Lots of Ways to Use Figs


Adriatic (left) and black mission figs

“It’s a fruit that’s revered among the food cognoscenti and among Old World Italian, Mediterranean types. But Americans have not really embraced it,” says cookbook author and culinary arts teacher Robert Wemischner, speaking of the fig. In the United States, figs are common in dried form, but rarely seen in their fresh state. Their extreme perishability and relatively short harvest season have limited their marketability, placing them in that category of ultra-fragile fruit that you’ll have a better chance of finding at a farmers market than in a supermarket. But only for a few months of the summer. Fresh figs are a fleeting, seasonal treat.

Figs are best eaten “with the sun still on them,” fresh off the tree, within a day or two of being picked, never having seen the inside of a refrigerator, Wemischner says. Those that aren’t consumed right away should be stored in a single layer, without touching each other. They should be as full to the touch as a water balloon, says Wemischner, but they shouldn’t cross that fine line that separates fully ripe figs from those that have started fermenting. The most common traditional use for fresh figs is in pastries and tart, chutneys, jams and conserves. But Wemischner, whose first book was The Vivid Flavors Cookbook: International Recipes from Hot & Spicy to Smoky & Sweet, likes savory uses of figs as much as the more traditional dessert treatments. They go well with the plants that grow around them in their Mediterranean homelands, such as Mediterranean herbs and olive oil, as well as salty cheese, such as feta, and prosciutto ham. Figs also pair well with hot peppers, as in a hot pepper-fig catsup with vinegar and brown sugar.

Fig Tartlets [top]

(Makes 24)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon white sugar or 1 1/2 teaspoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 pound (1 sticks) cold unsalted butter
2 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening
6 tablespoons ice water

12 figs, cut in half or lengthwise into long narrow strips
2/3 cup (1/3-pint) sour cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 eggs, well beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup finely chopped nuts
Powdered sugar
½ cup walnuts

1. Using a rubber spatula, thoroughly mix in a large bowl flour, sugar and salt.

2. Working quickly to prevent softening cut butter into 1/4 -inch pieces. Add to dry ingredients. Using a pastry blender or two knives, chop the butter into pea-sized pieces. Add vegetable shortening and with quick swipes of the pastry blender, cut the shortening into large chunks and distribute throughout the bowl. Continue to chop with the pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some pea-sized pieces. Drizzle the ice water over the flour mixture and work with rubber spatula until the mixture forms a ball, adding more water if needed. Flatten dough and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or for several hours.

3. Roll out the piecrust and cut into 24 pieces. With fingers press the pieces of crust into the bottom and sides of ungreased tea-size muffin pans. Divide figs equally between lined pans. In a bowl, mix sour cream, sugar, eggs, vanilla and nuts. Spoon mixture over figs, filling cups to the top. Bake in a preheated oven at 375° F for 15 to 20 minutes or until puffed and brown. Cool in pan. Run a sharp knife around each tart to loosen and unmold. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.

Terrific Fig Trail Bars [top]

(Makes 24 bars)

1½ cups whole wheat flour
¾ cups all purpose flour or oat flour
½ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
¼ cup wheat germ
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs or 6 tbsp egg substitute
1/3 cup melted margarine or butter
¼ cup honey
¼ cup molasses
1 tbsp finely grated orange peel
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup orange juice
1 cup California dried figs, stems removed, chopped
¾ cup raisins
½ cup walnuts

1. Combine flours, sugar, wheat germ, baking powder and cinnamon. In small bowl, blend eggs, margarine, honey, molasses, orange peel, vanilla and orange juice. Add liquid to dry ingredients; whip until smooth. Stir in figs, raisins and walnuts.

2. Spread in greased 9×13-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes, until done.

Fig Sugar Cookies [top]

(Makes about 4 dozen)

1 cup chopped figs (about 1/2 lb)
1/3 cup water
1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Cook figs with water, stirring frequently, until thickened (about 5 minutes). Set aside to cool.

2. Beat butter with sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Blend well. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix into the creamed mixture. Stir in the cooled figs. Drop by teaspoons onto lightly greased cookie sheets.

3. Bake 375 degrees F. for 10 to 12 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove cookies and cool on wire racks.

Fig Cake [top]

1 1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter
1 cup milk
4 egg whites, beaten
1 1/2 cups chopped figs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon molasses
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon lemon flavoring

1. Cream sugar and butter. Add milk.

2. Sift flour. Measure and sift with salt and baking powder.

3. Add one-half of flour mixture to sugar and butter. Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites and stir in remainder of flour and flavoring.

