There is no better fruit to use to celebrate the High Holidays than the fig. This rather exotic, tender, purplish-green fruit -- a fixture in ancient manuscripts -- is in season, and ready to be plucked from your store produce sections and celebrated with a festival of dishes.
The best way to tell if the fig you're buying is ripe and ready to eat is to feel it. Don't squeeze too hard; it should give just a little to the touch, sort of like a peach when it's ripe, but not be too soft or mushy. A fig tastes equally delicious fresh or cooked in a dish. It also works equally well in sweet or savory dishes.
There is a real bonus to eating figs because they are like a vitamin pill and health food, all wrapped up in a delicious fruity package. Figs are also full of antioxidants, and contain more fiber, potassium, calcium and iron than most other fruits.
Be warned, however: Fresh figs are extremely perishable and bruise easily. They must be kept refrigerated and eaten quickly after they're picked or purchased, as they tend to spoil quickly at room temperature.
There are quite a few types of figs available, but the most common ones found in the U.S. market place are the Calimyrna, Mission and Kadota, and can range in color from yellow to brown to red to purple. You can, of course, get dried figs year-round.
Prime season for fresh in this country is late August through September, so now is the time to add a little something special to your holiday table.
Honey-Walnut Fig Tart
2/3 cup flour
2/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
3 Tbsps. cold butter
2 Tbsps. sugar
1 egg yolk, beaten
1/2-1 tsp. ice water
2 Tbsps. butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white wine
4 fresh figs, stems removed and chopped, or 8 dried California figs, chopped
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsps. honey
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
8 dried California figs, or 4 fresh figs, stems removed, and sliced or quartered
Mix the flour, walnuts, butter and sugar together with a pastry blender or fork until it resembles coarse crumbs.
Beat the egg yolk and water together. Stir into flour mixture and knead for about 15 seconds on a lightly floured board.
Roll out and with a 2-inch round cookie-cutter, cut into 16 discs. Run finger around edges to form a shallow rim. Transfer to lightly greased baking sheet and chill for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350°.
Bake for 15 minutes; cool.
For sauce, melt the butter with sugar and cook for 2 minutes in small saucepan.
Stir in wine and figs; cook for 2 minutes more.
Add the cream and cinnamon; stir well and remove from heat. Cool slightly, and then purée until smooth. Set aside.
Stir the cream cheese, honey and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Divide and spread evenly onto crusts.
Spoon a thin layer of the fig sauce on top and spread evenly. Arrange the sliced figs over all and serve with additional sauce to spoon on.
1 loaf French or Italian bread baguette, sliced into 1/4-inch thick slices
2 tsps. minced garlic
2 1/2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp. sugar
2/3 cup cream cheese
8 fresh figs
In broiler, lightly toast bread slices on both sides.
In a small frying pan, combine the oil and garlic, and sauté it until the garlic is soft.
Brush the oil mixture on both sides of toast slices, saving any remaining oil. Cool the toast on wire racks.
In same pan, sauté the sliced onion with the sugar until its soft and golden-brown.
Spread each bread slice with cream cheese and top with a spoonful of sautéed onion. Remove stems from the top of figs and slice each fig into quarters.
Arrange one of two pieces of fig on the top of the bread. These can be served at room temperature, or placed under a broiler for 1 to 2 minutes to serve hot.
Garnish with a sprig of fresh rosemary or a sprinkle of dried rosemary.
Makes 30 to 36, depending on how thick you cut the slices.
(Dairy or Pareve)
11/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter or margarine
1 cup milk or nondairy substitute
4 egg whites, beaten
11/2 cups chopped figs
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. molasses
3 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp. salt
4 tsps. baking powder
1 tsp. lemon extract
1-2 Tbsps. flour for dredging
Preheat oven 350°.
Dredge the figs in flour and set them aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the sugar and butter. Add the milk; mix to combine.
In a bowl, combine the sifted flour with the salt and baking powder.
Add half of the flour-butter mixture and mix to combine. By hand, fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites, and stir in remaining flour and flavoring by hand.
Remove 1/3 of this mixture and set it aside. To the remaining mixture, add the molasses, cinnamon and chopped figs; mix to combine.
Grease and flour a Bundt pan.
Pour the fig mixture into the pan. Spoon the lighter batter over the top of the batter in the pan, and gently swirl them together.
Bake for 50 to 55 minutes.
Chocolate-Dipped Stuffed Figs
(Dairy or Pareve)
4-6 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature or nondairy equivalent
1 Tbsp., plus 1 tsp., coffee liqueur
1-2 Tbsps. powdered sugar
20 fresh figs
4-6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese, powdered sugar and coffee liqueur, mix to combine, and then set it aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Cut the bottoms off of the figs (but set them aside, don't throw them out), about 1/3-inch from the bottom. With a small melonballer, scoop an indentation out of the fig. Fill the cavity with the cream mixture. Replace the bottom half of the figs.
Melt chocolate until smooth (in microwave or double boiler). Holding each fig by the stem end, dip the fig into the chocolate to coat, about halfway up the side of the fig.
Place on wax paper on a cookie sheet and cool in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Crunchy Fig Galette
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
4 Tbsps. butter
4 Tbsps. Crisco
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
3 Tbsps. butter, melted
12-14 oz. fresh figs
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
zest of 1 lemon
dash of salt
3 Tbsps. apricot preserves (optional)
1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tsp. water
In a food processor, combine flour, salt and sugar. Pulse in the butter and Crisco until mixture looks like cornmeal.
Add just enough water until dough starts to come together, Flatten to a disk, wrap and refrigerate about 30 minutes. Prepare the crunch topping by combining the ingredients. Set aside.
Cut the stem end off and cut each fig into quarters.
In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, lemon zest and salt. Add figs; toss to coat.
Preheat oven to 375°.
On a lightly floured piece of parchment, roll dough into a 12-inch circle. Leaving a 3-inch border, spread the apricot preserves, if using, over the center. Place 3/4 of the crunch topping over top, still leaving the border.
Starting at the outer edge, working toward the center, lay the figs in circles. Sprinkle with remaining crunch topping. Using parchment paper to help, fold the dough border over the figs.
Carefully slide the paper with the galette onto a baking sheet. Brush exposed dough with egg mixture. Bake for 35 minutes.
Take out and check the crust. If it's getting too brown, cover it with some foil. Return galette to oven and bake 15 minutes more.
When cool, transfer galette with the parchment paper to a serving dish (careful, it's fragile).
Top with whipped cream.
Balsamic Fig Salad
4 large fresh figs
2 Tbsps. balsamic vinegar
2-3 tsps. brown sugar
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup olive oil
2-3 tsps. freshly lemon juice
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
freshly ground pepper
8 cups mixed salad greens
Snip the stem end off each fig and cut in half lengthwise.
Mix the vinegar, brown sugar and cinnamon together in a medium bowl. Add the figs and gently toss to coat. Let marinate while you heat a grill pan.
Coat pan with a little olive oil. Grill the figs (saving all the marinade in the bowl) for about 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until grill marks appear. Do not overcook; figs will become too mushy. Remove figs to a plate to cool.
To the reserved marinade, add the olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper, whisking to completely incorporate.
Place the greens in a large salad bowl. Toss with the dressing, then divide the salad among 4 individual serving plates.
Place two fig halves on each plate of greens and serve.
Eileen Goltz is a freelance food writer and the author of Perfectly Pareve. E-mail her at: ztlog@ verizon.net.