This is probably a good time to mention that the best figs are not usually the perfect, good-looking firm ones. Oh, no! You want 'em soft, even squishy, even oozing a bit of syrupy juice. Some of the best are the ones that have started to wrinkle a bit after sitting for a couple of days your counter. If you are someone who just "doesn’t get" what the fuss about figs is all about, you haven’t tasted a good and properly ripe fig.
Get thee to a farmers market. Schmooze and make friends with the lone fig guy or gal. You’ll be glad you did.
Figs can go sweet or savory. They love honey, or caramel, or cinnamon and sugar. They appreciate a little salt and/or pepper, and positively shine in the company of cultured dairy like sour cream, crème fraîche, yogurt, labneh, or quark—and all kinds of soft fresh or ripe or hard aged cheeses. They are crazy good with savory meats like prosciutto or bacon, so go ahead and stuff a sandwich or garnish a pizza them. They also play nice with dark chocolate, and they’re nuts about nuts. They just can’t get enough of the yin yang. And when it comes to cooking, figs are brilliant at the extremes: cooked either hot and fast—just to caramelize their cut sides—or long enough to stew in their own juices.
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Figs, if they could talk, would insist that you make a composed plate with almost any assortment of the good things that I just mentioned—maybe it’s a sophisticated dessert or just breakfast. (P.S. Sometimes the only difference between breakfast and dessert is whether you serve it in a bowl or arrange it on a plate!)
Here are 5 ways to make figs your jam:
Fresh Figs with Greek Yogurt and Chestnut Honey
Arrange quartered of halved figs next to or atop a scoop of plain Greek yogurt. Drizzle with chestnut honey (or whatever delicious good honey you have). Need some crunch? Scatter almond, walnut, or pistachios pieces around the plate or serve with cookies—or toast!
Honey Caramelized Figs with Goat Cheese or Labneh
Halve 3 or 4 figs per person. Heat a wide skillet over high heat and add enough honey to melt into a thin coating on the pan. Sprinkle the honey with a tiny pinch or two of salt and add the figs cut side-down, close together but in one layer. Cook until the honey bubbles and starts to caramelize, shaking the pan to slide the figs around. When the cut sides of a few of the figs look brown and caramelized, remove the pan from the heat and flip the figs around to coat them with glaze.
Divide the figs among serving plates and return the pan to the stove. Deglaze the pan with enough sherry or Madeira or red wine to make a syrupy but not too thick sauce. Taste and add a squeeze of lemon to taste. Drizzle the sauce over the figs. Add a slice of fresh goat cheese or some labneh to each plate and grind a little pepper over all. Nothing more is needed, but you could serve with grilled sourdough or toasted walnut or hazelnut bread.
When figs are super ripe but so squishy and maybe shriveled that they are not pretty, mash with a fork on a piece of crunchy plain or buttered toast. You can add a few crumbles of feta, or not—and then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, or honey, or honey and tahini, or date syrup, or a few drops of aged balsamic vinegar (the real good stuff if you have it). Pass a little flaky sea salt and the pepper grinder.
Cheese-Stuffed Figs Dipped in Chocolate
Stuff figs with 1/2 teaspoon of fresh ricotta, mascarpone, or plain old cream cheese. Chill until the figs are cold to the touch. Dip each in warm melted dark chocolate, setting them immediately on a parchment-lined tray. Chill immediately in order to set the chocolate evenly, and keep them refrigerated until shortly before serving. (Get the full recipe here.)
Baked Figs with Vanilla Ice Cream or Crème Fraîche
Cut figs in half and arrange them (either side up) in a baking dish just big enough to hold them in one layer. Drizzle them with two parts honey to one part balsamic vinegar (the inexpensive stuff works fine here) or lemon juice, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Cover tightly with foil and bake in a 375° F oven, until the figs are very tender and squishy and the juices are syrupy, 30 to 45 minutes.
Check 10 to 15 minutes before the end of the baking time: If juices are thin and copious, finish baking uncovered. If the juices are too thick and syrupy before the figs are soft, add a little water. When the figs are nearly done, taste the syrup and adjust the flavor with honey, vinegar, a pinch of salt, or squeeze of lemon juice as necessary. Serve warm, hot, or cold with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of crème fraîche. Figs keep in the fridge for at least a week.
Alice Medrich is a Berkeley, California-based pastry chef, chocolatier, and cookbook author. You can read more about what she's up to here.
Say you've got a punnet of gorgeous figs. How do you put them to good use? Tell us in the comments.
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My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on Craftsy.com, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).