Try a.. Fig!

30 Sep

A few years ago, my roommate and very good friend, Adam, found a little sapling in the jungle that is the backyard. He identified it as a fig sapling. How he did this, I have no idea; if I get near a plant, it dies. Despite my near presence, Adam nursed that sapling into a short but incredibly prolific fig tree.

When Adam planted the fig sapling, another good friend of mine, Tiffany, who happens to be an amazing chef, told me that I better get ready and learn things to do with figs. She has a couple of fig trees and ‘bountiful’ doesn’t even begin to describe their produce. The upshot? Along with all the other fruit in the backyard, we get a lot of figs each year.

I’d never tried figs. Or, well, my only experience with figs growing up was eating Fig Newtons. Enough said. I eventually had a real fig at some point, but it was ghastly and I never wanted to try eating a fig again.

I think a lot of people are not fond of figs because there are some bad, gummy figs out there. Seriously.

But also there exists …..

One night I was at my favorite LA restaurant, Lucques, which was opened by my favorite chef Suzanne Goin, about whom I’ve written before. She opened Lucques along with her genius business partner Caroline Styne. It was a Lucques’ Sunday Supper, a wonderful night where you basically eat what the chef cooks that day. Late in the evening, dessert came to the table. And it was… figs and pecorino cheese on a plate drizzled with honey. I thought, “Huh, what? Where’s the hell is the dessert??” Thankfully, I was with… my friend Tiffany! (Funny how things works that way.) Tiffany happily dove in. I shrugged and tried the “figs and pecorino and honey” and… wow, oh my goodness. It was incredible. The figs were so moist and tender and full of flavor. Nothing like the terrible fig I’d had before. Combined with the pecorino cheese, with its salty tang, and also the honey… well, it was divine. I learned yet again that simplicity rules with cooking. Just a few top-notch ingredients, simply prepared, can be better than the most elaborately prepared dish.

When the fig tree in the backyard is bursting, I often serve this to people for dessert. And I see the same reaction as my own at Lucques: “Huh?.. What??”  Then I get to see the follow-up reaction, also the same as mine. “Oh… My.”

Halved figs, combined with wedges of Pecorino cheese, drizzled with honey, is perfect following a big heavy meal… light but very satisfying, with just enough sweetness to serve as dessert. It actually makes a great appetizer as well, because of the saltiness. Try it as an appetizer with Prosecco or a nice white wine. Need an afternoon snack? Give it a try.

If you can’t find fresh figs, sliced pears or peaches also work well. But do try figs. It’s wonderful. Just be sure to get a good Pecorino in a wedge and a really fine honey. These both make the dish as much as the fresh fruit.

Adam’s fig tree in the backyard is so prolific I had to come up with other ways to use the figs. So I invented the following Fig Chutney. This, in a word, is the bomb. And quite easy to make. It’s one of those fly by the seat of your pants recipes: you can follow it exactly or fudge here and there with the ingredients, depending on what you enjoy. Yum. But don’t leave out anything, even the lemon. Each element works together to create a marvelous whole. The chutney works great as an accompaniment for meats. You can certainly use it as a jelly, though it may be a little too tart for some people for that. (The peppers give it a marvelous kick. Do NOT skip the peppers. I repeat, do not skip the peppers.)

My favorite way to use the chutney is as a topping on my goat cheese cheese spread, which is so good it was the very first post I did on this blog. The goat cheese spread is, as I called it, a near perfect food. It is made completely perfect by this chutney. If you are into canning, make a big vat, preserve it in mason jars and you will have the chutney in the cabinet for a long time. Otherwise, put the chutney in a container and it will keep in the fridge for at least a couple of weeks. If it lasts that long…

TOM’S FIG CHUTNEY

(this doubles easily, in fact, I always double it. No need to double the port, however.) 

– 1/2 stick butter

– 1 medium onion chopped 

– 3 small spicy red peppers, stems chopped off, smashed flat with the side of a knife

Saute onion and peppers in the butter until softened. Go slow… 10-15 minutes on medium. It is up to you how many seeds from the peppers you want to have float around. It depends on your desired level of spice. (The more seeds, the more spice.)

Add:

– 2 cups port (or one cup port/1 cup brandy but make sure to include port)

– 20-25 figs, quartered

– juice of one lemon

– 1/2 cup good quality brown sugar (you might start with less and then taste as you go, depending on how sweet you want it – and how sweet the figs might be)

– cinnamon stick

Let it slow cook, stirring occasionally, for at least a couple of hours. Taste as you go for sweetness and the amount of backend heat you want from the peppers.

