Friday, August 28, 2009
A few weeks ago I was taking my car from the work parking lot when I noticed a large fig tree overhanging the lot, heavy with unripe figs. I thought how fabulous it would be when the figs started getting ripe. The roots of the tree were on the other side of the fence so the tree technically belonged to the house next door. So am I allowed to pick the figs or not, I wondered. My friend Jane was kind to inform me (after I had already done the deed) that according to an ancient Greek law, the fruit overhanging your property belong to you; besides, no one else (except the squirrels) were making use of them and these luscious, juicy black Mission figs were just falling to the ground. So I proceeded to harvest them quite regularly over the past two weeks.
After the first bowl of figs appeared in my fridge I realized I could not possibly eat them all. What to do with a boatload of figs? They are such delicate fruit with very subtle flavor, the best thing is to just pop them in your mouth, close your eyes and sink into heaven. They are best fresh and there are very few things that you can cook with figs. I browsed by cookbooks, I surfed the net, I was restless until I lined up 4 (yes, four!) recipes which I wanted to try.
First came the fig tart. I was responsible for buying food for the Friday social hour at work. If I make a pie just for the sake of making a pie, the poor pie will spend a month in my fridge. But if I bring it to Happy Hour, there will be 15 volunteers to take care of it. Muahahaha. The recipe came from Epicurious. Just read the name and you will be seduced: Fresh Fig Tart with Rosemary Cornmeal Crust and Lemon Mascarpone Cream. Oh, doesn't it just sound delicious?
For the crust:
1 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C yellow cornmeal (not stone-ground)
1 Tbs sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 1/2 Tbs finely chopped fresh rosemary
3+ Tbs ice water
For the filling:
1/4 C plain yogurt
1 C mascarpone cheese (8 oz)
1/4 C sugar
1 1/2 tsp finely grated fresh lemon zest
1 1/2 lb fresh figs
This is made just like your regular tart. Mix flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and butter, and rub between your hands until the mixture turns into pea-sized crumbs. Add the rosemary and start adding the water one Tbs at a time, until the dough can be collected into a ball. Don't knead. Press the dough into a pie pad and line the walls and sides with a thin even layer. This recipe produced a bit too much dough for my pie pan so I used the leftovers to line a little ramekin for a mini-tart. Poke the dough with a fork and line with foil...or don't - opinions are split on whether you should do that. Bake at 350F for ~25 minutes, until the rim of the tart starts getting golden. Cool well on a rack.
Make the filling: beat the mascarpone cheese, yogurt, sugar and zest together in a bowl for ~30 seconds until fluffy. To assemble, pour the filling into the cold crust, arrange the figs on top. The picture here shows the figs sliced, but I cut them into wedges and it worked just as fine. I didn't brush them with glaze either, but got no complaints.
The tart was fantastic! Everyone loved it and I got thanks for it even 4 days later. So it must have been good. Or people were just really impressed that I baked something. What I really loved about this recipe is how versatile the element are. I'd never thought of putting herbs in the pie dough, for example. I was not a big fan of this particular crust recipe (and will make sure I post my favorite crust recipe at some other point) but including rosemary, basil or thyme in the crust, especially for a quiche or a savory pie would sure be fabulous. Also the filling was to die for! I couldn't get enough of it! (By the way, Trader Joe's carries mascarpone cheese, which is like cream cheese but better). It can be paired with any other fruit - Andrea suggested fresh raspberries, I also think peaches, strawberries, blueberry compote would go just fine on top of this filling. Ah, just more ideas for tasty things to bake!
Following the tart, I proceeded to make two types of fig jam and one type of fig preserve. Woah! That was a lot of work, but the results are so delicious, I can't wait for the winter to come so that I can start opening the jars. (Yes, I have a rule that no jams should be eaten if fresh fruit are available.) First I made the Spiced Microwave Fig-Orange Jam by Elise on Simply Recipes. I know, jam in the microwave?!? It worked great but if you want to boil it on the stove in the spirit of tradition, then go for it. Then I made the preserve with whole figs, which turned out very much like the fig preserves my mom used to make. Finally I made the spiked fig jam (spiced, spiked, I hope I don't get them confused in the cupboard). To prepare the figs for jamming, cut off their tails. I found two different suggested methods on washing the figs - pour hot water on them or wash them with cold water and baking soda. I used the former for the jams and the latter for the preserve.
