Figs in Salad

figs 1 9.23.13My mother visited this past week, and we had a wonderful time. Did some shopping. Toured a local mansion. Ate at home. Ate out. Ate a lot!

When my sister drove her home Saturday, I knew I was in need of much lighter eating.

I also wanted to get in one more fig post. But the fig availability window was closing.

They were no longer at my local Trader Joe’s, and the two remaining packages at a favorite natural foods store were starting to go bad. I was open to using dried, but thought I’d try a nearby Fresh Market first. If nothing else, my husband and I would have a nice drive on a sunny day.

Well, they’d had fresh figs, we were told, and would have more in a few days. However, they did have dried mission figs, and would we be interested in checking out the dried Sierra figs they’d just gotten in. “Ok.”

The guy was so nice about going to get the box of Sierra figs, and then opening them up just for us to try, we couldn’t not buy some! And some mission figs, too. The mission figs were a purple-black, and the Sierra figs the light brown of the inside of a chestnut, both kinds more moist than you might expect when you think dried.

We weren’t very far down the road on our way back home, when my husband saw a chalkboard sign on the side of the road announcing “Figs” in big letters. A little produce stand we’d never stopped at before. With fresh mission figs right at the cash register.

We arrived home with an abundance of figs.

At home, I also had an interesting and new (to me) squash that I’d picked up on one of my and Mom’s day trips. A red kuri squash. I had been unable to resist its gorgeous red-orange skin and perfectly accessible size.

When I read about it online later, I found references to it tasting like chestnuts, and being a good substitute for sweet potatoes. You could, of course, stuff, roast or purée, like other squashes, but I particularly liked one food blogger’s preference for slicing it, skin on, and sautéing.

So I pulled the squash out. The red-orange and purple-black and chestnut-brown colors seemed a beautiful combination together, and the nuttiness of the squash would complement the figs.

And because I’d eaten so generously the past week, I went with a salad.

A salad of waning summer’s end-of-season fresh figs and incoming fall’s dried figs and squash.

figs 4 9.23.13I cut the squash in half, scooped out the seeds, then sliced into 1/8″ to 1/4″ slices, sautéing them in batches in a pan over medium-high heat lightly coated with oil. A sprinkle of salt and pepper. A few minutes on each side, getting a nice golden brown. Set aside.

I sliced the fresh figs in half, put them cut-side down into the pan, also cooking til a golden brown, and set aside.

I tore green leaf lettuce into bite-sized pieces and laid across a platter. I draped squash slices on the green, then added the sautéed figs. I cut a few dried mission and Sierra figs in half, added those. A scattering of pistachios. And chopped fresh mint sprinkled over. I didn’t even season. It had enough seasoning and juiciness from the squash and figs.

The roasted flavor of the squash and cooked figs gave a nice depth and contrast to the fresh lettuce and mint. Pistachios added just enough richness. The dried figs, a chewy contrast.

And a couple days later, what a pleasure to wrap up what little was left of that delicious combination into a warm whole-wheat tortilla and enjoy it all over again!

Fig Salsa

fig 1 9.1413Last year, when I enjoyed a bit of a personal fig fest, as I was writing about last week, another thing I made that my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed was a fig salsa. We had green figs as well as dark purple ones, and they were beautiful together. I’m glad I took pictures to remind myself about it.

It was worth making again.

This time, I had all dark purple figs. The figs alone, cut into a dice,  bring so much color—with their dark skin, the pale inner rim, and then the magenta center.

To the diced figs (eight of them), I added half a small white onion, diced; half a jalapeño, minced; about a tablespoon of roughly chopped cilantro. I would’ve squeezed some lime juice in (pretty sure that’s what I used last time), but the lone lime I reached for in my fridge was past its prime! I added a couple squeezes of lemon juice instead, just to add a citrus note.

Tortilla chips to dip. Delicious again.

Figs and Pleasure: A Primer

There was a Frenchman a few years ago who was working behind the cheese counter at Whole Foods. As I lingered, taking in the selection, he suggested I pair a certain cheese with a beautiful jar of fig jam. This appealed to me because I liked his French accent, because, in explaining the qualities of the cheese in a few words, I knew he actually knew about this…and because I wanted to like it.

I wanted to try the combination together, but I particularly wanted to like the fig jam.

figs1 9.7.13I think, deep inside, I’ve always known I was going to cultivate a taste for figs, but that it was going to be as a grown-up.

When I was a kid, my dad had a fig tree. He kept it in a big pot outside on our patio in the summer, and brought it into the basement for the winter. Dad, and his brothers, loved figs. I never asked, but realize now they probably had fig trees when they were growing up in Italy. They had grapes, I think olive trees, so they likely had fig trees, too.

He would pick one from the tree and eat it whole, with such pleasure. If he ate it in two or three bites instead, I’d see the reddish-purple fleshiness of the inside of it, which looked alien to me, and unappealing. I don’t remember ever trying one when I was younger.

But I was intrigued because of Dad’s love of them.

The jar of fig jam I bought that day in Whole Foods was my stepping stone. I knew it even as I bought it. And it was delicious with cheese, just like my Frenchman had promised.

After that, I bought fig jam from time to time. And one year, when figs appeared at a small produce market, I bought them. I ate them, to eat them. Another step. They were fine.

Then last September, just after I’d posted my first entry to this blog, I saw figs at Trader Joe’s, and knew they were going to be my first food to write about.

And they almost were.

I was ready to embrace figs. They fit perfectly with my theme of wanting to know foods better by using them several times in a row, and trying them in different ways. I bought them a few times over the next couple weeks—dark purple ones and green ones—and enjoyed using them in many ways. I took pictures. I began to write a post. Whether it was my work schedule at the time, or simply the act of incorporating a new habit, a fig triad did not make it to press at that time!

I cropped one of my fig photos to grace the banner at the top of my home page, while the draft I began on figs a year ago has waited patiently to be picked up and continued.

When I ate a fig from that first container I brought home from Trader Joe’s, it was more than fine. I realized I had truly grown into liking them. Very much. There is something lush about a fig, the slight give of the skin as you bite into one, the softness and sweetness inside, and a little bit of graininess. You could eat them whole and plain, and it would be enough.figs3 9.7.13

But they are wonderfully versatile, too.

One of the first ways I prepared them was to cut them in quarters, but not quite to the bottom, so that they were held together at the base. I dropped a little mascarpone into the middle of each. Drizzled honey over them. Sprinkled toasted pine nuts over top.

Eaten with pleasure.