Although it is difficult to see the summer pass each year, fall brings new treasures to tempt me into the kitchen such as apples, pears, winter squash, and figs. We have huge fig trees growing in an empty field behind our property here in Umbria and for most of September I can forage for fresh figs every few days. There is something very sensuous about a ripe fig with its velvety skin and luscious rose colored inner flesh, and although I had never even tasted a fresh fig until I was an adult, they are now one of my favorite fruits. Locally, we have both green and black figs, though our trees yield the green variety. Not only are figs very sweet and tasty, they have a very high mineral count, and are rich in potassium, phosphorus, dietary iron and fiber. Figs also have the highest amount of calcium of any fruit which is reason enough in my mind to enjoy this fruit more often!
Originally from Asia, figs are now grown across the Mediterranean and there are hundreds of different varieties, grouped into four main colors of white, green, red and purple/black. Figs have an oval or pear shape, and thin skin that encloses hundreds of seeds enveloped in a succulent, softly fibrous red or purple flesh. Although dried figs are available year round, fresh figs are usually harvested from summer through fall depending on the variety.
How To Choose: Pick plump figs that feel soft with no bruising, wrinkling or splits. Ripe figs may be covered with a whitish bloom which simply lets you know they are at their peak.
How To Store & Prepare: Gently wipe the skins with a damp cloth, and trim off the stem if it’s hard, then either keep whole or cut in half from top to bottom. Store figs in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days wrapped individually in kitchen paper, but since figs are best at room temperature, take them out of the fridge an hour before you eat them. Slightly unripe figs can be left out of the refrigerator to ripen.
Culinary Uses: Figs can be eaten raw, grilled, poached, or baked, and work well in many desserts. Figs pair well with walnuts, honey, and cheeses, particularly blue varieties and soft goat cheese. Figs also pair well with citrus such as lemon and orange, cured meats, fortified wines, rich dairy products such as mascarpone cheese, and warm spices such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and star anise.
Some of my favorite fig recipes!
Deborah Mele 2013