Everything You Wanted To Know (or not) About: Figs!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Figs are in season!!!!
Figs are a Love 'Em or Hate 'Em kind of fruit. Their deep red flesh are dotted with many tiny seeds (like the outside of a strawberry) and have a leathery texture to their skin that some people don't find very appealing. But they also have a deep sweetness to them, and when roasted or caramelized, only gets intensified making them ideal to flavor vinegars and balance out acidic dishes.
Their history goes back a long time. I mean a long time. Figs were one of the first plants cultivated by humans, as verified by various fossils dating back to a Jordan Valley village in 9200 BC. In fact, this find predates the domestication of wheat, barley and legumes, and thus may be known as the first ever piece of human agriculture!
Fast forward a few thousand years and you'll find figs to be a very popular ingredient used in Roman cuisine. Simply cut into salads and eaten in conjunction with almonds and fresh cheese, they were an official Go To Snack for the Roman people every day and for feasts. It was also recorded by Pliny The Elder that dried figs were used to force-feed geese to produce fois gras. In fact, Roman fois was called iecur ficatum which roughly translates to "liver of figs."
Dried figs continue to be consumed by the populace today, gaining in popularity over the years. Pureeing dried figs then combining with a good balsamic vinegar, leaving to ferment at least 2 weeks then straining the mixture is a way to make fig-infused balsamic, which is excellent for salads using bitter greens of winter like frisee and raddichio. They serve excellently in sauces to both add a sweetness and texture if you puree it, and pairs very well with roasted meats like pork and chicken. In fall I like to cut some up and add it to my granola. You can even add them to red wine along with various spices and orange peel during the holiday season to make a fig-flavored mulled wine.
But they are awfully pretty when they're fresh. So much so that I find them hard to bite into. Almost too irresistible, yet I manage to power through it. A classic combination for fresh figs that are now in season is to serve them with a good imported prosciutto and some creamy Gorgonzola cheese. If you want to take it a step further you can stuff a little cheese inside a fig-half and then gently wrap it with the salty prosciutto. Goes excellently with a sweeter white wine on a cooler August night.
Which ever way you do eat them, if you pick up fresh figs from the market make sure you consume them within a couple of days, as fresh figs have a very short life after being picked off the tree. Green skin turning towards purple means it's perfectly ripe; green is rather underripe and completely purple probably means they are overly ripe.
And don't forget that bottle of white!

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