This Little Figgy Went to Market

IMG_5573I love the summer. Fresh produce and veggies abound and each week at local farmers markets reveal a new harvest of seasonal favorites. For some the season is long: tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash,  peppers and chilies will all be around well into September, some up until the first frost. For others the season is short: corn is in its prime right now, although it will still be available in the weeks ahead. In these parts, figs are a late summer 3-4 week crop at best and the local fig season is flourishing now – but don’t blink, they will be gone before you know it!

Fig trees put out fruit slowly at first and then the branches are filled to brim with sweet ripe fruit.  Farmers pick as fast as they can, but once picked fresh figs only last a couple of days before they will start to over-ripen or go bad. To quote farmer Jessica Smith at Strong Bird Farm in Monroe, “Its time to get figgy with it!”

If you love figs like I do, you’ll want to buy several containers as you hit local farmers’ markets this weekend. One to snack on as you drive back home and the other to enjoy this weekend or to freeze , dry or cook with to preserve their flavor for weeks or months to come.

Where to Find the Figginess You Seek

In the Charlotte area, recent rains have played havoc with the crop, but fresh figs are out there and well worth the search. If you are lucky, you have a neighbor or friend with a backyard fig tree and you could go pick your own. If you are shopping at local markets, know that last weekend I spotted several vendors with figs at the both the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market in Matthews NC and at the Charlotte Regional farmers’ market on Yorkmont Road in Charlotte, and I suspect figs will make an appearance at those markets this weekend as well.

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Tip of the Season: Store fresh figs in paper egg cartons

Once you buy your figs, if they are ripe – and I suspect they will be  – you’ll need to use them right away.  Keep them in the fridge, but know they will ripen and then over ripen quickly.

Here is a great  fig storage trick I learned this year, again from Strong Bird Farm, if you keep the nearly ripe or just ripe figs in an egg carton, each fig in its own separate compartment, they will stay fresher longer. If you pile the figs in a plastic container or bag, the ones on the bottom bear the weight of the load and will start to get soft fast!

In the Charlotte area, the likelihood is great that you will buy one of two varieties, Brown Turkey Figs or Celeste. Brown Turkeys are by far the more prevalent.  Because they are so perishable its unusual to regularly find fresh figs in local grocery stores; but if you do, you may see other  varieties such as the beautifully green kadota figs or  dark black mission figs.

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The difference between fresh and dried figs

Not to be confused with our fresh local Brown Turkey varietal, nearly any kind of Turkish fig you would find in North Carolina would be dried; and if the dried figs you buy don’t come from Turkey or the middle east, they come from California. Turkey is the largest producer of dried figs in the world. California is the largest producer of dried figs in the United States.

Most of the recipes here work equally well with fresh or dried figs, save for the stuffed figs which for me are the very best way to toast in and enjoy this glorious season of fresh figs! For this  “don’t-even-need-printed-directions” recipe, cut open your figs with a cross cut on the stem end or cut them in half. Top them with your favorite local chevre, ricotta, feta or goat cheese and then drizzle with honey.  Serve them as an evening appetizer of for breakfast, brunch or a midday snack.

It is my experience, that they disappear as fast as you can make them.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well then, a video is worth many more. Here local figs from Strong Bird Farm (follow them on Instagram)  take center stage topped Uno Alla Volta cottage cheese and Dancing Bees Sourwood Mountain Honey –my oh my!

 

The Fig-eliciousness that Awaits

Short of eating them “au natural”, because figs come to us originally from the Middle East, they are best paired with other Mediterranean flavors such as pistachios, olives,  olive oil, honey and oranges. And, you’ll be happy to know the rich sweet tastes also pairs well with dark brown liquors.

Lets start with that last thing, first: Liquor.

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“Figcello”

Once or twice a year I make homemade lemoncello. I have for many summers past now, and  thought that it would be fun to apply the same recipe to my favorite summer fruits, namely peached and figs. I have yet to try making a homemade peach-cello; but I can tell you that I have deemed  my first batch of figcello to be a tasty, albeit, potent, success.

The recipe for lemoncello is pretty easy and I thank Luisa at Charlotte’s Dolce Ristorante for originally showing me how its done.

Take 12 lemons and peel them. Add the peels to a half gallon of Everclear and let the mixture stand for a couple of weeks. Strain the Everclear and mix with a half gallon of simple syrup. Refrigerate and viola!

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I applied the same principles to the fresh figs; but as figs are sweet  I needed to add in acidity.   I cut up about a dozen sweet fresh figs – this is a great way to use overripe figs – and put them in a 2 cup jar of Everclear ( I have since determined that this will be even better if you put the figs in an aged Whiskey ( I like TOPO Aged Oak Whiskey from Chapel Hill, NC).

 

 

IMG_5746I let the figs sit in the Everclear ( or Whiskey) for 2 weeks. Then, I made a simple syrup with the juice and zest of one orange, 3-4 drops of Crude Small Batch Bitters “Sycophant” bitters ( another great North Carolina product), added a tsp of cardamon, 1 1/2 cups of water and 2 cups of organic sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil; turn down the heat and continue to summer 10 minutes or until the mix starts to get syrupy and thick. Let cool.

