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!

 

 

 

Seasonally Speaking: It’s Time for Local Organic Baby Ginger

img_4511To every time (and to every fruit, flower, herb and vegetable) there is a season.

Back in 2011, it was my pleasure to join a small but excited group at  Windcrest Farm in Monroe, NC for the first harvest of a new crop of  organic baby ginger! Mary  and Ray Roberts-Tarlton, owners and farmers at Windcrest, a certified organic farm, grow all kinds of cool and unusual herbs and veggies, but this first crop of baby ginger was something special. Fast forward these past five years and the annual every growing ginger crop at Windcrest has become an occasion to celebrate!

Roberts and her team start the ginger from organic seed from brought in from Hawaii early in the year and then transferred the tender young plants to their home in the ground in one of Windcrest’s many greenhouses. As the tubers grow beneath the ground, the stalks and leaves shoot up to heights from 4-6 feet tall. The joy here is that the whole plant can be used from stem to stern. The leaves can be dried and crumbled for tea, to add to various dried spice, salt or pepper mixes and the roots can be candied, pickled, stewed, sautéed, simmered – the list goes on and on.

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Heidi Billotto on the cooking set of Charlotte Today with show hosts Coleen Odegaard & Eugene Robinson

 

Each year around this time, I feature the Windcrest organic baby ginger in one of my television cooking segments. This week I was on WCNC’s Charlotte Today and ginger was the star of the show as I used it to prepare one of my favorite recipes for quick and easy local BBQ baby back ribs.

The glaze on these ribs was inspired by one of my favorite cocktails made with bourbon, a ginger-honey simple syrup, orange and ginger ale, and believe me, its a keeper! What I love about it is that its not too thick, so while the gingery glaze adds a fabulous sticky sweet and spice flavor, it doesn’t overwhelm and one can still taste the meat.

img_5026I recommend using local pork – lots of choices at any one of Charlotte’s several Farmers’ Markets, and if you can’t find pork ribs, use chops instead. The key to make the recipe move along faster cut the rack of ribs into double chops. The recipe also works well on chicken, seafood and tempeh ( although cooking times will vary slightly) – see my variation notes at the end of the recipe.

Several recipes to share hereCandied Ginger and as a result a Ginger Simple Syrup to use in cocktails  or to make your own ginger ale. The recipe for the ribs I cooking on television this week and a fun recipe for the Japanese Ginger Salad Dressing we all love each time we eat at a Japanese steakhouse.  You’ll find the video from the Charlotte Today segment at the end of this post  – just look for the pink television screen with my logo!

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgOctober 2017 On The Farm Cooking Class For more ginger how-tos and to see it for yourself, I’d love to have you join me and Mary Roberts for a ginger-centric On The Farm cooking class at Windcrest on Saturday Oct 7, from 3-6 pm. The class includes a farm tour where we see the farm up close and personal and will hear from Mary about sustainability, why it is important to her to grow organically and all about raising crops year round in a greenhouse environment. Plus we’ll cook and enjoy 4-5 new recipes for 4-5 delicious courses of local fare all with a ginger-centric theme. In addition to the tour and the food, the class also includes wine pairings from Assorted Table Wine Shop with each course, a recipe packet for each participant, and gift bag with sample sized local goodies and coupons. Cost is $85 per person. To make your reservations, simply email me directly at Heidi@HeidiCooks.com. 

The lovely thing about cooking with baby ginger  is that when it is harvested it comes without the hard, heavy skin grocery store ginger always has – the ginger develops that skin as it ages – and has a light and delicate flavor plus tons of health benefits as well.

Hope you’ll  attend our On the Farm cooking class later this month – reservations are a must, please, and visit Mary at the market this week and next to get a taste of the 2016 local ginger harvest and enjoy  the pleasures of cooking with the baby ginger while it is here and available, fresh and in season – its really something special!

Classic Japanese Steak House Ginger Salad Dressing

3 Tbsp. minced onion

3 Tbsp. canola oil

2 Tbsp. raspberry vinegar

3 Tbsp. finely minced baby ginger

2 Tbsp. organic ketchup

1 Tbsp. Mushroom-flavored soy sauce

1/2 clove minced garlic

Sea salt and cracked pepper to taste

Combine onion, oil, vinegar, ginger, ketchup, soy sauce, garlic, salt and pepper in a blender and process until combined.Spoon over a plate of your favorite mixed greens.

Homemade Candied Baby Ginger

1 pound fresh baby ginger, thin sliced

4 cups organic granulated sugar

4 cups water, plus more for the initial cooking

pinch of salt

Put the thin baby ginger slices in a large stainless steel pot, add enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer for ten minutes. If you are making this recipe with older store-bought ginger you will want to repeat this precooking process one more time.

Mix the sugar and 4 cups of water in the pot, along with a pinch of salt and the ginger slices, and cook until the temperature reaches 225F measured on a candy thermometer

Remove from heat and let the ginger stand in the syrup for at least an hour while the mixture cools.

