Saturday, August 14, 2010

in the eye of the beholder

I think we’ve been trained to think that anything ugly can’t be good. This is especially wrong when looking at figs. They have to be gushy, ugly and soft before they’re good.

Most figs we find in the grocery stores are picked too early; they need to ripen on the tree because they won’t ripen off of it. But growers who sell through farmers’ markets can pick their figs dead-ripe and count on finding customers who don’t care that the fruit’s not picture-perfect.

The harvesting of figs is not an easy task, and probably the main reason why they are a little pricey. Figs are brutal on workers’ hands because the stems “bleed” latex when it’s cut. The latex so irritates the cuticles and the area under the nails that the pickers have to tape their fingers like football players do. At night, workers soak their hands with medicinal herbs. Usually growers will maintain two crews so no one picks too many days in a row.

Look for figs that are very soft. Black Missions, the typical ones we find here in California are tear drop shaped with a thin purplish-black skin and a slightly reddish flesh, these taste best when they start to shrivel. The small round Kadota fig has a greenish yellow skin with a honey sweet flesh. When ripe they should have a drop of “honey” at the end. Avoid figs with any sign of mold.

Don’t store figs in plastic; they don’t like humidity. Refrigerate them in a paper bag, or better yet on a plate. They should keep a week.

Even though figs are delicious on their own, I have a favorite way to enjoy them for a simple appetizer or in-between meal nibble. Simply halve the figs and put a small knob of goat cheese on top of each one.

Drizzle with a touch of Balsamic Vinegar or Vincotto, then wrap in a thin layer of prosciutto. The tender sweetness of the fig with the tang and creaminess of the goat cheese pairs beautifully with the salty prosciutto.

Remember the season for these little beauties is short so enjoy them while you can!


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