Food & Drink

Fresh figs a great way to perk up meals

From left, a sliced Brown Turkey Fig, Brown Turkey Fig, Sierra Fig, Tiger Fig and Black Mission Fig. One of the oldest fruits to be harvested in the San Joaquin Valley, figs remain in demand by chefs, home cooks and food manufacturers. They are sought after for their texture, color and sweetness.
From left, a sliced Brown Turkey Fig, Brown Turkey Fig, Sierra Fig, Tiger Fig and Black Mission Fig. One of the oldest fruits to be harvested in the San Joaquin Valley, figs remain in demand by chefs, home cooks and food manufacturers. They are sought after for their texture, color and sweetness. sflores@fresnobee.com

For those who treasure the tiny seeded, and intensely flavorful fig, this is your time of year.

The region’s major varieties — brown turkey, black mission, kadota, calimyrna, sierra and tiger — are being harvested and are available at local farmers markets and grocery stores. Peak season for fresh figs is August and September while dried figs are available all year long.

“We have some great tasting fruit out there right now,” says Paul Mesplé, a Fresno fig farmer.

Fig lovers say there isn’t a better tasting piece of fruit. Once you bite into that soft skin, you get a sweet, jammy flavor followed by a slight pop from the small seeds.

The flavors range from that of a pinot noir to the buttery nutty flavor of a chardonnay wine, says Karla Stockli, chief executive officer of the California Fig Advisory Board.

Stockli recommends the best way to eat fresh figs is out of hand, skin and all. Select plump, fragrant figs that have a little give when touched. The fruit should be soft and yielding to the touch, but not mushy. It is important to handle fresh figs carefully.

Figs have become a favorite among food bloggers, home cooks and local chefs. The Valley enjoys figs so much that the fruit is celebrated annually during the California Fig Fest — a party on the Fresno State campus, complete with fig tasting, a chef’s competition, fig-inspired food, entertainment and a visit from celebrity chef Fabio Viviani.

“It will be more fun than you can handle,” says Marilyn Cowley, vice president of marketing for Culinary Competitions International, organizers of the Fig Fest. “Figs, food, wine, beer, celebrities, Fabio — If that doesn't scream fun, I don't know what does.”

Among the restaurants, chefs and caterers, participating in this year’s Fig Fest are Chris Mariscotti, owner of the Vineyard restaurant in Madera, and Matt Lemons, head chef at The Painted Table in Fresno.

Peak season for fresh figs is August and September

Mariscotti loves to use figs in several dishes from blanketing bacon around figs to adding figs to a savory dish of pasta with prawns and cilantro pesto.

The Painted Table also likes to have fun with figs. The catering company captured first place last year during the annual cooking competition at the Fig Fest. It’s Fresno Fig Pizzetta wowed the judges with its sweet and savory marriage of blue cheese, mozzarella, fig jam and candied pecans.

This year, The Painted Table is competing and also hosting a four-course fig feast after the event at its Tower District location, 1211 North Wishon Avenue. The meal that is $100 a person, includes candied rack of lamb with dried fig cascabel sauce with gorgonzola polenta.

Lemons says figs have the versatility that cooks love when preparing meals. It has a sweet flavor and a creamy texture that lends itself to use in appetizers, salads, main dishes and desserts.

The chefs also like to experiment with figs, having once made a fig relleno by stuffing a chipotle pepper with figs, chorizo and Mexican cotija cheese, than battered and fried.

Celebrity chef and cook book author, Viviani says one of the easiest ways to use figs is to wrap a salty meat around them like prosciutto.

“You can also add figs to salad very easily, just make sure the figs have a medium texture, not too soft, not to hard,” Viviani says. “And sweeter is better than savory.”

Although figs are growing in popularity, there are still some fig haters. Food blogger and nutritionist Tawnie Kroll was among those who avoided the fruit for years. To her, figs seemed, well, unhip.

“I thought of it as something my grandma might eat,” she says with a laugh. “ But now I know that they can be so delicious and beautiful.”

Kroll has learned to try different varieties and as a health expert has discovered their nutritional benefits. Figs are high in fiber, calcium, iron and potassium.

She recently started using sliced figs on her morning toast, pairing it with peanut butter.

“There are so many things that you can do with figs and its fun to experiment,” Kroll says. “I am even thinking about baking a peanut butter and fig cookie.”

Robert Rodriguez: 559-441-6327, @FresnoBeeBob

2015 California Fig Fest

  • 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 15 at Fresno State.
  • The Fig Fest features California fig-inspired gourmet foods, fresh and dried fig sampling, sampling of fig dishes, more than 50 vendors, craft beer, wine, cheese tastings, live music and a chef's cooking competition.
  • General admission tickets are $25 and $45 for VIP tickets. The VIP tickets give you front-of-the-line entry, access to an air-conditioned VIP lounge, meet-and-greet with Viviani, free soda and water. For those 21 and over, free beer and wine. For ticket and event information go to: www.californiafigs.com/califigfest.

