Food and Drink

   

In Season: Figs

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When it comes to figs, I do give a fig – I love them. There is some conjecture about the origin of that saying, but it most likely refers to a rude gesture of Mediterranean origin known as ‘giving the fig’, which in turn refers to… well that doesn’t matter

The fig is one of the oldest cultivated plants, possibly being the first known agricultural crop, predating the cultivation of wheat and legumes by around a thousand years. Not really a fruit, they are an inside-out flower that was originally fertilised by a wasp which burrowed into the soft flesh to lay its larvae.

Figs are at their best right now, but take care they’re ripe or they can be quite unpleasant. You can set them out in a warm place to ripen but make sure they are not touching or they can develop mould. Ripeness is determined by touch, not colour as there are green varieties as well as the familiar dark red.

Rich in fibre, potassium and calcium figs also have a high anti-oxidant value. Naturally very sweet they were used as a sweetener before the discovery of sugar in areas where sugar-beet did not grow.

Things that go well with figs include prosciutto, goats cheese, blue cheeses, almonds, honey, oranges, thyme and duck.

Try these two dishes for a luscious autumn feast for two:

Fresh figs with blue cheese cream
4 ripe figs
130g rich blue cheese, such as gorgonzola
120ml cream (pure cream will give a better result)
A dash of Chardonnay vinegar (or any good white wine vinegar)
A handful of rocket

Method
Quarter your figs and place on top of the rocket leaves.
Using a fork, make a paste with the blue cheese and add the cream and vinegar until it is just combined.
Place a dollop of the blue cheese cream on top, with a twist of pepper if you like.

Fig’n frangipane tart
125 butter (unsalted is best)
125g castor sugar
125g ground almonds
30g plain flour
2 eggs
¼ teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Sweet shortcrust pastry (use your favourite recipe, or buy it frozen if life is busy)
4 ripe figs

Method
Blind bake the pastry in a tart tin.
Beat the butter until soft, and then add the castor sugar and ground almonds, beating until smooth.
Beat in the flour, then add the eggs a little at a time, beating until light and pale.
Mix in the orange zest.
Smooth the frangipane mixture into the pre-baked pastry base.
Quarter the figs and press lightly into the frangipane so they are not fully submerged.
Bake at 180° until a golden crust has formed. Insert the tip of a small knife to check the interior. It should be slightly moist but no longer runny. Switch off the oven and allow the tart to cool to room temperature.
Serve with a spoon of pure cream.

Photos by Leila Koren.


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