Fab­u­lous figs

Food of 2018

The Guardian - G2 - - Front page -

Is it be­cause when pulled open, they look like the mouth of the de­mogor­gon from Stranger Things? Is it be­cause they are slightly sex­ual to touch? (The leg­end be­ing that a ripe one feels like a per­fect tes­ti­cle …) Or is it be­cause, like the av­o­cado, the fruit that went be­fore it as one of the most pho­tographed foods on the planet, there’s an el­e­ment of jeop­ardy to buy­ing one: you’re never sure that it’s a good ’un un­til you get in­side it?

The fig is hav­ing a mo­ment, which may turn into a per­ma­nent place in our hearts and on our plates (as well as our so­cial me­dia feeds). But if your ex­pe­ri­ence is of a dried one, gritty and grey­ish, or wedged into a rather dry fig roll, the fresh fruit is a very dif­fer­ent beast.

In fact, as Nigel Slater in­forms us in his book Ten­der: Vol­ume II, it is not a fruit at all, but an “in­flo­res­cence, where flow­ers and seeds have grown to­gether to form one mass”. This pre-ice age Mid­dle Eastern/mediter­ranean plant has plenty of va­ri­eties, from blue-black to pale green, and the sea­son lasts from July un­til Oc­to­ber (although, should you want to jump on the fig trend, Waitrose is sell­ing small Peru­vian ones at £4 for six, while Tesco black figs and Asda Grower’s Selec­tion are both four for £2).

Figs are like av­o­ca­dos in more ways than one: they must be han­dled gen­tly and they don’t re­spond well to fid­dly prepa­ra­tion. (Does any­one re­ally like cooked avos?) But while no one in their right mind would eat the black, gnarly skin of an avo, it’s ab­so­lutely dis­as­trous to peel and/or dis­card the skin of the fig. The gen­tle chew of the skin yield­ing to jammy, soft flesh is quite the ex­pe­ri­ence.

What makes the fig favourite for food trend of the year is its pho­to­genic look and its her­itage. As the Swiss flavour com­pany Fir­menich de­scribes figs, in nam­ing them the flavour of the year, they are “ar­ti­sanal” and com­plex – rather like our old friends pomegranates, figs speak of an­cient times and a rus­tic, hand-farmed prod­uct that is just ex­otic enough.

They are at once grainy and smooth, meaty and del­i­cate – a bite into a ripe fig is ex­tremely re­ward­ing be­cause it is more tex­tured than, say, a straw­berry or a peach. They are, of course, a favourite with the well­ness crew for be­ing packed with nu­tri­ents, an­tiox­i­dants, fi­bre and their, uh, lax­a­tive prop­er­ties, but don’t let that put you off. Figs are fan­tas­tic to eat, not wor­thy at all. The gritty in­side can give you the same culi­nary hair-shirt ef­fect as chia seeds, but oh so much tastier.

Let’s get back to its good looks

(af­ter all, no food gets to be an In­sta­gram star un­less it looks good, like a pert #av­o­cado – 7m In­sta­gram posts – or oozy #eggs, 8.7m). #Figs, at 645,000 and count­ing, look best ei­ther cut half­way down length­ways and squeezed at the waist, to fan out, or sliced thinly with a fruit knife to fan over a tart or a slice of sour­dough. Dark pur­ple, milky white and all shades of red from blush to ruby … ph­woar!

Break­fast

Figs on toast is a suit­ably vague ti­tle for an end­lessly vari­able prepa­ra­tion. Per per­son, toast one large slice of dark sour­dough bread.

• If you like savoury, crum­ble some feta cheese on to each slice, top with thinly sliced figs and driz­zle with ex­tra vir­gin olive oil and plenty of cracked black pep­per, plus a few thyme leaves if you have them. For some­thing more sub­stan­tial, grill streaky ba­con un­til crisp, whip feta un­til slightly creamy, then spread on each slice of toast and layer with ba­con and sliced fig. Pop back un­der the grill to al­low the figs to blis­ter very slightly.

• If you pre­fer sweet, spread each slice with ri­cotta, top with sliced fig and driz­zle with honey. Add a few chopped pecans or al­monds, if you wish. Place a few dol­lops of greek yo­ghurt in a bowl, trim the stem off one or two figs and cut ver­ti­cally in four to half­way down, then squeeze to fan the sec­tions. Top with driz­zled honey or maple syrup, orange zest and some shred­ded mint leaves.

Lunch

A blob of creamy sauce on a fig does the same job as a soft poached egg on an av­o­cado – makes it look se­duc­tive and en­riches an al­ready pretty lux­u­ri­ous flavour. Pre­pare with ei­ther sour­dough toast or a hand­ful of salad leaves, de­pend­ing on your tastes.

• Stir to­gether 250g of very ripe gor­gonzola cheese (all blue cheeses go well with figs) with about 120ml of dou­ble cream and a tea­spoon of white wine vine­gar. (I also think white bal­samic works re­ally well.) Add more or less cream to give you a dol­lop-able thick­ness; don’t overblend. Halve or quar­ter 2-3 figs for each per­son, ar­range and top each with a scoop of the sauce. Adapted from Nigel Slater’s Ten­der: Vol­ume II

• For each per­son, split a cou­ple of figs in half, add a chunk of stil­ton to the mid­dle and sand­wich back to­gether. Wrap in pancetta or pro­sciutto and grill or fry, turn­ing from time to time un­til slightly crisp. Or a leaf of hispi cab­bage driz­zled with a lit­tle oil for a veg­e­tar­ian op­tion. Serve as soon as cool enough to han­dle. • If you’ve got a few days, wedge small ripe figs into a jar, add a few strips of orange peel, a cou­ple of star anise, a scraped-out vanilla pod if you keep them (it’s well worth keep­ing them once you’ve used the seeds for, say, ice-cream) and cover with the liqueur of your choice (I go for sloe gin) and leave for a week. Re­trieved and sliced over ice-cream or nat­u­ral yo­ghurt with a driz­zle of the mac­er­at­ing liq­uid, it makes a fine pud­ding.

Din­ner

Figs go su­perbly with dark, gamey meats and what they lose in firm, bright looks they more than make up for in jammy con­sis­tency and rich, even sweeter flavour. These recipes serve four.

• For duck, score the skin of each duck breast in a grid pat­tern to help the fat ren­der, add skin-side down to a cool l fry­ing pan and al­low to heat up – the he fat should melt and can be poured d off from time to time. Once the skin n is well coloured and crisp, turn the breasts easts over, fry for three min­utes then n add a glass­ful of good red wine and four quar­tered figs (more if f small). Al­low to bub­ble away.

Af­ter five min­utes, re­move the duck and al­low to rest for a fur­ther five min­utes while you re­duce the sauce; sea­son to taste. e. Slice each breast into about six slices on the di­ag­o­nal and serve with the sticky figs and their sauce. uce.

• For veni­son, al­low about 750g g cut of loin for each per­son, sea­son it and sear on each side in a hot pan, trans­fer to the oven and cook for about 8-10 min­utes at 200C/400f/gas mark k 6, for medium. Re­move from pan to rest, then add red wine and figs s to pan, bub­ble and re­duce as above. ve. Thickly slice to serve.

If that’s all too much trou­ble, , puree the fig with bal­samic vine­gar and a lit­tle ex­tra vir­gin olive oil, warm through and serve with ith roast meats.

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