Saturday, 26 November 2011

For the love of figs

It's no secret that I love figs. You'd only have to take a closer look at my blog avatar, Twitter picture or Facebook profile photo to notice that in said picture I am fondly caressing a pair of plump, ripe figs in the palm of my hand, while sporting an ever-so-slightly coquettish expression that suggests my reverence for these luscious fruits is a little more than strictly platonic. This autumn I have made it my mission to buy figs in abundance while they're cheap and try out all those recipes I've ogled throughout the past few months when there was a sad dearth of figs in the shops. My local market sells trays of figs that are past their best, too bruised or overripe to grace with the '60p each' price tag, for 10p each. It often requires a bit of a rummage to find the decent few that aren't leaking mouldy syrup everywhere, but there are usually some more than acceptable specimens to be had, and they're ideal for cakes and savoury dishes where the figs are cooked lightly before serving. 

This makes figs a bit of a bargain, really - I've certainly feasted on far more fig dishes this year than ever before. I've been hoarding the fruits, ensuring I have a constant supply in a bowl in the fridge, constantly topping up said bowl when supplies are running low. I'd like to share a few of my favourite fig recipes with you, should you need more inspiration for this excellent fruit while it's still around.

You'll notice that some pairings crop up again and again in these recipes. In particular, figs with raspberries and figs with ricotta. Both add another dimension to the humble fig; the slight tang and sweetness of a cloud of fresh ricotta, cold against a warm fig, is a beautiful thing. Similarly, the sweetness of cooked raspberries brings out the fragrance of a ripe fig in a way no other fruit quite does. I've discovered both these pairings this year, and they're now firm favourites. Other classic combinations include fig and orange, fig and goat's cheese, fig and parma ham. The best way, I think, to enjoy a good quality fig is on toast with ricotta or goat's cheese and wafer-thin slices of parma ham. A sprinkling of lemon thyme, mint or basil also does wonders for figs, adding a fresh zesty note to their sweetness.

 (For a complete list of all the fig dishes on my blog, click here).

1. Simple roasted figs.
These are excellent as a dessert with vanilla ice cream, or you could serve them as a compote over a cheesecake. However, my favourite way is to drizzle them over a bowl of steaming porridge, and scatter over a few blackberries or raspberries. The mixture of the oats and the gorgeous sweet fig syrup is wonderful - a perfect autumn breakfast.

To roast figs in this way, simply halve them, place face-up in a baking dish, and drizzle with honey. Pour over a splash of orange juice and a sprinkling of cinnamon, and either bake or grill at around 180C until the figs are soft and starting to caramelise. They should release lots of lovely syrup. Simple, but delicious. You could also use red wine instead of the orange juice, if serving as a dessert (maybe not for the porridge, though!)

2. Fig and goat's cheese tagliatelle with crispy parma ham. A rather odd combination, fruit with pasta, but it really works in this case - you end up with gorgeous tangy slippery strands of pasta coated in cheese, then the juicy sweetness of a soft fig and the salty crunch of the ham. The ultimate figgy comfort food. 

For two people, cook 225g spaghetti, tagliatelle or linguine until al dente. Meanwhile, dry-fry 4 slices of parma ham in a hot non-stick pan until crispy. Snap into pieces and set aside. Then fry 6-8 quartered figs in a little butter or olive oil until softening. Drain the pasta, reserving a cup of the cooking water. Stir in about 150g of soft goat's cheese, the spreadable kind you can get in tubs, then add the figs, parma ham, and a generous handful of lemon thyme and black pepper. Toss together and serve immediately with a little parmesan.

3. Raspberry ricotta pancakes with roasted figs. This is a really fabulous brunch dish - it's light but filling, and the combination of figs and raspberries is such a good one. The ricotta gives a really fluffy texture to the pancakes, perfect for soaking up the sweet juices of the figs when you lay them on top.

