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Thursday, September 15, 2011

~FIGS ³~ A trio for the season!

Hello Everyone!  I'm excited to be back!  I have to admit summer has been pretty crazy this year but how could I not stop in for... drumroll... FIGS!  Spending some time growing up in northern California I was lucky enough to be one of the few (maybe not so few now as then) Americans that didn't get their first fig from a particular jam cookie.  As much as I love those little fellows, nothing quite stands up to the flavor of real fresh figs in all of their sweet, complex, earthy glory!
So in honor of the glorious fruits as well as wanting to make a good showing of being back online on the blog, I wanted to show them off in 3 different ways, fresh and raw, cooked, and brulee.  Now without wasting any more time...

~Three Faces of the Fig~
portions of these recipes adapted from the Joy of Cooking

printable recipe

For this post I wanted to set up a whole meal around a single, central ingredient a la Iron Chef America (I was actually watching an episode when I had the triple post idea.)  Figs are a very versatile food with versatile, subtle yet strong flavor balance and I wanted to do my best to show off how they can be put to use in more than simple jams and cookies (although I did make a cookie for this particular meal...)

NOTE: These recipes as written here are for a three course meal for two (aside from the full cookie recipe) but can easily be scaled up for larger groups.  Please drop me a comment if you have any questions!

First Course - Figs with Prosciutto, Tarragon and Feta

3 Black mission figs
2 oz Prosciutto di San Danielle (or any quality prosciutto)
2 oz Sheep's milk Feta
6 Sprigs fresh tarragon

Balsamic vinegar for dressing (optional)

SPECIAL TOOLS: Decorative Toothpicks (completely optional)

Yield - 6 wrapped figs

This is a very simple recipe but this is a food blog, right?  Why not put it in!  I love these as an appetizer or short course before the main entree.  They even work very well as an addition to a dressed salad or an antipasto.

For this, I like to use almost over-ripe figs for their sweet, almost musty/earthy flavor.  If you can come by it, sheep's milk Feta is the way to go.


Feta is one of the oldest of all the worlds cheeses, dating as far back as 23 a.d.  It is a curd cheese (traditionally made from sheep's milk) made from curdled raw milk and cured for months in a brine of either water or whey then hung in molds or cloth bags.  The cheese is then sliced and stored in barrels of brine.  This storage method gives the cheese it's name, the word Feta originally Fetta meaning "slice."

pressed fresh Feta cheese
As of 2002, Feta has been designated under EU legislation as a PDO (protected designation of origin) product like Champagne, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Black Forest ham.


Start by slicing your figs down the middle and laying them all out on your board.  Take a small amount of Feta cheese and stuff it into the soft flesh of the fig then top it with a generous portion of fresh tarragon.  The almost-but-not-quite sweetness and slight bitter earthiness of tarragon makes fast culinary friends with figs.  I can't recommend the combo enough but feel free to try any herbs you can think of here.  Arugula is a good substitution if you want a more savory feel.

Remove your prosciutto from the fridge and slice it into strips. Its always good to leave cured meats in cold storage as long as possible not because of spoilage but because of its high fat content.  Speaking of content...

~~~FOOD SCIENCE CONTENT (fats): Fatty Acid Chains~~~

Fats!  Some good, some bad, some angry, some very nice but all of them have real backbone!  ok... well...  Let me start at the beginning shall I?

Without getting too complicated, all fats have both a backbone (usually a glycerol) and a tail or tails (fatty acid chains.)

fatty acid chain chemical models
When we refer to hydrogenated, non-hydrogenated, saturated, unsaturated, poly-unsaturated fats, we are referring less to the consistency of the stuff in question and more to the molecular geometry of the chains themselves.  In this case saturation refers to the atomic saturation of hydrogen.  Saturated fats are full of hydrogen atoms and have a strait, single bonded chain.  Unsaturated fats, have double bonded carbon atoms which form "kinks" in the chain.

When it comes to physical appearance, its all about the molecular structure.  In saturated fats (eg butter, cheese, animal fats) the acid chains can fit together easily like a simple puzzle, forming a stable, solid structure at room temperature.  Unsaturated fats (vegetable and seed oils) have bends in their chains, making them much like bent comb tines.  Poly-unsaturated fats (seed and nut oils) bend and twist in such a way that they are nearly guaranteed unable to form stable structures, thus remaining liquid even at relatively low temperatures.

When it comes to real world application, think of a high fat meat like say.... prosciutto!  If its left out on the counter or (for whatever reason) left in the sun, it starts to "sweat."  Unpleasant but... cool, in a scientific sense of course.  With few exceptions (cocoa butter) fatty tissues contain a wide array of fats from saturated to poly-unsaturated.  When fatty foods "sweat" its because the varying fats begin to liquefy at different temperatures and begin also to leach out and pool at the surface.  The same situation can be seen with all kinds of fatty substances from butter to salad dressings, even certain cosmetic creams!

So there it is!  Fatty acids is all their glory laid bare!  From strait as an arrow to a bit kinky... fats have real personality in their molecules!  Bad jokes aside...  knowledge is a good thing and often quite delicious!

