I fully intended to make a peach cobbler when I stopped at the Tuesday evening farmers market in Culver City, but I got distracted by a table topped with baskets of luscious mission and calimyrna figs. They were set apart from the other fruit, merchandised like precious jewels. A man in a bright blue Arnett Farms t-shirt and denim apron stood guard over them to make sure they weren’t roughly poked and squeezed by shoppers. There was no need to manhandle them, samples were sliced and set out with toothpicks to prove that they were indeed perfectly ripe and lightly sweet. I bit into a wedge of mission fig, felt the crunch of tiny seeds and tasted the honey-flavored fruit, and I forgot all about peach cobbler.
Figs are just coming to the markets in Southern California and they’ll be around until early October. We’re lucky. In some parts of the country, figs are elusive, ephemeral crops that appear for mere weeks. Snatch them up! These ruby gems should be enjoyed. They are versatile ingredients that are as delicious in desserts as they are in savory meals (try them in salads, and with pork loin or chicken). Figs are also really good for you. Thanks to their seeds and meaty flesh, figs are very high in fiber, plus they are a good source of calcium and potassium. Ayurvedic medicine recommends eating figs every morning to strengthen teeth and gums and regulate digestion.
Perfectly ripe figs are one of the most perishable fruits. They’re picked after they ripen and bruise easily, so they can be hard to find in supermarkets. Farmers markets are the best place to buy figs, and most vendors will even let you sample the goods first (my favorite part)! If you get figs that are a little too hard, try leaving them in a sunny spot for a day, then eat them right away.
Look for plump figs with intact stems and flesh that isn’t torn or bruised. You want soft fruit that gives ever so slightly when squeezed, anything softer will be mushy. Figs spoil quickly, so plan to eat them within a day or two, if not in the car on the way home. Store them unwashed and covered on a shelf in the fridge where they won’t get bruised. Wash just before serving.
When they’re this beautiful, I like to eat figs just as they are. They shine in simple preparations like this dish with a honey and ricotta “cream” made with yogurt. I topped them with a drizzle of really good aged balsamic vinegar from Los Olivos, which is a rich, dark syrup with complex flavor and none of the acid tang of salad dressing. Splurge on the best balsamic you can afford, but if the grocery store variety is all you can find, you can make a syrup of balsamic vinegar by simmering a 1/4 cup over low heat until it reduces by half. Let cool completely before using in this dish.
Figs with Honeyed Ricotta and Balsamic Vinegar
(Makes 3 servings, about ¼ cup each)
Total Time: 5 min.
Prep Time: 5 min.
Cooking Time: None
⅓ cup part-skim ricotta
⅓ cup nonfat plain yogurt
1½ tsp. raw honey
6 fresh figs, cut in half
3 tsp. aged balsamic vinegar
1. Combine ricotta, yogurt, and honey in a small bowl; mix well.
2. Divide ricotta mixture into three small serving dishes; top each evenly with figs.
3. Drizzle each dish with 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately.
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