Spring means it’s time for a lot of awesome things. It brings a new planting season (entirely welcome), divine delicacies like new asparagus shoots, fresh peas, ramps, and fiddleheads, and, of course, the return of Friday pizza at the Yale Farm. Maybe because it’s been a long time coming, but the slow ascent out of winter this year has had me not only looking forward to the coming weeks, but also reflecting back on what I was cooking and enjoying in the late summer and fall. Especially the glory of the fresh, local fig.
Figs are amazing, to say the least. They are one of the first species to have been cultivated by humans. They are featured in cultures across the world, both in cuisine and in mythology, literature, and history, associated with desire in the Bible (the forbidden fruit is purported to be fig), paradise in the Qur’an (the Prophet Muhammed valued the fig as the most paradisal of fruits because it has no pit), and enlightenment in Buddhism (the Buddha achieved enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, a type of large fig tree). One particularly delectable tidbit is that the etymology of the word ‘sycophant’ comes from the Greek ‘sykophantes’, which means “one who shows the fig” (to ‘show the fig’, apparently, was to make a rude gesture with the hands). For more stories about this truly awesome fruit, check out its wikipedia page.
The fig itself is certainly one of the most delicious, complex, subtle, and versatile of fruits. It is sweet while far from saccharine or cloying, fragrant without being pungent, and, aside from being enjoyed raw, is delicious when poached, roasted, stewed, baked with, or dried; in short, it is always a treat of great proportions.
The Yale Farm boasts one hardy specimen of a fig tree. Despite its youth, it fruited abundantly this past fall, which made me one happy camper. Whenever I was up at the farm I would poke around amongst the large leaves and gather a small bunch of ripe, purple fruits to take home. Here are some things I made with these divine gifts:
First Fig Pizza with Ricotta, Honey, Nutmeg, and Black Pepper
Speaking of beginning-of-the-season Yale Farm pizza, this baby was born the first pizza day of the fall semester, when we had a training session for the new pizza makers. The first figs were hardly ripe, not quite good enough to eat by themselves, but all it took was a heat and a little honey and they softened up mighty nice. The combination of the fragrant figs, still vegetal but slightly carmelised from the wood-burning oven, the creamy ricotta, the warm honey, the aromatic beckoning of the nutmeg, and the savoury bite of black pepper, on thin, crispy crust, was all a little too much. It was the perfect way to celebrate the transition from summer to fall, to welcome our new interns into the fold, and, dare I say, be even more decadent than usual.
Fig and Lavender Clafoutis
I had been meaning to try my hand at Clafoutis, the classic French dessert of a flan-like batter filled with fruit and baked, for a while now, ever since C made a killer Black Cherry Clafoutis last spring. As with many things French, it is the simplicity of this dish that is striking: subtly sweet, slightly rich in flavour yet light in texture, with the lovely aroma of fruit permeating the porous yet dense batter. The name comes from the verb ‘clafir’, to fill; though to be precise, it is really only a cherry-filled Clafoutis that can be properly called a ‘Clafoutis’. The dish comes from the Limousin region of France, where black cherries are a regional delicacy. When the dish became popular and spread throughout the country in the 19th century, if any other fruit was used it was to be a called a Flaugnarde, from the Occitan for ‘soft’ (note the similarity to ‘flan’). But I’m going to call it a Clafoutis anyway because it sounds nice.
I made this one for a dinner party in October I had with the four Alley Cat freshmen. They are all lovely and I wanted to spend a nice evening with them completely outside the context of a cappella. They made fun of me for the name of the dessert (it’s a running joke to this day) but I think they still enjoyed it (or perhaps that’s why).
By this time, the figs were at the peak of their season, fully ripe with a little give, and perfect for baking. I halved them, tossed them with lavender, poured the batter overtop, and baked it. Find the recipe at the end of this post and make it yourself! You can use any fruit you like.
Chocolate-Dipped, Red Wine-Poached Figs
This one’s a decadent doozie. It’s so easy and so elegant. I left the figs whole (they were from later in October, plump and perfect for poaching), brought some Cabernet to a simmer, and poached the figs for about twenty minutes, to allow the flavour of the wine to permeate the skin. There could have been still more wine flavour and body though; I would leave the figs in as long as you can while still maintaining their form. After removing them from the wine, I chilled them while melting dark chocolate on a double-boiler. Once they were sufficiently chilled, I gave them a careful, generous dunk, and put them back in the fridge for the chocolate to set. My sister was visiting from Vassar that weekend, and she, Rachel and I enjoyed the leftover warmed wine and melted chocolate while we waited.
When the chocolate had hardened, we indulged. They were glorious. The skin of the fig had softened completely, the flesh smooth and fruity with a tannic depth from the wine, and the chocolate shell lending richness, textural contrast, and, well, chocolatey-ness. Definitely a one-bite deal; it’s all about the enveloping mouthfeel of the whole piece.
Roasted Figs with Rosemary, Olive Oil, and Sea Salt
This one was even simpler. It was near the end of the season in late October, and the figs were once again slightly hard and not fully ripe as the weather cooled. I tossed them with some olive oil, sea salt, and chopped fresh rosemary, and roasted them in a glass pan until they were soft and their juices were oozing. yum. C was leaving that day after visiting for a weekend and I used it as a topping for some spiced quinoa porridge with toasted coconut I’d made for breakfast before sending him off. No photo, unfortunately, but take my word for it that they were rustic, beautiful, and delicious. You could use them for anything really, they could go sweet or savoury: topping crackers, tossing them with pasta, over ice cream, or even with fowl (duck or pheasant would be great, if you’re into that sort of thing 😉 ).
And finally, a recipe!
Fig and Lavender Clafoutis/Flaugnarde (adapted from Straight From the Farm)
1 cup milk
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
pinch of nutmeg
1 tbsp. lavender buds
enough fresh figs, halved lengthwise, to fill a pie dish
butter to grease the dish
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter baking dish. Cut figs in half lengthwise. Rub lavender between hands to release oils and toss with figs. Arrange figs face-up in pie dish to fill area. Crack eggs into a medium-sized bowl, and beat until foamy. Add in milk, vanilla, flour, and sugar, and beat again until smooth. Carefully pour batter over figs. Place in oven and bake for 40-45 minutes until golden. It will rise towards the end. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving. Serve plain, with a dusting of powdered sugar, whipped cream, cashew cream, or anything that takes your fancy, and enjoy!