~~~FOOD SCIENCE CONTENT (fats): Fatty Acid Chains~~~

*whew* good to be back in the science business, eh?  Now back to the recipe!

Slice your chilled prosciutto to your liking and to fit the stuffed figs.  All that's left is to wrap your figs and chill them 

So...  Ready for the next course?  I am!

~ ~ ~

Entree Course - Pork Loin with figs and onions, and Arugula Salad

4 Small pork loin chops
2 medium/large brown turkey figs
Flesh of 2 large figs, mashed
1 Medium sweet onion
Fresh lemon
EV olive oil

Fresh baby arugula
EV olive oil
Aged balsamic vinegar
black pepper

SPECIAL TOOLS: 10" Cast Iron Skillet
                              Heat Resistant Kitchen Tongs

Yield - 4 chops

First prepare your heat!  Place your cast iron skillet in the oven and set the oven to 450f.  Let the oven and skillet pre heat for 20 minutes to ensure you've got enough heat to cook the meat.

While the pan pre-heats with the oven, prepare your produce.  Slice you onion in half (along its equator more or less) then in half again, across the "roots."  Slice your quarters into quarter rings and set aside in a bowl.  Slice your figs into wedges down the center and add to the bowl with the onions.  Add a good splash of olive oil (optional but recommended) and a good pinch of salt then place the bowl in the fridge, covered, to chill out for a while.

Take your remaining figs and scoop the insides out with a sharp edged tool (I used a melon baller but a measuring spoon will do fine) then mash it good.  Remove your chops from the fridge and rinse them under cool water then pat them dry with a clean towel or paper towel.   Remove the onions and figs from the fridge and let and the chops rest about 10 minutes to take the chill off.

~~INGREDIENT SNIPPET (Pre-packaged meat): Depending on the source, rinsing isn't always necessary but it'd generally a rule of thumb, especially with pre-packaged meats from the local grocer, removing any protein or fatty films from sitting in the butcher case~~

Rub your chops with a bit of olive oil, salt & pepper then rub them once more with the mashed figs.  Depending on how much you like figs, you can add more or less mashed fig here.

Remove your pan from the oven and place it over medium high heat on the stovetop.  Place your chops in the dry pan and cook them for 3 minutes.

Flip your chops and toss in your onions and figs.  You don't have to be too careful about how they're arranged so just toss them in on top.  Cook the chops this side for 30 seconds.  Sprinkle with just a bit of melon juice then pop the whole lot into the oven to cook for 5 minutes.  Remove your chops to a plate and cover with foil to rest at least 5 minutes.  

While the meat rests, place the pan with trimmings on the stove over medium heat and cook just a few minutes to give the onions some nice, golden color.  Reduce heat to the lowest setting to keep warm.

Wash and dry your greens then add your olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt to taste.  Balsamic vinegar is a wonderful sharp addition to the earthy bitter leafy greens and a tangy counterpoint to the rich lamb!

Put some of your trimmings on a warm plate then top with one or two chops and serve with your fresh arugula salad on the side!

So... still have room for dessert?  I promise its quite light!  Lets keep going!

~ ~ ~

~Brulee Figs in Buttermilk Cream~

recipe inspired by Iron Chef Mario Batali

This recipe is a two-parter, cookies and buttermilk cream! The cookies themselves are made in the form of basic sugar cookies so you can make the dough and store it for up to two weeks in the fridge. I also included a full batch recipe so you can have some around just to make cookie cutter shapes later if you feel in the mood :)  Now lets make some cookies!


1/2 # unsalted butter
1 Cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Seeds and flesh of 2 very ripe figs, mashed
2 teaspoons finely chopped mint, loosely packed
1 large egg yolk
1 large egg
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 2/3 Cups AP flour

Powdered sugar (for dusting)

SPECIAL TOOLS: Electric or countertop mixer
                              Prepared, parchment lined cookie sheet

Yield - about 6 dozen 3" cookies or about 3 dozen cookie sticks (estimated)

These are great little cookies! The addition of fig adds a VERY subtle flavor to the cookies on their own but with the dessert itself, the flavors are brought to the surface as a flavor side with that oh so important "crunch" factor!

