Tuesday, July 30, 2019

A Fulfillment of Figs


I'm taking a break from death cleaning for the moment, primarily because the accidental garden has come up with an abundance of figs, for the first time in I can't count how many years.

Usually I get a couple that I can just eat off the tree, being sure to say shehecheyanu (even though I'm not religious, I like to thank the universe for cool stuff that happens) before enjoying my first (and perhaps only) fig of the season.

Once upon a time, when there were two fig trees in the garden, I'd still not get many, but more than I have lately with the one survivor. The other one, near where the compost bins are now, apparently didn't get enough sun and finally just sort fell apart. So I've really only had one surfeit of figs in the past, while I was still teaching, and it provided enough for making fig confit--a couple of jars of which I gave my favorite chefs at the Institution. If I can ever find the recipe I'll insert it back in here, but all I could find through the google machine were essentially for fig jam.

Almost the first thing I did when we got back from our road trip to California was to check the fig tree, since it had been pretty full of promise when we left. I was rather afraid that the Tree Rats would have demolished the baby figs, as they're currently doing with the baby pecans, but luck was with us and they were all still there. So I made sure the tree got watered if it didn't rain, and have been rewarded with a bumper crop. Just this week I've managed to produce a fig tart, a fig and caramelized onion pizza, and just a few minutes ago, fig and pecan muffins (with pecans I harvested last fall and froze). Recipes will follow, below, but first, a short disquisition on the wonder of figs.

My Grandma Clarice just loved figs. I wasn't much of a fan, but it was because of her affection for them (and my affection for her) that I even tried the ones from my own trees when our first harvest occurred the summer we moved into this house. As it turns out, figs are among the world's most healthful foods, and are amazingly versatile as well. They're sweet, but not cloyingly so (unless they get so ripe that they turn into jam on their own), and full of fiber, so eating them makes one feel virtuous, as well as having one's sweet tooth satisfied.

Artists have loved figs at least since Roman times, and there's a rather nice depiction of a basket of them from a fresco in a villa at Oplontis, which I used to show in my Humanities classes to keep my culinary students interested.



Figs are mentioned in numerous ancient texts, from Sumerian tablets to the Bible. I wouldn't be surprised if figs weren't what got Eve in trouble, since they were abundant in the Middle East, whereas apples were not. The Roman cookbook writer Apicius recommends preserving figs in honey, and I'm thinking of trying that by placing a few of my extras in a small jar and covering them with some of the Owens Valley honey we brought back with us in June.

So this is what I've got so far. The results have all been tasty, and easy to produce. But I'm not a recipe person, so you'll have to use your own judgement when it comes to amounts.

Fresh Fig and Almond Tart

I used one Trader Joe's All Butter Puff Pastry roll for this. I stock up on them in the fall when they're available, and use them for making tarts with seasonal fruit. To make this tart, place the pastry on a piece of baking parchment, and brush it with melted butter. Then use a honey-dipper to drizzle honey over that. Quarter enough figs (about 20 small ones?) to cover the top fairly densely, and then drizzle more honey. Sprinkle slivered almonds liberally.


Bake at 400F for about 15 minutes, but check after about 10. It might take as long as 20, depending on your oven. Let cool and cut into six or eight squares. You can also divide the pastry into squares before you put the figs on if you want to feed more people or create a prettier result.

Fresh Fig, Caramelized Onion, and Feta Pizza

Although I preach incessantly about making your own pizza dough, this is high summer in north Texas and my kitchen is not air conditioned. Enter, once again, Trader Joe's, where I can get two very nice organic pizza shells (Monteli Organic) to keep in the freezer for Just Such An Occasion. Do not defrost them; in fact, don't even take them out of the freezer until you're ready to load them up.

You'll also need a large sweet onion, most of a box of real Greek feta in brine (Trader Joe's, Costco, and Whole Foods, as well as most decent supermarkets carry it; pre-crumbled feta is a poor substitute), a few herbs (Proven├žal herbs work well, but so do thyme and rosemary--fresh if you've got them), and a little balsamic vinegar (optional).

If you're using the Monteli shells, preheat the oven to 420F. If using your usual crust, do whatever you usually do.

Slice the onion thinly, and slowly fry it in butter and/or olive oil until it begins to brown. Add a teaspoon of herbs of Provence, and a teaspoon or two of balsamic vinegar and turn off the heat under the onions.

 

Quarter a bunch of figs (I truly cannot remember how many I used on each pie, but if you're really concerned about the number, you can count them, above) and set aside. Get the feta out of the fridge, but don't crumble it yet, unless you know about how much you'll need.

Get the pizza shells out, and spread half the onions on each one. Then arrange the figs fairly densely on top, and then crumble the feta over them. 

Place the pies directly on the rack. Cook for about 15 minutes, but check frequently to make sure nothing's burning. The ones I made the other night needed 20 minute.

This is more or less how they should look:


Fresh Fig and Pecan Muffins

These turned out really well. I combined several generic muffin recipes and came up with these ingredients:
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4-1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup brown or turbinado sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup plain yoghurt
  • 3/4 cup avocado oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped figs
Mix all the dry ingredients together thoroughly; in a separate bowl, mix all the wet ingredients (egg through figs) and then add them to the dry slowly, without beating: just enough to incorporate everything. Muffin batter is lumpy by nature, so don't try to make it smooth.


Divide the mixture evenly into twelve muffin cups. It's going to look like a lot, but these don't rise all that much, so you can stuff the cups. Most muffin recipes will tell you to butter the muffin cups if you use them, but I discovered that I had a box of silicone cups that are not only reusable, but they release the muffins beautifully. I sprinkled a little bit of vanilla sugar on each muffin for a little extra flavor burst. A little more brown sugar will work well for that, too.



Bake at 350F for 25 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. These are not terribly sweet, so you can feel really virtuous about eating all that high quality fiber. If you want to enhance the pecan flavor a bit, toast them before you add them to the muffin mixture.

 

 I still have quite a few figs left over, and will have to either freeze them or use them in something else yummy in the next day or so. I have in mind to try the recipe for Fresh Fig Breakfast Cake from the  Indigo Scones blog, but the results will have to wait.


Image notes: all of the photos are mine, except for the Oplonto fresco, which comes from Wikimedia Commons. The opening shot is a cheap excuse to link this post to Skywatch Friday, which I hope everyone who comes here will visit because the weekly sky photos from around the world are terrific.

4 comments:

eileeninmd said...

Hello, the fig tart and muffins look delicious. It is great you have such a large amount of figs. Enjoy your day, wishing you a great weekend ahead.

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

When I was a pre-schooler, we had a fig tree in the back yard. My mother made preserved figs which I love to this day.

Spare Parts and Pics said...

A nice surprise to have all those figs, and looks like you are putting them to good use!!

betty-NZ said...

What a fantastic surprise in your garden! I'm not really familiar with figs, except dried in a snack pack, but your recipes sound delicious.
I really like your research of figs through history and I wouldn't be surprised if you were right about the Garden of Eden :)
Great photo and post!