Beautiful, black Turkish figs – with their soft, edible dusky-leather jackets, and their tiny crunchy seeds – are my favourite fruit of autumn. I know this sounds a bit poncey, but eating one transports me back to the garden of a house we stayed at in southern France. It was a beautiful, sprawling house, isolated from the rest of humankind and overlooking a heat-hazed valley, checkered with fertile plots and poky wee villages. The best thing about this house – other than the bracingly cold pool – was the overhanging fig trees, with fruit so ripe we would find them smashed on the path each morning; useless to us but bliss for the birds. We managed to snaffle a few before they dropped, but even just the scent as we passed under the heavily-burdened boughs was heavenly. Since then I have greedily bought up ripe figs when in season trying to briefly experience a glimpse of that wonderful family holiday. And then it rains…
Like plums, I enjoy figs most in their natural, raw state. When at their best – their little bottoms anointed with just a droplet of natural syrup – it seems a sin to do anything but slice them; enjoying their glorious heady perfume with little more than a some soft, spicy leaves – like rocket – and a perhaps a few pinches of creamy, young mozzarella. A sparing drizzle of raspberry vinegar doesn’t go amiss either. See, greedy.
Less oozingly ripe figs are great for roasting, as well as preserving as compote or jam. Dried, figs take on an altogether different persona – slightly worthy, a whiff medicinal. Fresh is most definitely best. Then, as a close and sticky second, roasted and juicy with mingling of natural sugars and a little added pucker and sweet.
Gooey and toffee-like, but with a tang from the balsamic or raspberry vinegar, these roasted figs make a beautiful dessert, cosied up with a quenelle of crème fraiche or soft goats cheese; dolloped onto ice cream (or indeed stirred into ice cream, with perhaps some freshly made pistachio praline, and refrozen); nestled into a sweetcrust pastry along with fresh, broken cobnuts or hazelnuts and slices of ripest pear. But equally they step out with walnuts and crunchy, bitter chicory in a fresh – almost instant – autumn salad. Seasonal eating at its simplest and most versatile.
Take advantage of the offers in the shops and of course, farmer’s markets. I recently scooped up four boxes of six fruits each recently as they were on their sell-by-date – i.e., they were perfectly ripe. Avoid hard figs, or ones that feel less heavy than their brothers: these never ripen and are largely useless, even after roasting. Not a fig-buying expert? Here’s some guidance.
Make a batch of these roasted and syrupy figs and store to dip into over the coming week. In addition to these ideas, why not add to grain salads with rocket and pistachios, or use instead of fresh fig in my recent fig and labneh tartine? These are even sweet enough to have with a bowl of muesli or granola.
Figs love: almonds, hazelnuts, cobnuts, walnuts, pistachios (etc), chocolate, blue and goats cheese, cinnamon, vanilla and cardamom, mint, orange, pears and apples, plums, raspberries and brambles (also growing now), smoked meats and bitter leaves.
Seasonal goodies growing in the UK:
Vegetables aubergines, beetroot, broccoli, butternut squash, carrots, celeriac, celery, courgettes, cucumber, fennel, climbing beans, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuces, mangetout, onions, pak choi, sweet peppers and chili peppers, main crop potatoes, pumpkins and winter squashes (just), radishes, rocket, runner beans, shallots, spring onions, sweetcorn, tomatoes, turnips, watercress and wild mushrooms.
Fruits apples, bilberries and blueberries, blackberries and brambles (wild), damsons, elderberries, medlars, pears, plums, raspberries (the last of them), red currants and rowan berries.
Figs are imported from the Turkey, but do grow in the UK. Just not in commercial quantities. A friend has the most prolific tree but they often don’t ripen well enough to be entirely useful. Not hot enough here. Unlike the south of France. Grrrr.
Balsamic and Date Syrup Roasted Figs + Roasted Fig, Chicory and Walnut Salad
½ kg (1 lb) fresh, ripe black figs (or other ripe figs)
2 tbsp best balsamic vinegar or fruit vinegar, like raspberry
2 tbsp date syrup, maple syrup or honey
2 tbsp water
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.
2. Cut each ripe fig in half vertically. Nestle them into a tin that holds them snuggly.
3. Mix together the balsamic vinegar, the date syrup and water and pour evenly over the figs, giving the tin a gentle shake. The figs will release their own fragrant syrup so don’t worry that their isn’t a lake of vinegar and syrup in the tin.
4. For juicy, soft figs with a good puddle of light syrup, cover the tin loosely with foil and roast for about 30 minutes. For firmer, stickier figs, roast uncovered.
Depending on the type of fig and how ripe or not they are, the figs may need more or less time, so do have a look in on them after 20 minutes or so.
For dessert, serve with a good dollop of crème fraiche, yogurt or goats cheese (the latter a classic pairing). Top with chopped pistachios or other favourite nut. To go a bit sweeter still, top with a light scatter of chopped honey-roasted nuts or praline.
1 (or 2) head of chicory – red or white, leaves pulled off (they look like little boats)
8 halves of roasted figs, as above
Handful of toasted walnuts
Crumbles of best quality blue cheese or goats cheese, optional (not shown)
Dressing: 1 tbsp of the fig syrup, or 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, + 2 tbsp walnut oil or rapeseed oil + 1 tsp wholegrain mustard + 1 tsp water, and a good grinding of pepper (plus salt if you like). Whisk until amalgamated and glossy. Pour over the chicory, figs and walnuts.
Nutrition Bit: Figs are high in natural sugars (that’s why they roast so well) and soluble fibre. Figs are also rich in minerals including potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and copper and are a good source of vitamins A, E and K. A single raw fig comes in at a paltry 37 calories, so are a great fruit to include when managing weight as they are quite filling. They are often used as a natural remedy for constipation. But don’t hold that against them.
Other Fig Recipes on Food To Glow:
Gorgeous Fig Recipes from Others:
Carob and Fig Superfood Smoothie – Whole Nourishment
Coconut Milk,Coriander and Jalapeño-Marinated Halloumi with Figs – Deena Kakaya Vegetarian Recipes and Cooking
Fig, Beetroot and Feta Salad – Tinned Tomatoes
Salmon with Red Onions, Figs and Honey – The Healthy Epicurean
Figgy Buckwheat Scones – 101 Cookbooks