Will keep a week or so in the fridge or can with mason jars

 

15 Responses to “Try a.. Fig!”

  1. SJ October 1, 2012 at 12:08 am #

    Thankfully my parents used to migrate south for the summer, so I got to experience real figs in Italy and Greece. I can testify to their yumminess. I’ve never made anything with figs, but then I’ve never bought figs in this country either. That’s down to the Euro-Fruit Phenomenon. Fruit bought on the other side of the channel, tastes different, it’s larger, juicier, and doesn’t look like it’s about to go nuclear. It also doesn’t come cling-wrapped to a styrofoam tray. Pity the British. Our supermarket fruit sucks rocks.

    • Tom P October 1, 2012 at 8:28 am #

      It’s always interesting, SJ, to travel to different parts of the world and compare produce. I must say we are terribly spoiled in California. We had great produce growing up in Texas but now when I go home to Texas it seems meager in comparison to CA.

      • SJ October 1, 2012 at 8:39 am #

        Aussie fruit is awesome too. Huge, juicy and tasty. 😀 I love markets. Kowloon was the best (Mainland Hong Kong), weird fruit and veg that I didn’t have a clue what it was in most cases.

    • kevin ryan October 1, 2012 at 11:17 am #

      …just started getting into figs and using them in my morning smoothie also started having dates and figs for a post dinner sweet treat…they are great

      • Tom P October 1, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

        Kevin, have you ever had one of those famous Date Shakes out in the desert? I tried one the last time I was coming back from Joshua Tree and it was incredible.

  2. Milli October 1, 2012 at 8:07 am #

    About 6-8 years ago, Mark & I were in Monte Carlo. One of his suppliers treated us to a fantastic night out at Le Chèvre d’or in Eze. Well……the setting was amazing, the people beautiful, and the food….I’m sure was fabulous. I was pretty tanked on champagne, but I DO remember it being about an 11 course meal, and EVERY course had figs in it. Right down to the pre-dessert, dessert, and to finish it off, fig liquor. I haven’t eaten a fig to this day, and don’t plan on it anytime soon. So enjoy your fig tree, just don’t send any my way! LOL

    • Tom P October 1, 2012 at 8:29 am #

      LOL Milli. I think I could prepare such a meal some years with the bounty here. No worries, I will eat yours for you!

    • Tom P October 1, 2012 at 8:31 am #

      Actually a friend of mine had a similar experience with zucchini, and won’t touch it. I cook it all the time (I also have tons of fresh zucchini from the back yard) and sometimes I forget when he and his wife come over. He can’t even be in the same room with it. And just zucchini… he is fine with yellow squash!

  3. SJ October 1, 2012 at 11:12 am #

    Tom, I am also willing to bet that my track record with plants is worse than yours. I once caused a cactus to implode. Beat that.

    • Tom P October 1, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

      LOL. that is hard to beat!

      • SJ October 1, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

        It grew to a height of eight inches, then it sort of collapsed and went all grey and soggy, like one of those long thin balloons when you let the air out.

  4. tiffyfed October 1, 2012 at 5:00 pm #

    Figalicious! The birds planted our trees and I’m so grateful. I’ll have to try the chutney. I’ve used all our for jam so far. Fig jam over brie cheese…. um yum. But the salty & sweet dessert from Lucques is quite divine. Thanks for the shout out by the way 🙂

    • Tom P October 2, 2012 at 9:41 am #

      I think you will like the chutney! And for sure on the shout out 🙂 You will have a post all to yourself soon !

  5. Teresa October 1, 2012 at 11:31 pm #

    My great aunt had a fig tree and every year we would end up with fig jelly it was great. Fig trees in Georga attact June Bugs which as a little girl I thought were the best thing ever. We would tie string to their leg and fly them about like kites or balloons it was great fun. I loved June bugs so much that I took to calling my sister June Bug. Much to her chagrin, she hated her first name and always went by her middle Valarie. But I meant it as a truly endearing, an affectionate pet name. Enjoy your figs they are a great treat and wonderful memories for me.

    • Tom P October 2, 2012 at 9:42 am #

      I did the same with June Bugs! I am also a huge fan of the movie ‘JuneBug’ 🙂

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