Stuffed french toast with fig zinfadel jam

By Piano Caffe

Fig zinfandel jam:

1 pound fresh California figs, chopped

1/3 cup honey

½ cup zinfandel or other berrylike, spicy red wine

zest and juice of 1 lemon

zest of 1 orange

dash of Kosher salt

Filling:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup sugar

¼ cup dark chocolate, finely chopped

2 tablespoons orange juice

French toast:

3 eggs

1½ cups half-and-half

1 tablespoon vanilla

16 slices French bread, cut 1½ inches thick

¼ cup butter, melted

Combine ingredients for jam in medium saucepan; bring to rolling boil. Reduce heat; simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep warm. For filling, combine cream cheese, sugar, chocolate and orange juice in small bowl; mix together, then set aside.

For French toast, in shallow bowl, whisk eggs, half-and-half, and vanilla together to combine thoroughly; set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Then, heat a large sauté pan over medium heat until hot and drizzle with melted butter. Dip bread slices, one at a time, into batter, drain and sauté until golden brown and crisp, about 2 minutes on each side. Remove to warm plate and repeat until slices are all cooked.

Spread about ¼ cup cheese mixture on half of toast slices and arrange another slice on top to make sandwiches. Place side by side in baking dish and bake at 350°F about 8 minutes or until very warm and filling is melted.

Serve right from the oven topped with generous portion of fig zinfandel jam.

Serves eight, two slices of French toast each.

Fig and prawn pasta

By Vineyard Restaurant

6 ounces cooked cavatappi pasta, or other corkscrew shaped pasta

5 prawns peeled and deveined

2 tablespoons cilantro pesto

4 tiger figs (quartered)

¼ cup cream

Salt and pepper

Cilantro pesto:

1 cup spinach

2 cup cilantro

2 teaspoon chopped garlic

2 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated ginger

¼ teaspoon cumin

1 chili pepper

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Blend in food processor

On medium heat cook prawns until halfway done. Add cilantro pesto. Continue to sauté for 30 seconds, then add cream and reduce by half. Add cooked pasta and toss in figs. Cook 1 minute and serve. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Fig sorbet

By The Painted Table

1/2 cup red wine

1/3 cup sugar

1 sprig rose geranium or 1/2 teaspoon rose water

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons corn syrup

1 tablespoon honey

1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1 pound 10 ounces ripe figs, stems removed

Combine the water or wine and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sugar has dissolved. Add the rose geranium or rose water, remove from the heat and allow to cool. Strain if you steeped the rose geranium sprig.

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and purée until smooth. You may have to do this in two batches. Chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours or overnight. Chill a container in the freezer. Blend the mixture with an immersion blender for 30 seconds, then freeze in an ice cream maker. Transfer to the chilled container and place in the freezer for 2 hours to pack. Allow to soften in the refrigerator for 15 to 30 minutes before serving.

Yields around 5 cups.

Prosciutto and goat cheese stuffed figs with basil

By Brigitte Theriault, http://www.whiteapronchef.com

1/2 cup soft goat cheese

2 tablespoon mascarpone cheese

2 teaspoon fresh basil, chopped fine

1 teaspoon fresh mint, chopped fine

3-4 ounces prosciutto slices, cut in half lengthwise (not sliced too thinly)

Figs, halved, 8-10

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Make the cheese stuffing. In a small bowl, whisk the goat and mascarpone cheese, basil, and mint together.

Prepare figs for stuffing. Cut the figs in half. With a small spoon, remove most of the seeds, making sure to leave enough of the fig flesh behind.

Stuff the figs. Using a small spoon, stuff the figs with approximately 1 teaspoon of the cheese mixture. Depending on the size of the fig, you may need more. Just make sure the fig isn't overstuffed.

Wrap figs in prosciutto. Wrap the prosciutto around the fig, making sure the two ends meet at the bottom of the fig.

Bake the figs. Place the figs on a sheet pan. Bake 8-10 minutes until the prosciutto gets a bit crispy and the figs are hot.

Eat as an appetizer or serve on a bed of arugula dressed with balsamic vinaigrette. You can enjoy the figs without baking as well.

Serves four.

Goat cheese and pistachio stuffed figs

By Tawnie Kroll, www.krollskorner.com

8-10 fresh tiger figs

4 ounces goat cheese, softened

1/2 cup pistachios, chopped

1/4 cup honey

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the figs crisscross at the top about 1/3 way through and lay in an oven safe baking dish or a lined baking sheet. Shave a sliver off the bottom of your figs if they seem to be falling over.

Squeeze a dollop of cheese in the middle of each fig, about 1 tablespoon. You may have some leftover cheese.

Coat the bottom of your figs with just enough honey to get the pistachios to stick on the bottom and a little up the sides of each fig. Sprinkle any remaining nuts on the top.

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until cheese is slightly gooey. Drizzle with more honey on top and serve immediately.

Notes: Drizzle balsamic vinegar right before serving as an option.

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