Monday, January 9, 2012

Sweet on figs

Adam and Eve may have opted for the leaves to spare their blushing, but it’s the luscious plump and fragrant figs that are summer’s most delicious treasures – and, while the best way to eat figs is out of hand and still warm from the sun, their jammy sweetness makes them irresistible in both sweet and savoury fare.
Photographs by Gunther Gräter

It’s fig season and the endless culinary possibilities that these luscious fruits bring are as countless as the number of tiny seeds each holds. The sweet, juicy fruit that is so prized now is said to be the oldest fruit recognized by man and, although Adam and Eve best employed the leaves of the fig tree by sewing them together to form an apron to preserve their modesty, it is a rather useful fact to keep in mind that the sap of the plant is actually an irritant – so wearing a fig leaf is, shall we say, not particularly recommended. Rather, don a more sensible apron and get into the kitchen as figs’ ability to take centre stage in starters, mains and desserts is a treasured trait. Aside from the potassium, iron and calcium that figs boast, they provide more fibre than any other common fruit of vegetable. The fibre in figs is both soluble and insoluble and is important for good health. It’s also interesting to note that figs contain a special chemical which helps extend the freshness and moisture of baked goods as well as one that promotes tanning in the sun.

For a delicious starter, bless the tops of the figs with a kiss made by a knife, firmly squeeze their swollen bellies to reveal the raspberry-coloured fruit inside and then envelop the fresh figs in a blanket of salty-sweet prosciutto. A stuffing of rich goat’s cheese, a flurry of cracked black pepper and an anointing of the best fruity extra-virgin olive oil and a hot oven awaits. Roast until the edges of the ham are slightly charred and crisp and the crimson flesh inside warm and succulent. The figs need a mere scattering of peppery rocket leaves and a swift glug of aged balsamic vinegar. Whichever way you choose to enjoy the humble fig, do it outdoors to savour their sweet taste of summer. 

Toffee figs with grilled Christmas cake 
(serves 6)

2 cups caster sugar
1 cup water
6 black figs
6 pieces Christmas cake or pudding
2T melted butter
vanilla ice-cream, to serve

Place sugar and water in a saucepan over low heat and cook, without stirring, for 8–10 minutes or until sugar has dissolved. Increase heat to high, bring to the boil and cook for 7–8 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from heat and, using a fork, carefully dip figs into toffee. Place on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper and set aside to cool and harden. Brush the Christmas cake with butter and grill on a griddle pan. Serve immediately with vanilla ice-cream and the toffee figs.

Figs are not actually a fruit but rather flower receptacles. Like other blossoms, they bud straight from the branch and the fruit actually lies inside the fleshy bulb consisting of the seed-like parts.

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