Then add the cooled orange syrup to the fig infused liquor. Refrigerate for about a week. The longer your Figcello sits it the refrigerator the more mellow it will become. Enjoy!

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I posted the photos of this next recipe on my Facebook and Instagram feeds to rave reviews. Now, here is the recipe you’ve all been asking for with thanks to Farmer Dan Kypena and his wife Meg of Middle Ground Farm in Monroe.

Heidi’s From the Farm Summer Fig Tart

IMG_5687pie crust – use your favorite recipe, your favorite refrigerated brand or  use my favorite from scratch recipe – you’ll only need enough for one pie

12-15 fresh ripe figs, cut in half lengthwise

2 duck eggs ( available at from Rowland’s Row Farms in Gold Hill, NC) ( you may substitute 3 chicken eggs, but duck eggs make the tart richer and creamier)

1/2 cup organic sugar

1 cup organic heavy cream

Roll out the finished pie crust large enough to fit in a false bottomed 9-10 inch tart pan. Arrange the figs, cut side up in the crust. In a separate bowl mix the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the heavy cream and blend well. Pour the egg/cream mixture over the figs. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until the top of the pie starts to  brown nicely. Remove from oven and sprinkle the top with brown sugar or maple sugar ( available from the Savory Spice Shop). Cool. Cut into wedges and serve topped with real whipped cream!

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For the next two recipes you’ll need to start with what I call a fig paste. The first recipe is salty, and the second sweet – both are delicious.

IMG_5723To make the fig paste: take about a pound ripe figs, stem them and cut them in half or quarter them. Place them in a saucepan with just enough water to barely cover them. bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer until the figs soften. Strain the figs well to remove most of the water but not all of the juices and puree just until smooth in  food processor fitted with the metal blade. Freeze the puree for later use or use as directed in either of the following recipes.

As I mentioned earlier, the sweet sticky taste of figs is a delicious foil to the salty taste of olives. What better way to start a summer dinner than with a fig and olive spread served on crackers, toasted sweet potatoes ( just thick sliced and toast them in your toaster or oven – go ahead, try it, you’ll be glad you did!), or on toasted sliced of French bread.

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Heidi Billotto’s Olive and Fig Tapenade

 Heidi’s Olive and Fig Tapenade

1/2 cup coarsely chopped pitted dry cured black olives

1/2 cup fig paste ( see recipe in this post)

2 Tbsp. capers
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
zest of two lemons

Mix all ingredients in small bowl to blend. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

 

I couldn’t complete this post without some sort of fig cookie.  I won’t name names here, but growing up I honestly didn’t love the standard fig bar – you know which one I mean, just didn’t love the crust. These days, I find myself obsessed with hand pies and absolutely adore a light flaky pie crust wrapped around some sort of sweet filling. Use my pie crust referenced in the tart recipe in this post, cut it onto circles to make mini hand pies or these melt-in-your-mouth fig bar cookies – the perfect sweet salute to the summer’s fabulous fig season!

IMG_5776Heidi’s Fig Hand Pies

pie crust – use your favorite recipe, your favorite refrigerated brand or  use my favorite from scratch recipe – you’ll only need enough for one pie

1 recipe of Heidi’s fig paste ( see directions above)

2-3 Tbsp. local honey

1 tsp. dried ground cardamon

Pinch of salt

IMG_57731 tsp. vanilla

1 cup ground pistachios ( maybe more depending on the consistency of your fig paste)

1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp. of water or milk to make an egg wash

Roll out the pie crust and cut into 3 inch circles or into a rectangle approx. 9 inches long by 6 inches wide. Don’t sweat it if your measurements are a little off. Reserve

Combine the fig past with the honey, cardamom, salt, vanilla and ground pistachios and blend well.

Heidi's Tips and Tricks

If you’d like you can use this sweet fig paste as a summery spread on toast, French toast or waffles as well!

 

 

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Brush the rounds of pie crust with some of the egg wash, taking care to lightly coat the whole round. Spoon a bit of the sweetened fig paste into the center of each of the rounds. Fold the round in half and pinch the sides to seal. crimp with a fork and them gently make three slits in each half. Brush with the egg wash once again. Place the semi circular mini hand pies on a parchment lined baking sheet.

 

 

IMG_5759Take the rectangle of dough and brush the edges with the egg wash. Fill he center with the sweet fig paste. Fold the edges up and over the filling and pinch the ends and side to seal. Place seam side down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Make small crosswise cuts in the top of the crust every inch or so – this will allow for easier cutting after the bars have baked.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown, Cool on  rack before eating. Its hard to wait, but they really are better if they’ve had a bit of rest time after baking is done.

Once the long cookie roll has cooled a bit, use a chef’s knife to cut along the marks you made before baking to cut the bar into fig filled cookies.

PrintIf you love to cook with local and seasonal ingredients like fresh figs – you won’t want to miss any of my At Home with Heidi or On the Farm cooking classes. I source as many local ingredients as I can and I am always adding on new classes for you to enjoy.

Its all as hands on as you would like and each class included wine pairings, printed recipes and a gift bag full of  coupons, samples and fun swag for you to take home and enjoy! Check out my upcoming August and September classes here!

 

 

 

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