When You Give a Fig

By | July 11, 2011

Fresh Figs

I never cared much for figs. They were those dry, brown things that came wrapped in plastic and filled with little seeds that crunched in my teeth. I knew them as vaguely Old World or maybe Middle Eastern. I had no use for them.

Then – and this is a long time ago – Mr. FB and I were having dinner in a lovely little restaurant in the south of France; it must have been in Avignon. It was in that restaurant that I discovered, with a little wine, how fluent my French could be. I was chattering away in French, rummaging around for vocabulary words and having a blast. I think Mr. FB understood (he was listening and laughing and responding) but I felt so free and was really having fun. For some still unknown reason – maybe it was this new found fluid (ok, so it was lubricated) French; maybe the restaurant staff could see how much fun we were having – anyway, our waitress brought Mr. FB and I plates of every dessert in the place. One tart was especially wonderful. I had never tasted anything quite like it. It was totally fresh and fruity and luscious. What was it? It was fresh fig tart.

“That’s what figs taste like?! Wow.”

And in that moment, I fell in love with fresh figs, a totally different animal from those brown dried figs in my past.

I have been exploring fresh figs ever since. They show up only for a short time during the summer growing season and they are not cheap. But grilled or caramelized or fresh or wrapped with salty prosciutto, they are a revelation. Figs make gorgeous desserts, sides to grilled meats and even appetizers.

Last week we went back to Antico, the lovely authentic Italian restaurant that recently popped up in our neighborhood. The primi (appetizer) specials that night included a couple of appetizers with figs. One paired them with bufala mozzarella. The other was a fig butter crostini topped with prosciutto: sweet and salty.

I ordered the crostini and loved it so I wanted to be able to re-create it at home. Fig butter? What’s fig butter? Is it a fruit butter, like apple butter? We asked the waiter. He checked in with the kitchen and came back to us. Turns out this fig butter thing was a compound butter. The chef had pureed figs and mixed them in with softened butter before he spread it on the bread.

Just to be clear, Fellow FoodBeest, I’m not going to do that at home. That much butter for someone who just rid herself of 22 unwanted pounds was not going to happen.

Caramelized Fig Slices on Crostini

So to try to recreate this crostini, the first thing I did was to grill slices of fresh fig and place them on top of a slice of grilled crusty crostini bread. A very thin slice of prosciutto went on top. This was good. It wasn’t great, but it was good.

Next I decided to make a fig jam. How different could that be from fig butter? – like apple butter. This was totally inspired. It’s also so easy.

What You Need To Make Fig Jam
1 lb. fresh figs, stems removed and cut into ½-inch cubes
2 T finely chopped sweet onion or shallots
1 t butter
½ C water
2 T balsamic vinegar
1 T brown sugar

How To Make Fig Jam

Cook the figs slowly with balsamic vinegar and brown sugar.

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the finely chopped sweet onions or shallots. Cook only until translucent. Add the chopped figs, water, balsamic vinegar and brown sugar. Cook them until it breaks down, about 20 minutes. It will thicken and turn a deep, dark mahogany color.

The Crostini Part

Crostini with Fig Jam and Proscuitto

I took about a tablespoon of the fig jam and topped another slice of grilled crusty crostini bread and topped it with a very thin slice of prosciutto. This was better than the slices of caramelized fig. But it still needed something.

Then I got an idea. With the third slice of grilled, crusty crostini bread, I smeared it with crème fraiche (it’s what I had) and then I topped it with the fig jam and a very thin slice of prosciutto (yes, there is a pattern here). This version was much richer and more layered in flavor than the fig jam alone. No creme fraiche? Try cream cheese.

To be even more interesting, you could easily replace the crème fraiche with Gorgonzola cheese or goat cheese and get an even deeper flavor.

If you’re not eating crostini, Fellow FoodBeest, this fig jam is pretty versatile stuff. You can also use the fig jam to accompany grilled or roasted meat. It would also be wonderful on someone’s breakfast toast or English muffin. And I wonder what it would taste like in place of strawberry or grape jam on a PB&J? I shall have to find out. It keeps for about two weeks sealed in the fridge.

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