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.)
– 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