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La Belle Cuisine


Fresh figs

By Constance Snow

The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, LA
July 18, 2002

“If you grew up in New Orleans, chances are you spent many happy hours of your childhood in the shade of your own fig tree. If not, you were probably bribed by a grandmother, aunt or elderly neighbor to climb around the branches in her
backyard when the fruit was ripe for picking. The reward for this summer rite of sharecropping was usually a few dollars, plus all the sweet and sticky figs you
could eat and a jar or two of the homemade jam for your mother.
Fresh figs are a fleeting pleasure. They spoil quickly and don't travel well, which
is why you'll seldom find any worth having in a supermarket. When they're here, they're here in abundance. When they're gone, we must make do with preserves or dried fruit until next year. So let's get while the gettin's good.
For starters, you could wrap whole or halved figs in prosciutto for an elegant appetizer that's ready in moments. Or you could stuff them with softened cream cheese seasoned with chopped roasted pine nuts and coarse-ground black pepper. Fresh figs are also a fine accompaniment for wine and cheese, especially mascarpone, creamy gorgonzola and aged parmesan. For a simple dessert, serve
them with port, walnuts and Stilton. Easier yet, drizzle slices of the fresh fruit
with top-quality balsamic vinegar or with sugar and cream.
Besides their luxurious flavor, they'll add a taste of romance to any meal. Long prized as an aphrodisiac, figs are believed by some biblical scholars to be the "forbidden fruit" of the Garden of Eden. Following the example of Adam and Eve, centuries of art censors have decked nudes with the broad leaves, strategically placed, to shield our eyes from the naughty bits. And according to legend,
Cleopatra hid the poisonous asp that ended her life in a basket of fresh figs.
Try not to think about that as you sort through your own baskets or buckets of fruit to prepare your favorite jams or preserves. If you have a bumper crop this year, you might also consider drying some, following these instructions from the California Fig Advisory Board: Dry them in a very slow oven with the door left ajar - the heat not exceeding 135 degrees. Turn them occasionally until they have lost about
three-fourths of their fresh weight. Immediately store the dried figs in airtight jars
to protect them from insects.
Better yet, bake chopped fresh figs into tasty loaves of quick bread to share with friends or stock your freezer...
...For a delicious fig tart, you only need to pile the sliced or quartered fresh fruit
atop a bed of lightly sweetened whipped cream in a baked pie shell. However, if
you don't mind the extra trouble, the fig streusel tart is rich and spicy, crowned
by a buttery brown sugar topping. If you really want to go all out, top each slice
with a scoop of the fresh fig ice cream."


Fresh Fig Quick Bread

Makes 1 loaf

2 cups stemmed, peeled and
chopped fresh figs
1/4 cup dry sherry
Butter for greasing pan
1 2/3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup chopped roasted pecans

Soak chopped figs in sherry for 30 minutes. Generously butter a loaf pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, lemon zest, baking
soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg until thoroughly blended. Make a well
in the center.
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with the oil; pour into the well of the dry ingredients and stir just until moistened. Stir in the fig and sherry mixture
and the pecans. Turn batter into buttered pan and bake for 70 to 80
minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in
pan for 10 minutes; then turn onto rack to cool completely.


Fig Streusel Tart

Adapted from
The China Moon Cookbook

by Barbara Tropp (Workman, 1992)

Makes 6 to 8 servings

1 large tart green apple, peeled and
cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 pounds fresh figs, stemmed
and quartered
1/4 cup currants
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 (9-inch) tart or pie shell

Combine all of the ingredients, except for the tart shell, in a heavy
non-reactive saucepan. Cook over moderate heat, stirring gently to
avoid scorching, until fruit is soft and the juices are bubbly and
slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
(Filling may be prepared to this point and refrigerated for several
days.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the cool filling into
the tart shell.

Streusel Topping
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter,
cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed
dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in bowl of electric mixer. Beat on medium
speed until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
Sprinkle the streusel evenly over the filling in the tart shell, keeping the streusel about one-half inch from the rim. (It will expand as it bakes.)
Bake the tart until the filling is bubbly and the streusel is lightly golden,
40 to 50 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool. Serve warm or at room


Fresh Fig Ice Cream

Makes about 2 quarts

6 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk
1/4 cup cream sherry
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Pinch salt
1 quart fresh figs, peeled
and mashed

Beat egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. In a large heavy saucepan, scald cream and milk. Slowly pour hot liquid over egg mixture, beating constantly; then return custard to saucepan and cook over medium-low
heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens enough to coat the back of
a spoon. (Be careful not to let it boil, or the custard will curdle.)
Remove from the heat; stir in the sherry, vanilla and salt. Place in a bowl
with plastic wrap directly on surface (to prevent a skin from forming) and
chill thoroughly.
Add mashed figs to custard, stirring to incorporate thoroughly. Freeze in
an ice cream machine, according to manufacturer's directions.

The Times-Picayune. Used with permission.

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