Fantastic figs


Fresh food markets abound in European cities. It’s where everyone, including chefs, shop each day. It’s part of their culture of cooking du march é, or cooking and eating foods that are grown locally and in season.

The farm-to-table trend is gaining popularity in America. Not only does the practice support local farmers, it tastes better, too. You need only compare the flavor and texture of a fresh-picked peach from a Missouri farm at the end of June to one you can buy at your grocery store in February to know that “local and in season” make all the difference.


We are now in the Missouri harvest season for one of the least likely “local” crops: Black Mission figs. Figs are one of the oldest domesticated fruits, native to the Mediterranean region and date back at least 11,000 years. Fig trees thrive in hot, dry climates and do well in rocky soil. Hence, they flourish in Israel. Indeed, figs are one of the seven species for which the land of Israel is praised in the Torah.

California is the closest we come to a Mediterranean climate in this country. Not surprisingly, that state accounts for nearly 99 percent of the U.S. fig crop. Fortunately, our Missouri farmers have devised a method for growing delicious figs locally.

When I spotted a large box of local Black Mission figs at a stall recently at the Maplewood Farmer’s Market, I couldn’t resist. (Since then, I’ve also seen the California grown Black Mission and Calimyrna figs at Whole Foods Market in Brentwood.) If you’ve never eaten a fresh fig, you’re in for a real treat. But don’t delay. The fig season is a short one, ending in early October.

Fresh figs have a delectable, honey-like flavor and are rich in potassium, iron, fiber and calcium. The three most commonly available fresh figs include: Black Mission, a blackish-purple skinned fig with pink colored flesh; Kadota, a green skinned fig with purple flesh; and Calimyrna, a greenish-yellow skinned fig with amber flesh.

While dried figs can last forever, the fresh variety is extremely perishable. Look for figs that are blemish-free and yield to gentle pressure. To store them, place unwashed, fresh figs on a paper towel-lined plate, cover with plastic wrap, and set the plate in your refrigerator for up to one week.

So how, you might ask, does one prepare fresh figs? To begin with, figs are delicious out-of-hand, skin and all. To dress them up a bit, you can quarter the figs vertically, leaving the quarters attached at the bottom. Spoon a fresh dollop of ricotta cheese in the centers and drizzle with honey. Set on a plate and serve as an appetizer or dessert.

In a salad, the sweetness of figs contrasts nicely with peppery arugula or field greens. Strew fresh, quartered figs atop a bed of salad greens. Drizzle with a simple vinaigrette (1-3 ratio of balsamic or red-wine vinegar to olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh or dried thyme) and garnish with crumbled feta or goat cheese.

For a main course, pair figs with spicy meats. Mix together a marinade of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, toasted coriander and cumin, crushed red pepper, and salt and pepper. Reserve a couple of tablespoons of the marinade, using the larger amount to marinate 1-inch cubes of chicken or lamb for 2-3 hours in the refrigerator.

Fifteen minutes before you are ready to start cooking, rinse fresh figs and cut them in half, vertically. Drizzle figs with reserved marinade and alternate meat and figs on metal or water-soaked wooden skewers. Grill or broil skewers until meat is cooked to your liking. Brush kabobs with some heated apricot preserves during the last 2 minutes. Serve atop a simple rice or grain pilaf.

For a heavenly breakfast, try this delicious fig spread atop toasted challah: Heat a half of a cup of orange juice in a small pan. Add a tablespoon each of sugar and lemon juice, a teaspoon of lemon zest, and 12 ounces of fresh, coarsely chopped figs. Cook mixture uncovered over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally until figs absorb liquid and mixture has thickened, about 20-30 minutes. Use warm or cold.

And last but not least, here is a recipe I adapted from “Baking With Julia,” by Julia Child, for a lovely fig and raspberry galette. Just remember to run out and get your figs before they disappear for the year.

Fig and Raspberry Galette

Pastry Dough Ingredients

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 tablespoons (or more) ice water

Filling Ingredients

3/4 pound fresh figs, quartered

3/4 pound fresh raspberries

1/2 cup granulated sugar plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling over pastry

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water, for brushing on pastry (egg wash)

Line a large, rimless baking sheet with parchment paper.

Blend flour and salt in processor. Add butter and blend, using on/off turns, until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 2 tablespoons ice water and blend just until dough begins to clump together, adding more ice water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. (This can also be done by hand in a bowl using a fork or pastry blender.)

Gather dough into a ball, wrap loosely in plastic wrap, and flatten. Let dough chill in refrigerator for 1 hour. (Dough may remain refrigerated for up to 2 days. Soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out.)

While dough chills, prepare filling. Combine half of the figs, raspberries, all of the granulated sugar, brown sugar, flour, lemon zest, and butter in a medium saucepan. Place pan over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until fruit is cooked and mixture has thickened, about 10-15 minutes. Remove pan from heat and set in a bowl of ice water so that mixture can cool.

Roll out dough between sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap to a circle 14- inches round and 1/8 inch thick. Gently peel off top sheet and, using bottom sheet as aid, transfer dough onto parchment-lined baking sheet. Chill 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Gently fold uncooked fruit into cooled, cooked fruit mixture. Spoon the whole mixture onto center of prepared pastry. Using parchment paper as an aid, fold 2 inches of plain crust border up over filling. (Center will be exposed.) Pinch together any cracks in crust. Brush exposed crust with egg wash and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar.

Bake galette for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 °F and continue baking galette until crust is golden, about 35 minutes more.

Using a large spatula, carefully slide galette (still on the parchment paper) onto a cooling rack. Let cool for 10 minutes before transferring galette (without parchment paper) onto a serving platter. Cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 8-10 servings.

Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of two. A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is currently working on a project to preserve the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at [email protected]