In Season: Figs

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It's true. I have a thing for figs. Fresh, just-picked-from-the-tree figs, that is, not those scary black dried things found in the bulk food section of the grocery store. So many varieties, so much versatility. Black Mission, Blue Celeste, Brown Turkish, Desert King, Naples White, Papa John, Tiger and the list goes on. I'm always amazed when I encounter people who either don't like figs or, if you can believe this, have never tried a fig. How is that possible?

Over here at Sugar Talk I'm supposed to post only about all things pastry and sweets, but with figs I am going to break this rule. They can be enjoyed at breakfast, lunch, and dinner or as a snack or dessert. The fewest of accoutrements and there you go. Figs are also perfect just on their own. They don't have to be gussied up to be eaten. I'm hard pressed to think of other fruits that may be used in so many ways. It's little wonder that figs ran a close second to apples in the garden of Eden.

To make one of my favorite breakfasts during fig season, I take Greek yogurt and top it with Michele's granola (handmade in small batches in nearby Baltimore), layer on a couple of cut figs and finish it with a drizzle of honey. Healthy and delicious.

I think another lovely combination could involve cooked steel-cut oatmeal, a bit of warm milk or cream, figs and honey. Or maybe I will finally try my hand at making preserves - I'm thinking warm toast with homemade fig jam. People with fig trees are usually always willing to unload their surplus, and this drunken fig jam recipe sounds delightful. Just the thing to do with an extra supply of figs. And really, who doesn't like a little kick of Cognac in the morning with his or her toast? I can also envision giving adorable half-pint jars of this jam as a gift, or serving it along side a cheese plate.

At lunch time, figs seem to easily find their way into salads. This salad recipe that includes figs stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in bacon certainly sounds decadent. Or how about a salad that includes flash-pickled figs? Decisions, decisions.

Moving around the clock into the afternoon snack territory, I've partaken in more than a few figs that I've quartered and then topped with a dollop of mascarpone or crème fraîche and drizzled with honey. If the clock has moved a little farther along, try goat cheese or blue cheese instead, add a few dashes of freshly ground pepper, and now you have a quick and easy, yet sophisticated, snack to enjoy with cocktails.

Time for dinner? Figs are in season in the summer and summer means grilling. So, how about grilled pork chops served with pickled figs in balsamic vinegar? (I'm really into pickling right now, in case you're noticing a theme here.) Or hey, this is different - fish grilled in fig leaves. You could also add some figs to your favorite type of skewer (I'm thinking lamb and fig would be a dynamite combination and this kebab recipe from The New York Times should convince you that I'm right) or just grill some and have them as a side dish. With a little imagination or a quick search of your favorite food web sites, you might be surprised by how figs can make your dinner meal more interesting.

And now, let's face it, what you've been waiting for...dessert! I think figs get overlooked when it comes to summer desserts, or any desserts for that matter. I wouldn't go so far as to say they are maligned, but they seem to be ignored, at best. Think about a time recently when you were at a restaurant and figs were included on the dessert menu. Or have you seen lately any fig dessert recipes in any of the popular food magazines? Me either. I don't understand why this is because the semi-sweet, somewhat juicy, somewhat syrupy nature of figs make them a perfect ingredient. In fact, this perfection means it doesn't take much to create a winsome dessert to share with friends after an evening meal al fresco, which I did here. There are many ways that figs may be used in dessert (I'm talking to you, fancy restaurant pastry chefs), but I've found that putting them in a crostata is one of the best ways. The crostata dough serves, really, as just a vessel for the figs. In this honeyed-thyme figs version, the figs get to do their thing. They aren't overlooked, people aren't ignoring them. They finally get to be the star of the show. Finally.

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