Sliced and piled on pizza, wrapped in bacon or just eaten all by itself, the sweet-tasting fig is a classic summer favorite.
Grown in the central San Joaquin Valley since the late 1800s, most farmers markets are brimming with several fresh and dried varieties, including black mission, brown turkey, Calimyrna, Kadota and Sierra. A newer, green-striped variety called Tiger may be a little more difficult to find.
Chefs and home cooks say they enjoy using the fig's earthy sweetness in simple ways and more complex ones.
"I love figs because they are versatile," said chef Hillori Hansen, who teaches cooking classes at Whole Foods Market in Fresno. "And with a few simple ingredients like a nice balsamic, honey or delicious soft cheese, such as goat or blue, figs can be transformed into something extraordinary."
Hansen recently spotlighted figs during one of her cooking classes with Jeromie Hansen and Matt Lemons, chefs from the Painted Table catering company in Fresno.
One of the chefs' favorite ways to use figs is on a dish they call the Fresno Fig Pizzeta. The recipe won a first place at the last weekend's Fig Fest 2014, where judges liked the sweet and savory combination of blue cheese, mozzarella, fig jam and candied pecans.
"It is a lot of fun to play with the flavor profile of the fig," Hansen says. "You can play off the sweetness with something salty, like a high-quality prosciutto or applewood smoked bacon. Truth is you can wrap a ripe fig with anything pork and it will taste good."
Hansen says fig fans should feel lucky to live in the center of the fig universe. California, led by the Valley, supplies 100% of the nation's dried figs and 98% of the fresh figs.
"You can't get anything fresher," he says.
Nationwide, figs continue to grow in popularity thanks to interest in healthy foods. Along with tasting sweet, figs are high in fiber, antioxidants, potassium and calcium. Food network shows have also increased their popularity.
"We see a strong future for figs," said Mike Jura, of Fig Garden Packing in Fresno.
To help continue the celebration of figs, the Vineyard Restaurant in Madera is hosting a $35 per person three-course dinner on Thursday. Among the entrees are bacon-wrapped pork loin stuffed with dried figs; pasta with chicken, pine nuts, figs, and blue cheese in cream sauce; and pan-seared salmon with fresh fig salsa.
For reservations call (559) 674-0923.
Fresh figs with blue cheese and prosciutto
1 pound prosciutto, sliced very thin
16-20 fresh California figs (black mission or brown turkey are best)
3-4 tablespoons creamy blue cheese
Divide prosciutto into 24 long, thin strips; set aside. Cut the figs in half lengthwise, and fill the center of each half with a bit of the cheese. Wrap each half in a strip of the prosciutto, and serve.
Note: You can cook the wrapped figs in a 350-degree oven for 4-6 minutes to add depth of flavor.
Fresno fig jam
Makes 8 cups
4 cups dry black mission figs
2 cups port wine
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cups water
1/2 cinnamon stick
Pinch of salt
Place all ingredients into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to medium low and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Discard cinnamon stick and place the mixture into food processor. Purée until smooth.
Place into jars or containers and refrigerate for up to 2 months.
Fresno fig pizzetta
One pizza crust (store bought or homemade), par-baked
1/3-1/2 cup Fresno fig jam
5-6 fresh California figs, sliced
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup candied pecan, chopped
1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped
Arugula, as salad on top of each slice
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cover the par-baked crust with the Fresno fig jam, mozzarella, shallots, and top with the figs, pecans, rosemary and finish with blue cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the cheese looks brown on the edges.
Remove the pizza from the oven, top with the arugula and drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Finish with balsamic reduction if desired.
Candied lamb pops with fig cascabel sauce
For the lamb:
1/2 cup fresh garlic
1 cup turbinado sugar
1 teaspoon of lavender flowers
1/2 cup rosemary, chopped
Salt and pepper
4 racks of lamb
Place the first 5 ingredients together in a blender or food processor and pulse with olive oil until a paste forms. Coat the lamb with the paste, and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours (24 is best).
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Place the lamb racks on a parchment-lined sheet pan, and bake for 12-15 minutes for medium-rare. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before carving.
For the Fig Cascabel Sauce:
1 cup chopped dried figs
1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar
1/2 cup Ficklin Port
1 cup sugar
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup cascabel chile purée (or chipotle purée)
4 cups chicken stock
Touch of honey
Place figs in a bowl, cover with boiling water and let sit until softened, approximately 30 minutes. Place the softened figs in a food processor or blender with 1/2 cup of the soaking liquid and process until smooth.
Combine the vinegar and port in a medium nonreactive saucepan and reduce by half over high heat. Add the sugar, orange juice and fig purée and reduce by half again, stirring occasionally.
Combine the chile purée and chicken stock in another saucepan and reduce by half over high heat. Add the reduced vinegar-fig mixture to the chicken-stock mixture along with a touch of honey and reduce by half again, stirring occasionally. Strain the mixture into a clean medium saucepan and reduce to a sauce consistency. Pour the sauce over the sliced lamb and serve.