4. Take out one-third of this mixture. To the remaining two-thirds, add molasses, cinnamon and figs, which have been dredged in two tablespoons of the flour. Pour into well-oiled, slightly floured tube pan.

5. Swirl the remaining one-third light-colored mixture into the dark-colored mixture. Bake at 350 degrees F. for about 55 minutes.

Fig Jam [top]

2 quarts chopped fresh figs, about 5 pounds
3/4 cup water
6 cups sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice

1. To prepare chopped figs, pour boiling water over figs, let stand 10 minutes, then drain, stem and chop.

2. Add 3/4 cup water and sugar to figs. Slowly bring to boiling, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves.

3. Cook rapidly until thick, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. Add lemon juice and cook 1 minute longer.

4. Pour, boiling hot, into hot, sterilized jars, adjust caps, process 10-15 minutes in boiling water bath.

Preserved Figs [top]

2 pounds figs, unpeeled
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
8 thin lemon slices

1. Rinse figs well in cool water and then soak for 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Make a syrup by boiling the sugar and water together. When syrup is clear and slightly thick, about 10 or 15 minutes, add figs and sliced lemon.

3. Bring back to a boil and boil for 1 minute. Lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

4. Seal in hot, sterilized jars and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Frozen Fig Yogurt [top]

1. Blend 3 cups peeled, mashed figs, 1/2 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind.

2. Fold the mixture into 1/2 gallon low-fat or fat-free ice cream or frozen yogurt. Pack in an airtight container and freeze.

Fig Chutney With Dates [top]

5 cups red wine vinegar
1 pound light brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 pounds figs, stemmed and quartered
1 pound yellow onions, chopped
6 fresh hot red chiles, sliced diagonally
1/2 pound dates, pitted and chopped
1/4 cup shredded ginger
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1/2 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper

1. Place the vinegar, sugar, and salt into a nonreactive saucepan. Bring to a boil and then simmer 5 minutes.

2. Add the figs, onions, chiles and spices, bring to a boil again and simmer gently for an hour or until most of the liquid has evaporated.

3. Remove from the heat and ladle into hot, sterilized jars and seal. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Chutney will be ready in about a month.

Fig Chutney With Ginger [top]

(makes two cups)

1 large onion, coarsely chopped
8 tablespoons coarsely chopped gingerroot
4 serrano, jalapeno, or other hot chilis, seeded and coarsely chopped
4 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 cup golden raisins
1-1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1-1/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
4 tsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
8 large fresh figs, peeled and cut in 1/4-inch dice

1. Combine the onion, ginger, and chilis in food processor and chop until the mixture is the consistency of rice.

2. Spoon into a deep skillet and add lemon zest, raisins, vinegar, brown sugar, and spices. Cook over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes.

3. Add figs and bring to slow boil, stirring often until juices thicken. Refrigerate before serving.

Four Others Ways to Prepare Figs

Grilled [top]

Robert Wemischner cuts figs lengthwise in half, brushes them with olive oil and grills them cut-side down over hot coals for about five minutes, which concentrates their sugars and imparts a smoky flavor. Then he serves them with feta cheese and fresh basil, either as an appetizer or as a side dish for chicken or fish.

Poached in Tea [top]

Fitting for a chef whose next cookbook will be about cooking with tea, he also likes to poach figs half-submerged in Darjeeling tea at a very low simmer for 10 or 15 minutes. “You want very little agitation of the liquid so they hold their shape. Let them cool in that liquid, then take them out serve them with cream that’s been whipped, cultured or thickened in some way,” Wemischner says. “That’s a really nice, somewhat different approach. The sweetness is not overpowering in that case.”

Braised [top]

In another savory treatment of figs, Wemischner braises fatty types of fish, such as swordfish or salmon, on a bed of figs and onions with rosemary and a little garlic, salt, pepper, and enough white wine to moisten the mixture. The liquid left in the pan can be reduced to a sauce.

Frozen [top]

For a dessert, Wemischner scoops out the insides and freezes the shells. He then purees the pulp with thickened yogurt that’s been drained, in proportions of roughly two parts fig to one part yogurt. He puts that mixture back in the frozen shells and serves them on a plate with a splash of port wine and a sprinkling of freshly ground pepper. “That is an excellent combination of flavors,” Wemischner testifies.