Spiced Microwave Fig Jam
2 C (well packed) diced fresh figs
1/2 C seeded, peeled orange, diced
2 C sugar
the zest of 1 lemon
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2 cloves (which I forgot to pull out at the end... or ground)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 8oz jars & 1 4oz jar
Combine all the ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl, stir and let sit for ~30 min. Place in the microwave and set on high for 20 minutes. As soon as the mixture starts boiling (after 6-7 minutes), stop and stir. Keep stirring every 2-3 minutes and keep an eye on it so it does not boil over. It is ready when it has boiled down to 2/3 of its original volume. You can also check for done-ness using the wrinkle test shown here. Don't just rely on the thickness on the jam because it will thicken as it cools.
While the jam is making (and this is true for jam and preserve recipes), sterilize your jars in a large pot with boiling water. Just let them simmer. They should be well covered with water. Sterilize the lids and bands as well. Once the jam is done, pour it into the hot jars (use a towel or oven mitts), wipe the mouth clean with a paper towel, place the lid on top and screw on the band as tight as you can. Place the jars in a pot of hot water (yes, you can use the same pot of hot water) and bring to boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Maybe this double sterilization is an overkill - sterilize the jars and then boil the jam too - but I'd rather be safe than sorry. Pull the hot jars out of the water and let them cool on a towel (don't place the hot jars on the cold counter-top - they might crack!). Count the pops.
I liked the jam. The spices were very light. On first taste they still seemed to overpower the figs a bit, but things improved when the jam cooled The orange was hardly noticeable. The consistency was fantastic - the vigorous boiling the the microwave made for a very smooth jam.
Along a similar line comes the Spiked Fig Jam. I love adding alcohol to food - it imparts fantastic flavors even if a small quantity is used.
Spiked Fig Jam
4 1/2 C fresh figs, chopped and loosely packed
2 C sugar
1/3 C brandy or Cognac
2 Tbs lemon juice (from the same lemon)
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
3 8 oz. jars
Peel the lemon (thinly, with a potato peeler) and chop the rind into matchsticks. Combine all ingredients in a pot and let them sit for ~1 hour. Bring to boil over medium heat. Turn heat to low and simmer for ~30 minutes, stirring frequently and mashing the fruit. After the 30-minute mark, start checking for done-ness. Again, the jam will thicken when it cools. When the test comes out positive, turn off the heat and pour the jam into sterilized jars. Put on lids, screw on bands and boil the jars for ~10 minutes to finish off sterilization.
This jam turned out sooooooo incredibly good. I barely had the will power to leave some for James to try. I could have easily polished it off.
Finally, the fig preserve. I've always been befuddled by the differences between preserves, jams, marmalades and such. I am learning my way around them as I am making them - while jams are basically purees, preserves keep the fruit whole submerged in a sugar syrup. This old-fashioned fig preserve reminds me of the one my Mom used to make. It takes a long time to boil down so arm yourself with patience.
4 C whole figs
2 C sugar
3 lemon slices, seeded
1 C water
pinch of salt
2 8oz jars and 1 4 oz jar
Combine all ingredients in a pot, stir well and bring to boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for at least one hour. Continue simmering until the syrup passes the wrinkle test. Pour into sterilized jars, cap, screw the bands on and boil for 10 minutes.
Phew, that was a huge adventure! So much jammin' my head started spinning. And as if that wasn't enough I had another bowl of figs left. In a final act of desperation I decided to dry them in the oven. It took two nights with the oven turned on the lowest setting, probably 100F, to get most of the moisture out, to get the figs all dry and shriveled. All right, that's enough. I'm done.
And if that was not enough for you, here are a few more fig ideas:
Pizza with Figs, Prosciutto, Gorgonzola, Balsamic, and Arugula
Candied Fig, Hazelnut and Orange Cheesecake with Port Sauce
Warm Black Mission Fig, Walnut Crunch, and Blue Cheese Tartlets
Fresh Figs with Goat Cheese and Peppered Honey