For me there is nothing like the unique taste and texture of fresh figs and, they are coming into season right now. They have a magnificent, sweet fragrant flavour and are best eaten slightly warm straight from the tree. Fresh or roasted? Savoury or sweet? Figs are delicious baked in a pie, stuffed with cheese, wrapped in Serrano ham or simply dipped in chocolate.
Thought to be the sweetest fruit, figs are also one of the oldest fruits recognized by man, figs feature large in mythology and appear in pivotal moments throughout history. Adam and Eve used fig leaves to preserve their modesty, and there is some suggestion that the forbidden fruit was not an apple, but a fig. Buddha is said to have become a God under the sacred fig, Ficus religiosa. According to Greek myth, the fig tree first grew on the spot where Zeus tossed a thunderbolt to earth.
The Greeks held figs in such esteem that they even created laws forbidding the export of the best quality figs. Figs were also revered in ancient Rome where they were thought of as a sacred fruit.
The fig tree can live as long as 100 years and grow to 100 feet tall, although domestic trees are kept pruned to a height of about 16 feet.
Apparently, Mallorca was one of the largest fig producers worldwide some years ago and near the village of Llucmajor, you’ll find Son Mut Nou, an experimental farm of 15 hectares specializing in the cultivation and study of figs and fig trees. Thousands of fig tress grace Son Mut Nou finca and there are over 600 varieties hailing from all corners of the Balearic Islands, the main land, and other far away, exotic lands such as China, Syria, Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, Italy, Australia, South Africa, Israel and Japan, including one from Fukushima!
The striking fruit, with its fresh green or deep purple skin and vibrant deep pink flesh, is a wonderful addition to late summer market stalls but for reasons of convenience, many figs are imported hard and immature. When buying figs, it’s worth noting that they do not ripen after picking, so choose the ripest fruits you can. Look for figs with rich colouring, and those that are plump and yield slightly to pressure. Smell is important too; avoid any figs that have begun to smell slightly sour. Fresh figs have an extremely short shelf life. Thin-skinned and easily bruised, they need careful handling and should be wrapped in tissue for travel. Ripe figs are highly perishable and will not keep for longer than three days in the fridge.
Bring out their delicate scent and flavour by leaving them in the sun for an hour or so before serving. They can then be simply roasted with honey and are perfect partners for orange, port, ginger, strawberries, almonds and chocolate along with foie gras, duck, smoked meats and they can also be thrown into a salad with blue cheese and walnuts. Dried figs can be soaked in boiling water or lightly steamed to reconstitute. They’re excellent chopped, mixed with nuts and spices and added to tea, cakes or couscous. Good quality, thinly sliced Serrano ham with crusty bread and fresh figs makes a fabulous snack or light lunch. Whether it’s the solitary enjoyment of a freshly picked fig or a platter of Serrano ham with figs shared among friends, this glorious fruit always seems to generate happy memories. They may once have forbidden…but they are rarely forgotten.
Rosemary & fennel seed glazed duck with sweet potato ragout & Fresh Figs
4 duck breasts
6 fresh figs
For the glaze
1tspn fennel seeds
1tbsp chopped rosemary
150ml maple syrup
to make the glaze
1 Lightly toast the fennel seeds in a pan. Add the rosemary, maple syrup and water and bring the boil. Reduce to a light syrup and remove from the heat.
2 Heat a heavy bottomed frying pan and season the duck breasts. Place them skin side down and fry gently until crisp and golden. Turn over the duck breasts and place them on a baking tray.
3 Using a pastry brush, coat the duck skin with the glaze and roast them in a hot oven (200ºc/gas6) for about 4-6 minutes until just cooked and pink in the middle. Remove from the oven and rest in a warm place for 2-3 minutes.
Sweet potato ragout
- 600g 3 sweet potatoes, peeled & diced
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1tsp rosemary, chopped
- 400g chopped tomatoes
- 1tbsp sherry vinegar
- 2tbsp olive oil
1 Heat the olive in a heavy bottomed saucepan and add the onions and garlic. Sweat over a gentle heat until they start to soften.
2 Add the paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin and rosemary and cook for a further minute.
3 Add the diced sweet potatoes, chopped tomatoes and sherry vinegar and cook over a gentle flame, stirring occasionally, for 25 minutes until the potatoes are cooked.
4 Season with salt & pepper and serve with the glazed duck and fresh figs.
Fig, Honey and lemon thyme clafoutis
Make sure you use really ripe figs for this recipe and I also like to serve this with a big spoonful of vanilla ice-cream.
- 3 eggs
- 75g sugar
- 2 tbsp clear honey
- 2 tspn picked lemon thyme leaves
- juice of one lemon juice, plus ½ finely grated zest
- 12 ripe figs, cut in halve lengthways
- 60g plain flour
- 1 vanilla pod
- 100ml cream
- 100ml milk
- a pinch of salt
- a knob of butter
1 Preheat the oven to 170C.
2 Grease 10-inch tart ring or a shallow ovenproof sauté pan with a little butter and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of sugar.
3 In large bowl, stir together flour, salt, and sugar. In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, cream, eggs, honey and vanilla until well blended.
4 Slowly pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture, whisking constantly until combined. Add the lemon juice, zest and thyme leaves. Pour batter into the prepared tart ring and arrange the figs, cut sides up, in the batter.
5 Bake for about 30-40 minutes, until the batter has risen, turned golden brown and is cooked through.
6 Remove from the oven, divide between four bowls and serve warm with vanilla ice cream.