To preserve fresh figs for winter, they must be stemmed and cut in half.
Figs are coming into grocery stores now, and I have been buying them up to make preserves and jams. We eat a few fresh, too, on salads or on crackers with triple cream cheese (such as St Andre), walnuts and a drizzle of honey. I prefer the dark figs, such as Mission or brown turkey, and choose those that are soft enough to be ripe but not mushy.
Green figs probably have their fans, but I don't see them in stores often enough to really experiment with them. The dark skinned figs are preferred in most of the recipes I see.
I made preserved figs first, using the old, time-honored recipe of the south. Preserving whole figs to save and use for the holidays is a late summertime tradition there. They often are served with ham, roasted turkey or gingerbread. I cut my figs in half before reading the recipe (I know), so I was very concerned about breaking them up while stirring. It turned out well, however; I think sitting in sugar overnight allowed them to lose enough juices to stay just firm enough. It's an easy recipe.
I was hungry for a fresh fig with walnuts and cheese, so I put together a quick fig appetizer with baby greens, a fig, some chopped walnuts and blue cheese. It was fresh and tasty, but reminded me of a recipe I have been sandbagging for several years.
It's a sort of complicated recipe, but because the walnut jam can be made ahead, it shouldn't be any more difficult to put together than any appetizer. It's called Fig And Walnut Bruschetta and involves spreading homemade walnut jam over a thin toast, adding a small pile of fresh fig salad and serving with blue cheese, a drizzle of warm apricot jam, sea salt and black pepper.
Most of us grew up with only Fig Newtons to represent this fruit, and it still is not easy to find fresh figs in this area, so you might be shy about buying and using them. If this is the case, just buy one or two and cut them up into a salad with baby greens and a nice, white balsamic vinegar to see if you like them. I think you'll be back for more and ready to try one of these fabulous appetizers.
Fresh figs, at least five fruits
Equal amount of sugar
Cointreau (or other orange-flavored liqueur)
Chopped or grated crystalized ginger (optional)
Choose very ripe figs and snip off the stem. Cut the figs in half or leave them whole, place them in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan and cover them with an equal amount of sugar, about two cups for nine figs. Sprinkle them with the juice of one lemon and a tablespoon or so of the liqueur. Cover and let them mascerate (sit) overnight. Wash some small canning jars and have the seals and rings ready.
Place the pot over a medium high flame and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a slow, simmering bubble and gently move the figs around enough to make sure the sugar is distributed and cooking evenly. Keep them cooking for about 45 minutes until the syrup reaches 225 degrees on a candy thermometer.
Stir them gently as they cook, just enough to prevent sticking; you don't want to break them up. While they still are boiling hot, spoon them into a jar and cover with the syrup. Seal and refrigerate them. If the jars seal (and they will if the figs are still boiling hot) they will keep in the refrigerator until the holidays. Use extra syrup on waffles, over yogurt or in ice cream smoothies.
FIG AND WALNUT BRUSCHETTA
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 cups water
1 ½ cups chopped, toasted walnuts
6 tablespoons quince paste (Mexican grocery stores)
Toast the walnuts until you can smell them; don't let them brown at all. Place the sugar, corn syrup, lemon juice and water in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and reduce the syrup by half. Add the walnuts and quince paste and keep cooking until it is thickening and reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer. Pour this into a pint canning jar and seal.
1 cup baby greens, sliced into ribbons
1 cup fresh, ripe figs, sliced (about four figs)
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
Mix and chill
To make the toasts:
12 thin baguette slices, browned in a skillet with butter
1/4 cup apricot dressing, melted in the microwave for 15 seconds
Sea salt and black pepper (optional)
Spread the toasts with walnut jam. Place the salad on the baguette toasts, not too heavily, add some crumbled blue cheese and drizzle with the warmed apricot dressing. Finish with sea salt and black pepper.
FRESH FIG HORS D'OUEVRES
1 box small water crackers
6 fresh figs
8 oz Saint Andre triple cream cheese
1/2 cup walnuts (halves or large pieces)
Honey, preferably pale
Pink Himalayan salt
Place thin slices of the cheese on the crackers, add a fig slice and walnut, drizzle with honey and finish with a dusting of the salt. You may also place all of the components on a cheese board and let guests put together their own crackers.
FRESH FIG SALAD
6 fresh, ripe figs
1 Granny Smith apple
1/2 cup purple basil leaves (or green basil)
2 cups spring mix
4 oz gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, very finely chopped
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
Make the dressing and set aside. Cut the figs into quarters, lengthwise and cut the peeled apple into matchsticks. Mix the spring greens and the basil leaves and arrange the figs and apples over them. Add the cheese and dress lightly, with extra dressing on the side.
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