for 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 hours or until thermometer registers 135 degrees F (it is not recommended to roast an eye round roast past medium-rare). Cover meat with foil and let stand for 15 minutes before slicing. Temperature of the meat after standing should be 145 degrees F.

3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet heat oil over medium heat. Add mushrooms and shallot to skillet. Cook over medium heat for 5 to 8 minutes or until mushrooms are just tender and lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add wine to the skillet. Return to the heat and bring to boiling; boil gently, uncovered, for 3 minutes or until wine is reduced by about half. Whisk in mustard and 1 teaspoon rosemary. Add broth and figs. Bring to boiling; boil gently, uncovered, about 10 minutes or until liquid is slightly thickened and reduced by about one-third.

4. Thinly slice meat and serve with mushroom-fig sauce. Garnish with rosemary sprigs.

Still Life with Figs and Bread by Luis Melendez

Luis Meléndez, Still Life with Figs and Bread, 1760s, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington,

About these ads