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Fresh Figs

Perfectly ripe figs are amazing eaten out of hand, they're also great in simple preparations, some raw and others cooked

Fine Cooking Issue 94
Photos: Scott Phillips
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I didn’t start out loving fresh figs. Like most fig fearers, I used to be put off by their texture—soft, yielding, what some would call squishy. But one taste of the sweet, honeyed deliciousness of a ripe fig turned me around.

Fig ideas

Perfectly ripe figs are amazing eaten out of hand, but I also like to use them in very simple preparations, some raw and others cooked.

Figs with lemony mascarpone and honey: Figs topped with lemon-scented mascarpone (at right) are a delicious and easy dessert. Check out the recipe.

Prosciutto-wrapped figs: Wrap whole or halved figs in strips of paper-thin prosciutto for a simple starter.

Fig and manchego crostini: Coarsely chop fresh figs and toss with balsamic vinegar and kosher salt or fleur de sel (about 1/8 tsp. vinegar and a small pinch of salt per fig). Brush slices of baguette or ciabatta with olive oil, toast under a broiler, and top with thin slices of manchego, allowing it to melt a bit. Top each crostini with some of the chopped figs. Serve warm.

Green salad with figs and pancetta: Toss salad greens with a shallot vinaigrette made with fruity olive oil and balsamic vinegar for sweetness and sherry vinegar for zip. Arrange the salad on plates, top with a few fig quarters, cubes of sautéed pancetta, and some crumbled toasted walnuts or pecans. Finish with shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Fig and cheese platter: For an easy dessert, pass a platter of perfectly ripe fig halves, whole toasted almonds or pecan or walnut halves, and cheeses such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, dry Jack, aged Gruyere, manchego, or a creamy blue.

Bacon-wrapped figs: Make a fast appetizer by wrapping halved figs in thin-sliced bacon (half a slice per fig) and securing with a toothpick. Broil until the fat is rendered, the bacon crisp, and the fig hot.

Grilled cheese-stuffed figs: Make this vegetarian starter by cutting figs about halfway up from the bottom, stuffing with a morsel of Gorgonzola or Stilton, and gently pressing closed. Brush or spray the figs lightly with olive oil and grill just until they’re hot.

Fig coulis: Purée fresh figs with balsamic vinegar, a little olive oil, and salt and pepper. Add enough water to create a pourable consistency. Serve with poultry or pork.

Fig focaccia: Top raw dough with a little crumbled goat cheese and cover with sliced figs. Sprinkle with brown sugar, add a scattering of fennel seeds, and drizzle with olive oil. Bake until browned.

Sautéed figs: For a simple but sophisticated dessert, melt butter and a little honey in a skillet. Sauté fig halves cut side down just until blistered and slightly browned. Finish with a squeeze of orange juice or a tablespoon of sweet wine and drizzle with the pan sauce.

Fig compote: Poach whole or halved figs in a lightly spiced syrup just until tender. Use a 1 to 2 ratio of sugar and liquid (water and wine or fruit juice), plus seasonings. Try rosemary sprigs, strips of orange zest, and a cinnamon stick; or the zest and juice of a lemon, half a vanilla bean, and either star anise or cardamom pods. Make the syrup first, then poach the figs. Remove the figs after a few minutes and then add back after the syrup is cool, so the figs don’t get overly soft.

Need a little more direction? Try one of our fig recipes:

Figs with Lemon-Scented Mascarpone and Honey

Figs and…

Whether used in sweet or savory dishes, figs are great with a wide range of partners. It’s hard to go wrong if you pair figs with items grown or produced in areas where figs grow, such as:

  • Nuts All kinds.
  • Citrus and vinegars, particularly lemon, orange, grapefruit; and balsamic, red-wine, and sherry vinegars.
  • Honey, wines, and spirits Both dry and sweet wines, brandy, rum, port, and sherry.
  • Cured meats Ham, pancetta, bacon.
  • Pungent aromatics Anchovies, capers, olives, garlic.
  • Spices and herbs Warm spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, and star anise; mint, rosemary, thyme, and lavender.
  • Dairy Butter, cream, mascarpone, crème fraîche, and cheeses of all kinds. Figs with blue cheese is an outrageously good combination, but also try Parmigiano-Reggiano, ricotta salata, aged goat cheeses, and firm, tangy sheep’s milk cheeses.


Tips for buying and storing

Fresh figs have two seasons: a short one in early summer and a main crop running from late summer through fall. Which variety is available locally depends on where you live; not all varieties grow well in all areas. Because ripe figs are fragile and don’t travel or keep well, you’re better off buying tree-ripened figs available locally rather than looking for a specific variety.

Choosing ripe figs isn’t a matter of color, which varies among types. Instead, look for fruits that are heavy for their size and soft, yielding to gentle pressure. A ripe fig can be plump, but often the best ones are a little shrunken and wrinkled, possibly showing cracks in the skin. Look for a distinct bend at the stem. Avoid fruits that are very firm or overly squishy or that show signs of milky sap at the stem. And look carefully for signs of mold, the biggest enemy of ripe figs.

To keep figs in top form, watch them carefully and use them within a day or two. I like to set them on a plate on the counter, leaving space around each fig for air to circulate. Having them out in full view reminds me to use them and to check them frequently for mold (I turn them at each inspection so they rest on a different spot). Those with juices oozing should be eaten quickly. If you find mold, scrape it away with the tip of a knife, rinse the fruit, pat it dry, and use it pronto. Figs will last a little longer in the fridge, but I don’t think chilling improves them, so I avoid it.

Fig varieties

Native to the Mediterranean, figs can be cultivated anywhere winter lows don’t drop much below 20ºF. But not all types grow equally well in all areas. Below are some of the more widely available varieties.

Kadota is less sweet than some and has light-green skin and few seeds.
Calimyrna is large, with golden skin, pinkish-white flesh, and a nutty flavor.
Black Mission is very sweet and has blackish-purple skin and pink flesh.
Brown Turkey is large, with maroon skin and mild flavor.


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