We grew up with figs. When he immigrated to the U.S., Lou’s grandfather brought over a branch from his family’s fig tree in Sicily. He gave it to Lou’s dad who planted it in his tiny yard in Queens, where it grew to be so big that you needed a ladder to get to the best fruit. Starting late summer, going into the fall, we would run out the side door, down the alley to the back of the house and eat figs right off the tree. Ours had centers that were deep pink with skins that were a very dark purple. They were always on the table when the tree was fruiting.
“The figs are really sweet. Try this one,” Lou’s dad would smile, holding one out to anyone who would visit. When Lee came along, she got this same offer, too, and joined in the ritual.
Looking back, these moments didn’t seem special. It was just what we always did. But now, going out to the back, picking some figs, and sitting with a glass of wine at the picnic table under the grapevine sounds pretty perfect.
These days when the season rolls around, we still make sure to find figs. Instead of picking them off the tree, we get them at the farmer’s market or green grocer…that is, until we can pick them off our own tree.
And while for us (and many Italian families), figs are part of a long-held family tradition that has been passed down through generations, surviving oceans and moves and many years, they’re also delicious. Though it’s a fair guess that figs are packed with nutrients (and they are), something that might surprise you is how rich they are in calcium. That makes for one pretty amazing fruit.
Though we’re happy just eating figs right out of a bowl, this season, we wanted to try something a little different. If possible, we think we made figs taste even better. And while it might be different from what you usually serve as an appetizer or dessert (this can be used for either to equal effect! and it’s incredible with wine…as you might imagine), it’s not different for the sake of being different. It’s just plain delicious.
Here’s what we did…
Seared Figs with Rosemary, Goat Cheese and a Balsamic Reduction
There’s no real recipe here. It’s mostly just a list of ingredients. Depending on how many figs you have—a couple or a couple of pints—adjust the quantities. You can dip them into the rosemary-sugar mixture, which will further caramelize the surface as the figs cook, or skip that step if you want something a little less sweet. If you opt for the more savory version, you can flavor the olive oil with a sprig or two of rosemary. You’ll wind up with something just as great.
For the balsamic vinegar reduction, the vinegar will reduce by half, so double what you think you’ll need. A couple of teaspoons drizzled over the figs turns this into something spectacular, whether you use it as an appetizer or a dessert.
-for the figs-
-figs (we figured one and half to two per person for an appetizer or snack with goat cheese)
-sugar, enough to dip the cut-side of the figs
-fresh rosemary, as much as you like
* Wash and dry the figs well. Cut in half.
* Finely chop rosemary and add it to the sugar.
* Dip the cut-side into the sugar mixture.
* Heat a sauté pan over medium heat, then add the olive oil and the rosemary if you decided to omit the rosemary sugar.
* Place the figs cut side down in the pan.
* Cook a few minutes until the sugar has caramelized or the figs have seared to a deep golden color with their own natural sugars.
* Heat the vinegar until it’s just simmering. There should be small bubbles around the edge. Cook slowly until it reduces to a syrupy consistency and coats the back of a spoon, about 5-10 minutes or so. Be careful not to let it burn. It will turn into something black and bitter and gooey. Not good.
* Remember, as it simmers, the vinegar will reduce by half. Don’t worry about making too much. If you make more than you think you’ll need, just store the rest jar in the refrigerator. If it thickens too much, place the jar in some warm water to heat. You can also put the vinegar in a sauce pan and heat slightly, adding a bit of warm water to thin it if necessary. Use the balsamic reduction on other fruits, vegetables or desserts. It’s amazing on vanilla ice cream!