Remove the ginger from the syrup, reserving the syrup, and place the sliced ginger on a cake rack fitted over a baking sheet with sides. Drain the ginger and then sprinkle with additional sugar to coat both sides of the ginger. As the ginger cools more sprinkling sugar may be necessary.

For your own Ginger Ale

Combine:

1 to 2 Tbsp. of ginger syrup left over from making the candied ginger

sparkling water

Juice of one lime

Fill a tall glass filled with ice, add ginger syrup and the juice of a half of a lime and top with soda water. Adjust flavor adding more ginger syrup or lime as needed. Stir to blend and garnish with lime wedge or a sprig of fresh mint

And finally for the Ginger and Honey glazed baby back rib recipe that Charlotte Today co-hosts Eugene Robinson and Coleen Odegaard raved about on air –

Heidi’s Local Honey and Organic Baby Ginger Baby Back Ribs

img_5032One of my favorite honey-centric cocktails is with bourbon or aged rum, honey, orange and ginger ale – take the same flavors mix them with the baby ginger and apply then to a glaze or marinade and viola…

For a fuller orange flavor in this recipe, I used the Blood Orange infused EVOO from Pour Olive, my go-to artisan olive oil shop on East Blvd. in Charlotte

What make the ribs tender enough to saute is parboiling them first. Bit be sure that the Parboiling Liquid has plenty of flavor – for the parboil, combine

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Make your parboiling liquid flavorful!

2 Tbsp. Pour Olive Blood Orange EVOO

4 thick  slices of Windcrest Farms Organic baby ginger, minced

1 cup toasted  baby ginger leaves – simply crisp them up in a 200 degree over for 10-15 minutes to concentrate their delicate flavor

¼ cup fresh Italian leaf parsley

1 bottle of pale amber beer

2 cups mushroom broth

1 rack local Baby Back Ribs, cut into double ribs

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Glazing the ribs with the basting liquid sears the flavor on the meat

 

Basting sauce:

2/3 cup teriyaki, ponzu or hoisin sauce

¼ cup dark sesame oil

¼ cup minced fresh Windcrest Farms Organic Baby Ginger

1 cup aged whiskey or aged Rum ( I love to use NC’s own  organic TOPO aged whiskey here)

Juice and zest of two oranges or 2 Tbsp. Blood Orange EVOO from Pour Olive

Dash or two of  Crude Bitters orange & Fig bitters ( available at the Savory Spice Shop in Southend Charlotte

1 cup Spicy Hot Blenheims Ginger Ale – made in Blenheims, SC!

½ cup Dancing Bees Farm Honey – your favorite variety ( I love the sourwood honey here and its available on Saturdays at the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market and the Charlotte Regional Market on Yorkmont Road.

 Condiments to serve – Texas Pete (if you’d like to spice it up a bit!)

img_5038Combine parboiling ingredients in a stock pot. Bring to a boil, add the whole racks of ribs. Allow to come back to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer of 30-40 mins or so.

While ribs are simmering, prepare basting sauce by combining all of the ingredients, except the honey and ginger in a medium sized saucepan. Bring to a boil and allow to reduce by one third. Remove from heat and stir in honey and ginger.

Remove ribs from the simmering liquid. Bathe the ribs in the glaze and place the ribs on a saute pan or grill pan, basting with the glaze until it just starts to brown on the meat, or  place in a roasting pan under the boiler for 2-3 mins on each side.

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Use chicken, seafood or your favorite vegan or vegetarian tempeh with the same delicious ginger glaze

 

To make a vegetarian version of the same – use tempeh or tempeh style “chicken” patties ( available at Earthfare in Charlotte) No parboiling needed – just saute the patties in the Blood Orange oil until nicely browned, then bathe in the glaze and cook down until the glaze has thickened slightly. Same method will work well for your favorite seafood.

For chicken –  no parboiling needed – simply season  bone-in ( this adds more flavor) pieces with salt and pepper and bake  in a preheated 400 degree oven in a covered roasting pan for 30-40 minutes. Remove the lid of the pan and add the basting  liquid. continue to bake for another 5 minutes  or broil the chicken for 2-3 minutes until the glaze starts to brown.

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Watch the video from my October 2016 cooking segment on WCNC’s Charlotte Today here.

For more ginger how-tos and to see it for yourself, I’d love to have you join me and Mary Roberts for a ginger-centric On The Farm cooking class at Windcrest on Saturday Oct 7, from 3-6 pm. The class includes a farm tour where we see the farm up close and personal and will hear from Mary about sustainability, why it is important to her to grow organically and all about raising crops year round in a greenhouse environment. Plus we’ll cook and enjoy 4-5 new recipes for 4-5 delicious courses of local fare all with a ginger-centric theme. In addition to the tour and the food, the class also includes wine pairings from Assorted Table Wine Shop with each course, a recipe packet for each participant, and gift bag with sample sized local goodies and coupons. Cost is $85 per person. To make your reservations, simply email me directly at Heidi@HeidiCooks.comand I’ll send you all the info you need to complete your reservation. Looking forward to seeing you there!