The first step is to cream together your sugar, butter, and salt on high speed in the bowl of your stand mixer until they are light and fluffy!  Just as with any cookie or cake of this type, you'll want to get as much air worked in a possible here to ensure a good, fluffy on the inside, crunchy without cookie!
While the mixture creams together, fine chop your mint leaves and scoop and mash the figs then add, continuing to mix until evenly combined and fluffy.

Once you're ready, add your single egg yolk and mix until combined thoroughly.  Next, in a small bowl, combine your buttermilk, vanilla and whole egg  then add to your mixture, mixing on low speed.  Sift your flour to remove and lumpy bits then add it to the cookie batter in two stages, mixing on low speed.

Turn your cookie dough out onto a clean working surface and give it a few good turns to bring the whole thing together in a nice, smooth ball.  Chop it in half, wrap it in plastic and into the fridge with it to chill for at least an hour (or up to two weeks.)

When you're ready, preheat your oven to 375f.

Now for the shaping!  Once the cookies have "chilled out" (...pun...) in the fridge, remove one of your blocks and let it relax on the counter, just a few minutes.  Prepare a floured work surface and roll your dough out into a rectangle 10" wide and about 1/4" thick, then cut it into 10" x 1/2" strips.

Carefully transfer your cookie sticks to your cookie sheet and dust them liberally with powdered sugar.  Don't worry if they deform a bit on the way, the more irregular the better sometimes (these cookie are very "rustic" looking!) 

Bake your cookies at 375f for 8 - 10 minutes or until the tops are golden and the edges are a darker golden brown.  Dust with more powdered sugar and cool completely before de-panning.  These sticks should be eaten within 24 hours before they get droopy...  they tend to get stale quickly because they are so thin.  If you're making regular cookie shapes, they should keep for much longer.  Either way, they're still delicious!

The rest of this one is pretty simple!  No time but the present, eh?

Caramelized figs with cream:

3 black mission figs, chilled well in the refrigerator
Superfine sugar

1 Cup cultured buttermilk
1/4 Cup mascarpone cheese
1 Tablespoon honey

SPECIAL TOOLS: Blowtorch or small culinary torch
                               Wide soup/pasta bowls

Yield - 2 Servings

First make your cream.  This is one of my all time favorite things since I figured out the ratio that makes it soooo good!  Its also so very simple to make which makes it even better!

Place the mascarpone cheese in a small bowl and add your honey and mix to combine thoroughly (this makes an AMAZING topping for toast, with some fresh raspberry preserves...)  Add buttermilk to your mascarpone, a few tablespoons at a time until the cheese/honey mixture has been thinned significantly.  This step is a big help in getting the two main ingredients to combine evenly without a lot of frantic whisking.  Add the remaining buttermilk and stir gently to combine while avoiding too much frothing.  Bubbles are ok but it can re-thicken the cream and make it less appetizing...  Cover your cream with plastic wrap, in contact with the surface to avoid skinning, and chill in the fridge at least 10 minutes or up to  4 hours.  You can even make this cream first thing before starting dinner and pop it in to the fridge and have it ready when you need it.

Next for the brulee figs!  For this step you're treating figs just like the custards for creme brulee.  Take your figs out of the fridge and slice them down the center to get a nice shape and pat the cut surfaces with a towel.   Top the cut figs liberally with sugar and let it stand 1 minute to form a hydrated layer.  Tap the figs gently to remove any excess then add a fine, very even coating of sugar to the surfaces.

Start your torch and begin caramelizing the figs.  With a high powered torch, you will want to start about 8 inches away, moving the torch around for uniform heat.  Slowly work your way closer as the sugar begins to caramelize and stop when the sugar is melted, bubbly, and golden amber!  Let the figs cool 30 seconds to stop the cooking.

Pour about 3/4" of your cream mixture into your pasta bowls then arrange three brulee figs in the cream.  Garnish the plate with a cookie stick and a sprig of mint for color!

So there it is!  Figs is at least a little bit of their delicious glory!  These little fellows are so versatile, a regular renaissance fruit!  The applications I demonstrated here are pretty basic and not exactly experimental but I think that sometimes you just have to fall back on "this is pretty tasty" kitchening!  Having said that, don't let me stop you trying all kinds of fig dishes, fig sides, fig drinks, fig... soaps?  Maybe!  Experiment and find out what makes em tic!  You'll be happy with the result, I promise!  Thanks for reading!


1 comment:

yummy supper said...

Cam, All of your figgy deliciousness is so inspiring. I have been so resistant to Fall but you have reminded me how tasty it can be.