I remember the first time I tasted a fresh fig. I was four that summer, on vacation in Montenegro, with my younger sister and our parents. I remember the feel of hot pebbles and cool Adriatic caressing my chubby feet. I remember Father brought a paper cone filled with warm figs from the market and spilled them on top of our oversized striped beach towel. I watched the weird-looking fruit with suspicion, doubting its real identity, invoking the images of Christmas Eves and amber-colored, chewy, and wrinkled pillows filled with sweet seeds that adorned the table along with nuts and raisins
Father bit into a slightly soft, light brown fig to reveal fleshy pulp the color of my tongue, and when his eyes closed in delight I trusted him without a question. I reached for one tentatively; my sister followed, and pretty soon we were running to the sea to wash off the sticky, pink rivulets that laced our tanned limbs, as we crunched the small seeds between our molars, trying to extract the last traces of the exotic honey taste that enchanted us.
For years, the only time I enjoyed figs was on the beaches of the Adriatic, and I almost forgot my initial infatuation. But now we live in Southern California and even though figs are everywhere, in grocery stores, at farmers’ markets, on neighborhood trees, I behave as if I still had not received the memo and grab a box greedily every time I see one. The fruit disappears as fast, sneaky long fingers plucking them one by one, until only their plastic containers remain.
It should not be a surprise then that I felt as if I won the lottery a couple of weeks ago when I came home balancing two huge boxes of warm, California figs in each arm. I spent an afternoon at my friend Erika’s house for the second installment of the Figology Fest, featuring fresh figs from California Fig Commission. There are some enormously talented individuals among my food blogger friends, but Judy and Erika quickly rose to the top as I sampled dozens of starters, main dishes, drinks, and desserts, each creatively elevating the sweet, honey flavor of several different varieties of figs.
I love spending time surrounded by like-minded people, sipping good wine, catching up with old friends and making new friendships happen. I could not get enough of the morsels making their way out of Erika’s beautiful kitchen: each creatively arranged bite-size dish was flavorful and assertive, allowing the fig to shine as the main ingredient, or to carry on as the sidekick.
And we did not leave empty-handed – those boxes of figs that I had hard time balancing were a parting gift from the California Fig Commission. When I finally managed to plop them on my counter, I was in heaven. The summers of my childhood suddenly came alive as I started biting into the warm, supple fruit, its juice staining my cheeks and making my fingers sticky.
But even with the help of my girls I could not eat everything I brought home. I used a bunch to make jam, some to make a delightful salad, several of them ended up on top of a pizza, and I reserved a handful for a special dessert. While it was cooking, the aroma from the kitchen sent me back and forth between the continent, and a smile stayed forever on my lips.
FIGS POACHED IN RED WINE
- ¾ cups granulated sugar
- 1 Tbsp water
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 vanilla bean
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 12 ripe figs (cut the stems off and make a cross at the top) (I used Mission figs, but any variety will do)
- vanilla ice cream
- Pour sugar and water into a small, heavy sauce pan.
- Cook on medium-low heat to caramelize, swirling the pot to brown evenly.
- When it reaches a deep amber color, take off the heat and add wine, vanilla bean, cinnamon, and rosemary.
- Cook until it boils.
- Carefully add figs and simmer for 10-15 minutes, depending on how firm the figs are.
- Take the figs out and continue to cook the sauce for another 10-15 minutes, until it reduces by half.
- Strain and let cool at room temperature.
- When ready to serve, spoon ice cream into a dish and top with figs and wine sauce.
Figology Fest Part One happened some time in March and I was in awe of all the creative recipes Erika and Judy prepared using dried figs. Please visit Judy’s site Two Broads Abroad to read all about it).