Impulse Buy: Fig Duo: ChocoHigos—hand dipped dark chocolate figs and dried Turkish figs
Store: Whole Foods Market at Columbus Circle, NYC
Aisle: Cheese and Chocolate display…there’s no escaping it en route to checkout
Cost: About $10
Back in first grade, how many classmates would squeal with pleasure to see single-serving fig newton packages at snack time? Not many. Most were reaching for the ritz handi-snacks, spreadable neon orange “cheese” with that classy red plastic spreader. Figs weren’t cool then. But watch out: they’re making a comeback.
Figs come in many forms: raw, dried, preserved, in sauces, in cakes, in pastas, in figgy puddings (come on, you always wondered about these figgy song lyrics) and more. They can lean sweet, served with ricotta and honey, or savory, as an accompaniment to a salty prosciutto or a good gorgonzola. Fig jam is the filling of the good ole’ netwons, dressed up for a slightly older and wiser audience that can actually spell “hors d’oeuvres”. But today’s impulse buy was not Dalmation Fig spread…it was a baggie of plain old dried figs, and then a box of ChocoHigos. As a dried fruit fiend and dark chocoholic, I found these a match made in heaven. And with a name like Higos, well, I was sold.
I didn’t appreciate fresh figs until a trip to Greece, where I tasted the most amazing, luscious, ripe figs you could dream of. This week, I was reminded of those Grecian figs when flipping through David Tanis’ A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes (Tanis’ “city kitchen” beat in the NY Times dining section is a great inspiration for some SKC-esque recipes).
The beauty of David Tanis’ cookbook is that he takes the best ingredients he can find and lets their flavors shine. His intro begins,
“Do you really need a recipe for a platter of figs? No. Is that the point? Yes. Does it have to be more complicated than that? Not really… the platter of figs is a metaphor for the food I like. Fresh ripe figs are voluptuous and generous, luxurious and fleeting. And Beautiful”
David lauds late summer figs, and talks about waiting all year long for “heavy, juicy fruit with oozing centers—sweet figs to swoon for”. His idea of eating with the seasons makes a lot of sense. But, what’s a girl to do when she wants a little taste of figs the other 11 months out of the year? For now, I don’t have the secret to preserving fresh, luscious figs, but I can offer you two more easily found fig products that hold you over until you bite into a fresh one.
If you’re a dark chocolate person who digs figs, but is not in the mind to cook, check out ChocoHigos at Whole foods or Amazon. Handmade in Valencia, these are Pajarero figs (thinner skins that other varieties) dipped into a rich dark chocolate that comes from a family recipe. They are perfect naked, but if you really want to luxuriate, pair with a red wine or pour onto ice cream.
If you’re able and willing to hit the stove, try making Balsamic-Poached Figs. If you just made a face…wait until you try these. They’re just figs that have taken a bath in balsamic vinegar, distilled in sugary syrup. This is a great “one-pot-stop,” that can become a little LBD of sorts for your college fridge. First off, you can make an exceptional ice cream sundae. Try this on as an alternative to hot fudge sauce. The depth of flavor makes it a great addition to plain vanilla ice cream, frozen yogurt, or whipped cream, or even yogurt, for that matter (my all time favorite is Siggis Icelandic skyr ). And if you’re leaning more savory, the balsamic figs work equally well with goat cheese on a crostini, for example, as a sandwich spread, toast, or even as a base for a homemade fig, arugula, and gorgonzola pizza. The possibilities are endless. It would go fine with some venison or duck, too—but chances are they don’t carry that at your university mini mart. These figs can keep in your fridge for quite a while, ready to surprise and seduce late night visitors. Figs, after all, are an aphrodisiac. So drop the Newtons and get cooking.
Brooke Elmlinger is a junior at Dartmouth college studying French and government with a minor in cookbook browsing. She’s currently interning in NYC, earning money so she can buy things like chocolate covered figs and icelandic yogurts. Not like those are discretionary or anything.
**Thinking outside the Fig Newton Box **
Balsamic Poached Figs
This makes about 3 cups—enough to throw together many sundaes. There are many varieties of dried figs. If you have a choice, go for fruits on the smaller side. Those tend to work better for this type of sauce. If you end up with fatties, just cut into more pieces.
About 20-30 dried figs, halved or quartered depending on their size (I used Spanish dried figs, but there are many great varieties)
1 ½ cups sugar
¼ cup water
½ cup balsamic vinegar
2 TBSP orange juice
½ cinnamon stick
1 sprig thyme
Remove fig stems and quarter them. Heat sugar and water in a small saucepan, stirring with a spoon, until the mixture takes on a light caramel color.
Remove from heat and add the balsamic vinegar, orange juice, and spices.
Return to heat and bring to a boil, stirring just to dissolve, but not to reduce or thicken too much.
Pour mixture over cut figs, remove sprig thyme and cinnamon stick, and let steep until cooled.
Store at room temperature in poaching liquid. Serve over ice cream, yogurt, on crostini, or however you wish!