Home Cooking Recipes
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Quick & Easy
By Beverly Barbour

There's nothing quite like a fresh fig

Figs have been revered for centuries; they are the subject of legends and lore from the Bible to today. This is a fruit whose sweetness brings thoughts of sunny and exotic places, no matter where you sit when you sink your teeth into the passionate purple flesh.

Fig trees actually bear fruit twice a year. You can find them in the market in early summer and then again in late summer or even early fall. But each fig season is actually rather short. Fortunately dried figs are also an incredible work of art and if you soak them in a bit of water they will do good work in most recipes.

Here are a few culinary thoughts about making fig-hay while the season is right. Always look for figs that are soft and unblemished. Wrap them loosely in a plastic bag and refrigerate once they are fully ripe. They keep as long as a week once ripened. If what you buy is not fully ripe, wait to refrigerate until it is mature. Like all of us, the older they are, the more interesting they become.

Oven-Dried Figs

These dried figs are much softer and more moist than store-bought dried figs. They also don't have the additives and preservatives. Dried figs are great for snacking, in salads, on pizza, or chopped and sprinkled over ice cream, or in rice pudding or bread pudding. Store them in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Or, freeze them. You may want to make a much larger quantity, so double or triple the recipe.

10 medium light-skinned fresh figs (about 1 pound), halved
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 250 F. Arrange figs in a single layer on a foil lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until almost dry but still soft. Makes 1 1/2 cups, approximately 6 servings.

Baked Figs in Lemon Syrup

Serve these figs as is, or perhaps topped with a bit of sour cream, creme fraise, or even yogurt. Or, serve them atop a meringue garnished with whipped cream. The syrup can be made, without deglazing and adding lemon segments, 1 day ahead and cooled completely, uncovered, then chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature before deglazing baking dish and adding lemon segments.

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
3 lemons
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1 1/2 lb firm-ripe fresh purple figs, trimmed and halved lengthwise.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Boil water and 1/2 cup sugar, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Remove syrup from heat. Squeeze enough juice from lemons to measure 1/3 cup and stir into syrup, then discard lemon halves. Remove zest from remaining lemon in long strips with a vegetable peeler. Trim any white pith from zest. Cut zest lengthwise into thin julienne strips. Reserve lemon. Blanch zest in boiling water for 1 second, then drain in a sieve and add to syrup. Cut away any remaining pith from lemon. Cut segments free from membranes. Spread butter in a heavy, ovenproof skillet. Arrange figs, cut sides up, slightly overlapping in 1 layer. Sprinkle with remaining 2 teaspoons sugar and bake until figs are softened and begin to exude juice but still hold their shape, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer figs with slotted spoon to a serving bowl and put cooking pan over a burner at medium heat. Add syrup and deglaze skillet by boiling until syrup is reduced to about 3/4 cup. Add lemon segments along with any juices in bowl and pour syrup (with lemon segments) over figs. Cool to warm or room temperature before serving. Makes 6 servings.

Fig Sesame Jam

This jam is tasty on toast alone or with some mild cheese, or cheddar or manchego. The jam keeps in the refrigerator, covered, about 1 month or longer. To keep longer, place in sterile jars, seal and process in a hot water bath for 20 minutes.

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup water
2 lb firm-ripe fresh figs, trimmed and quartered
2 strips (3- by 1-inch) strips fresh lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted

Simmer sugar and water in a large heavy saucepan, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Gently stir in figs, zest, and lemon juice; simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thick and syrupy, 1 3/4 to 2 hours. Gently stir in sesame seeds that have been heated in a heavy skillet over high heat until lightly toasted. Makes about 3 1/2 cups.

Fig Relish

Great with roast or grilled chicken, pork, turkey or veal. Also good with crackers or toasted baguette slices as an appetizer.

1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon minced shallot or the whites of scallions
1/8 teaspoon salt
8 oz. figs, ends trimmed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

Combine vinegar, shallot and salt; let stand for 10 minutes. Cut figs into 1/2-inch chunks; add to vinegar mixture. Stir in mint and rosemary, breaking figs up slightly with spoon. Makes 1 cup.

Grilled Chicken Sandwich with Fig Relish

Serve with either a green salad or a fruit plate for a delicious, light meal made special because of the relish.

3 boned, skinned chicken breast halves
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
6 slices thick sliced bread for toasting
3/4 cup arugula leaves or salad mix, rinsed and crisped
Fig relish

Place each chicken breast half between 2 sheets of plastic wrap; with a rolling pin, gently pound to 1/2-inch thick. Brush both sides of chicken lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lay chicken on an oiled grill over hot coals or high heat on a gas grill, or broil in an oven, or sauté on range. Cook, turning once, until chicken is no longer pink in center, 6 to 8 minutes. Meanwhile, brush both sides of bread lightly with oil. When you turn chicken, lay bread slices on grill and cook, turning once, until lightly toasted about 4 minutes total. To assemble each sandwich, top one slice of bread with about 1/4 cup salad leaves. Place chicken on the leaves and spread with about 1/3 cup relish. Top with second slice of grilled bread and serve warm. Makes 3 sandwiches.

How can anyone not give a fig about figs?

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