Along with the fabulous honey dates that I got from the Farmer’s Market this week, I also bought a small basket of figs. Figs experience their second (main) annual crop from late summer through the autumn, and are – I think – one of the most delightful fruits available at this time of year. Fresh figs are sweet and soft, with a delicate crunch that comes from the small seeds, and are at their most appealing, tempting and luscious when warm.
I consider it to be yet another bonus of living in Southern California, where the temperatures remain high enough to maintain their growing season even now, that these figs are also local. So, buying them means not only that you can feel good about supporting the local economy and reducing the broad impacts of transporting food across thousands of miles, but also that these remarkably delicate fruits are going to be relatively undamaged. And as fresh figs are best eaten within a day or two of being harvested (they spoil very quickly as they over-ripen, and are also easily damaged through handling or transportation), buying them close to where they’re farmed means that they are most likely to be in perfect condition.
Eating figs is – for me – pure joy, and although they’re delicious just as they are (fresh and unadorned), there are a number of ways to enjoy them at their best, either raw (ripe, soft, tender) or cooked (grilled, baked, roasted), in a variety of both sweet and savoury dishes. I don’t buy figs very often, and when I do I find it impossible not to pair them with my favourite things: cream, cheese, honey, fortified wine or, if I’m in the mood for something savoury, cured meat (especially prosciutto) and fresh herbs (mint works really well). They go remarkably well with a little balsamic vinegar. Try it!
But, looking at this beautiful fruit today, I can really only consider one thing – it’s a classic, and one that I know I’ll find absurdly enjoyable. Once again, I’ve taken inspiration from Nigel Slater, this time basing my dessert on a recipe from his ‘Real Fast Puddings’. It’s amazing comfort food, decadent – a real treat – but not dense or heavy. It’s perfect for a cold evening and a wonderful choice for Christmas – making it is almost as easy as heating-up a mince pie. And although it would be exquisite paired with a good dessert wine, I can also imagine enjoying it with some warm, fragrant, spicy and fruity mulled wine.
Recipe: Baked figs with mascarpone and walnuts
2-3 ripe figs / person
1 oz walnuts, shelled and broken into pieces
1 tablespoon runny honey
1 tablespoon Marsala
2 oz Mascarpone cheese
This serves 2 people
Cut a deep cross in each fig, nearly to the bottom, and squeeze the sides to expose the flesh, opening them up a little.
Mix the nuts with the honey, alcohol and Mascarpone cheese. Spoon the mixture into the figs, and place in a shallow baking dish.
Bake in the pre-heated oven until they are bubbling. Serve warm, spooning over any mixture or juices that have collected in the pan.