Every year, I look forward to the real fig season--figs have two seasons: the first, in early summer, is fleeting and generally unremarkable; the second one takes place late in the summer. And yes, folks, it's that time of year again. Late summer. My favorite moment in food time, when tomatoes and basil and zucchini and cucumbers and peppers and stone fruit and even berries are still prolific in the farmers' market, and each week, there are more shell beans and succulent delicious figs on display. But it's the figs that send me into squeals of joy, and when I bite into a perfectly ripe fig, perfect bliss.
If you’ve never tried a fig, then put aside your pre-conceived notions, and take a bite. Seriously. Now is your chance! Figs are at their peak from now until the end of the month. Longer if we are lucky. Kind of like a honeyed, sweet strawberry or raspberry but with a much more subtle flavor and less tang, figs are perfect when served with tangy cheese, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, or wrapped in salty cured meat.
How to choose the perfect fig
Unlike most other fruits, the best figs are often the “ugliest,” at least until you know what to look out for. Once picked, figs no longer ripen, and you’ll never get the succulent figgy perfection if you choose underripe fruit. So back away from that perfectly smooth, unblemished, firm fig, it’s underripe!
Look for fruits that are soft (but not mushy) with cracks in the skin. They should feel heavy and plump, and maybe slightly wrinkled, but make sure to smell them to be sure they haven’t sat for too long and started to ferment.
Because figs must be picked when ripe, they have a very short shelf life. You should plan to use them within a day or two once purchased. Not that I’ve ever been able to hold back once I’ve snagged a bag of fresh juicy delicious figs. It’s best to store them in a paper bag in the refrigerator, unless you are using them the same day you purchase them.
Some figgy ideas
Not only are figs amazing out of hand, they are super versatile, and pair really well with salty, tangy, herbaceous flavors. Trim the stems off, slice them lengthwise in half or quarters, and then serve them:
- Sprinkled with fresh goats' cheese
- Alongside a wedge of tangy blue cheese
- Topped with thin slices of prosciutto or jamon serrano
- Drizzled with balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with chopped fresh basil
- In a salad of chopped toasted almonds, wild arugula, and fresh goats' cheese
- Drizzled with honey and crème fraiche
You can also cook them whole, for example:
- Wrapped with a thin slice of pancetta and then grilled until crisp on the outside
- Roasted in the oven with a drizzle of honey, and served with whipped cream and a sprinkle of toasted almonds
And if you want to go all out, then impress your friends (and co-workers) and make a very simple, but very gorgeous, fig tart.
Fresh Fig and Mascarpone Tart
Makes: 8–12 servings
One 10-inch tart pan lined with flaky pie dough (use 1/2 recipe of my Flaky Pie Dough recipe below or use your favorite tart dough)
8oz excellent quality mascarpone
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons golden brown sugar
Pinch of salt
About 10–16 figs, depending on how many figs you like
Honey, for drizzling
1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Line the tart pan with the dough, then line the dough with foil. Fill with ceramic pie weights or beans or rice. Place the tart shell on a baking sheet and bake until it starts to dry out, about 15 minutes. Remove the foil and weights and continue to bake until golden brown, about 5–10 minutes more. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the mascarpone, cream, vanilla, brown sugar, and salt until soft peaks form. Be careful, especially if you are using an electric mixer, because the mixture will thicken very quickly.
3. Carefully spread the mascarpone cream evenly onto the bottom of the tart shell.
4. Trim the stems off the figs and slice in half or quarters, lengthwise. Place them evenly on top of the mascarpone cream, overlapping so they all fit. Drizzle the figs with honey.
5. Cut into thin wedges and serve. Mmmmmmm. You can store this in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2–3 days.
Flaky Pie or Tart Dough
Makes: Enough for two 10-inch tarts
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
12 tablespoons very cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/3 cup ice water + 1 tablespoon
1. To make the crust, in the bowl of a food processor, stir together the flour, and salt. Sprinkle the butter over the top and process for a few seconds, or just until the butter is slightly broken up into the flour but still in visible pieces. Sprinkle the water over the flour mixture evenly, then process until the mixture just starts to come together.
2. Dump the mixture out of the bowl onto 2 large sheets of plastic wrap. Press the dough together into a mound and then wrap with plastic and press into a flat disk. Refrigerate the dough until chilled, about 30 minutes or up to 1 day, or freeze for up to 1 month.