For two people, mix 250g ricotta, the zest of an orange and 3 egg yolks (save the whites). Sift in 70g plain flour and fold in gently. Beat the egg whites in a bowl to stiff peaks, then gently fold into the ricotta mixture, trying to keep the air in. You should have a loose batter. Very gently, fold in 150g raspberries. Melt a little butter in a non-stick pan, then drop in spoonfuls of the mixture and fry on each side on a medium heat until golden - you'll have to be careful flipping them over, as they're very delicate. Keep each batch warm in the oven (around 110C) while you make the rest. Serve with roasted figs (see recipe number 1 above) on top, drizzled with their juices.

4. Lentil salad with fresh figs, ricotta and hazelnuts (see first photo). I came up with this on a whim a couple of weeks ago, and couldn't believe how good it was. It's a perfect harmony of flavours and textures: the chewy bite of the lentils; the unctuous, yielding flesh of the cooked figs; the crunch of the hazelnuts; the peppery astringency of the rocket, and the milky tang of the cheese bringing everything together. I urge you to try this, especially if you're sceptical - it's probably my favourite autumn salad.

To make this, I cooked some lentils (about 90g) in vegetable stock until tender, then stirred in some seasoning and a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar. I then tossed the lentils with rocket leaves, lemon thyme leaves, and finely chopped hazelnuts. I topped this with roasted figs (again, see number 1 - just cut down on the honey a little as this is a savoury dish, and add a splash of balsamic as well) and clouds of fridge-cold, crumbly ricotta. As simple as that, but tastier than the sum of its parts.

5. Fig, raspberry and hazelnut cake. A triumph; a perfect match of textures and flavours rippled through an incredibly moist, flavoursome cake - see the recipe here.

6. Fig and orange cobbler. An unusual, refreshing combination. See recipe here.

7. Fig and raspberry galette - a beautiful, beautiful combination of nutty buttery pastry with sweet, gooey raspberry and fig filling. It's also pleasantly rustic in appearance, screaming "eat me". See recipe and accompanying adoration here.

8. Fig, blackcurrant and oatmeal tart (recipe here). A bit of a tricky one, seeing as figs and blackcurrants are rarely available in the shops at the same time - I got lucky and found some Brazilian figs for an incredibly good price while blackcurrants were in full swing (I even picked them myself at a PYO farm in Oxford). However, I imagine it would work well with raspberries or even blueberries. The combination is one I'd never have considered - it's the brainchild of the great Raymond Blanc. However, it is utterly perfect. The tart, grassy flavour of the blackberries perfectly cuts through the sticky sweetness of the figs; the crunchy oatmeal base is the perfect vehicle for such fruity flavours. The tart is also stunning to look at. STUNNING. 

9. Seared duck breast with figs and red wine (recipe here). An easy introduction to using figs in savoury dishes. Their sweetness is a great match for the bloody gameyness of a rare duck breast, especially when you allow their natural juices to dissolve into a red wine jus that then soaks into a mound of mash.

10. Fig, goat's cheese and prosciutto pizza (recipe here). Again, a dubious combination, but it works - the combination of doughy bread base, molten goat's cheese, sweet warm fig and crispy parma ham is fantastic.

I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as I did. Even if you're not inspired to pick up a few figs and pose for ridiculous photos, I hope you'll be inspired to think of figs in a whole new way, and appreciate their versatility in the kitchen this autumn. Snap some up while they're still cheap, and get cooking.

Do you have a favourite fig recipe you'd like to share? If so, please comment!

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  1. This is a great round up - I remember reading your post for fig, goat's cheese & prosciutto pizza and drooling a little bit, but for some reason I still haven't got around to trying. Definitely need to remedy this!

  2. Wow! Thanks for a great post. I'm a fig-fanatic too, but don't have that much experience cooking with them. I've bookmarked this post so I have a great source of inspiration to start experimenting into more areas than just baking (my usual choice for fig additions).


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