I have a secret to share with you. Lean in… closer… Are you ready? OK then: I used to be afraid of figs.
Not the dried kind, lord no! Those I use with abandon, in recipes like Whole Wheat Fig & Pecan Bread and one of my favorite dishes for this time of year, Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower, Figs, and Mint. And fig jam is the secret to my Figgy Grilled Cheese on Pumpernickel. Do I even need to say the words Fig Newton? (My friend Casey makes a formidable homemade version.) No, when I say I feared figs, I mean only the fresh kind. The voluptuous, too-often-sexualized kind. They’re squishy. They’re seedy. And worst of all, they’re unfamiliar. I didn’t grow up eating them, and they confused me.
But when a very nice woman from the California Fig Advisory Board wrote to ask if I’d be interested in trying out some of their fresh figs, I didn’t hesitate. Heck, she was offering to send me fresh figs! Who could turn down something like that? A few days later they arrived via Fedex, one flat each of black mission and green sierra, cold-packed and well-cushioned to prevent their delicate little bodies from bruising.
Before I started cooking, I tasted. The black mission figs, which I gobble down dried, are—no surprise—lighter in flavor than their wrinkly brethren. Musky, mellow, and deeply sweet, they were a pleasant surprise. The sierra figs tasted entirely different, brighter, still sweet but with a hint of acidity. The fig board describes the flavor as “like a riesling,” and I can’t argue with that. Stephen fell in love with these luscious little beauties—I didn’t get to cook with them much, because he ate them all out of hand. (Next week I’ll be posting another fig recipe, from Melissa Clark’s amazing new cookbook Cook This Now. I had to buy more green figs for that!)
For my first cooking experience I went simple, with a recipe for Fig Galette (a free-form pie) from Elise’s excellent site Simply Recipes. I’ve adapted it, adding a cinnamon-honey glaze and a sprinkling of flaky salt. This disappeared from my kitchen less than 24 hours after it emerged from the oven, all golden and aromatic. Stephen and I ate it for breakfast the next day, and by the time he came home from work I’d nibbled my way through what remained.
As for Harry, he’s decided to stick to dried figs. The fresh ones, even cooked, squicked him out. Let’s hope he doesn’t follow in his mother’s footsteps, and wait until he’s in his mid-40s to discover the thrill of biting into a fresh one, feeling its juicy flesh explode in his mouth.
Fresh Fig Galette with Cinnamon Honey
Adapted from Simply Recipes
Flour, for dusting
1 prepared piecrust (I use Pillsbury, but if you don’t suck at piecrust, go right ahead and make your own)
1/4 cup jam or preserves (I used pear jam, but apricot, peach, or orange marmalade would also be nice)
1 1/2 pounds Black Mission figs, tips removed, quartered lengthwise
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Fleur de sel, optional
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out the piecrust until it’s roughly 14 inches in diameter. Droop it over the rolling pin and transfer to the baking sheet.
- Starting in the center, spread the jam on the crust. Stop about 2 inches from the edge. Arrange the figs on top of the jam, cut side up, again leaving about 2 inches around the outside.
- Combine the honey and cinnamon in a small bowl, then microwave briefly, just until it thins enough to apply with a brush. In my machine, this took about 15 seconds. Gently dab it on top of the figs.
- Fold the naked edge of the crust up and over the top of the figs—don’t worry about neatness, since it’s supposed to be rustic. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the crust is golden-brown and the fruit is bubbling. Juices will run, but that’s ok. Again, it’s supposed to be rustic.
- If you’re using the fleur de sel, sprinkle it over the figs as soon as you remove the baked galette from the oven. Allow it to cool for 20 to 30 minutes before serving.
MAKE BABY FOOD: Due to botulism concerns, babies under one year old can’t have honey. Once you’re past that age, I’d serve this to a toddler on special occasions—it doesn’t have a ton of added sugar, but it’s still a treat.