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Ken Morris, Cooking for Comfort: A few ways to enjoy figs

Ken Morris, Cooking for Comfort: A few ways to enjoy figs

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The fig is one of the oldest known fruit trees in the world. Illustrations of fig trees are found on monuments and tombs of ancient Egypt. It is mentioned repeatedly in the Bible, starting with Adam and Eve, when they used fig tree leaves to cover themselves after they ate the forbidden fruit and realized that they were naked. The Bible uses the fig as an indication of prosperity, as during King Solomon’s reign: “Judah and Israel lived in safety, every man under his vine and his fig tree.”

Closer to home, figs were brought to California by the Spanish who first planted them at the San Diego Mission in 1769. As they created a chain of missions reaching north along El Camino Reál, fig trees were so valued that they were planted at each site. The Mission fig, California’s leading black fig, takes its name from this history. Today, 100 percent of the dried figs and 98 percent of the fresh figs grown commercially in the U.S. are from California.

Figs grow in a lot of warm areas but produce their best fruit in Mediterranean climates with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters, which Napa happens to be blessed with. I enjoy looking out my kitchen window at our single Black Mission fig tree, which has already produced enough fruit this year for one tart and we would have had another, if I would stop eating the ripe fruit as I pick it.

If you’re not blessed with a fig tree, the Napa Farmers Market and local grocery stores are starting to sell fresh figs. The season doesn’t last for long, so enjoy them now. Here are a few ways to take advance of fresh figs (besides my favorite way, eating them before they land in the harvest basket).

Goat Cheese-Stuffed Roasted FigsServes 4

Ingredients

12 figs 4 ounces goat cheese, sliced into 12 pieces (a long piece of tooth floss neatly cuts chilled goat cheese) ½ cup warmed honey (not necessary but adds to the wonderful gooeyness) Cutting three-quarters of the way down, make two slices forming an X through each fig. Stuff figs with goat cheese slice. Roast in an oiled pan at 425 degrees for 10-12 minutes, until softened. Serve drizzled with warmed honey.

Grilled Fig Salad with Fig and Port VinaigretteAdapted from “The Girl and the Fig Cookbook” by Sondra Bernstein

Serves 6

It would be hard to write about figs in wine country without acknowledging the wonderful food of The Girl & the Fig restaurant, set in the historic Sonoma Hotel on the town square of Sonoma. The food is vaguely French but always set in wine country, including a great offering of charcuterie as a start, paired with a wine menu firmly rooted in Rhone varieties. As you can imagine, they produce a long list of fig dishes, but as Ms. Bernstein writes in her book, “this salad sums up my philosophy of the restaurant.”

Ingredients

For the vinaigrette:

3 dried Black Mission figs

1 cup ruby port

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 tablespoon minced shallots

1/4 cup blended oil

Salt and pepper to taste

For the salad:

1/2 cup pancetta, diced

12 fresh figs, halved

6 bunches baby arugula

1 cup pecans, toasted

1 cup goat cheese, crumbled (traditionally this is Laura Chenel Chévre)

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the vinaigrette: Pour the port in a bowl, add the figs, and rehydrate until soft. Transfer the port and figs to a saucepan. Reduce the port over medium heat to 1/2 cup, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Transfer the port mixture to a food processor and add the vinegar. Purée until smooth. Add the shallots and slowly whisk in the oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the salad: light your grill and get the heat up to medium high. Sauté the pancetta in a small sauté pan over medium heat until the pancetta is crisp. Set the pancetta aside, reserving the oil. Brush the figs with this pancetta oil. Grill the figs for 45 seconds on each side.

In a stainless-steel bowl, toss the arugula, pecans, pancetta, and goat cheese with the vinaigrette.

To serve: Divide the salad among 6 chilled plates and surround it with the grilled figs. Grind the pepper over each salad.

Grilled pork tenderloin and figsServes 4

Pork and fruit are classic pairings and lots of chefs on the internet enjoy pork loin and figs, but I’ve found the tenderloin is much more tender and quicker to cook, if you watch it closely and don’t allow it to overcook, when it turns tough. I have tried cutting the tenderloin in medallions and cooking them directly on the grill but this just makes it even easier to overcook and dry out. Stay with cooking the whole tenderloin.

Ingredients

One pork tenderloin weighing about 1½ pounds 8 ripe, yet firm, Black Mission figs, cut lengthwise into quarters 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold 1 shallot, finely minced 1/2 cup Dry Marsala wine (port or even dry white wine can be substituted) 2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper Preheat your grill to 450 degrees.

Prepare the tenderloin by trimming off excess fat and removing the silver skin (that tough sinew covering a portion of the meat) by sliding a sharp, thin knife blade (a boning knife works great) under the skin and pulling it off in strips. If you’ve watched too many Iron Chef episodes, you’ll feel the need to tie the pork at 2-inch intervals with kitchen twine to maintain a uniform shape. Not absolutely necessary, but a nice touch.

Pat the surface of the pork dry with paper towel, rub olive oil over the entire tenderloin, then season well on all sides with salt. (I know what you’re thinking: why did he forget the obligatory black pepper? To me, ground pepper always takes slight burnt if I add it to something that is then grilled or roasted. If you must have it, add it after you’ve pulled the meat off the flames.)

Position the tenderloin at a 45-degree angle on the grill for about 5 minutes, developing grill marks and then flip to the other side at the same angle and cook for another 5 minutes. Move the piece to the cooler part of the grill, or turn off one of your grill elements if you’re on a gas grill. After another five minutes, flip the tenderloin again; rotating so it is 45 degrees in the other direction to form cross grill marks. Cook until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 155 degrees. Transfer to your cutting board and tent with aluminum foil for about 10 minutes while you make the sauce. Everything should be sliced and measured out before the pork is done because sauce comes together quickly.

Heat a medium-size skillet. Add 2 tablespoons of the butter and the shallots then season lightly with salt. Cook the shallots for 2 to 3 minutes until softened, stirring occasionally. Pour in the Marsala wine and bring to a boil while scraping the bottom of the pan with a non-metallic spoon to release any bits of caramelized residue. Simmer the wine until all alcohol fumes have evaporated, about 1 minute.

Add the balsamic vinegar and reduce the heat to low. Cook gently until thickened to a medium consistency, adding any meat juices that have accumulated on the carving board. Remove from heat and add the remaining tablespoon butter, whisking to obtain a smooth, glaze. You can check by dipping the spoon into sauce and then seeing if it coats the back of a spoon. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning if needed.

Add the quartered figs to the pan and gently toss in the sauce until warmed through and glazed.

Remove the string (if using) from the tenderloin and slice the tenderloin across the grain into ½-inch thick medallions. Arrange the pork medallions on a long platter and pour the fig sauce over top.

Fig CrostataServes 4 or more

If you’ve been reading our Cooking for Comfort column for long, you’ve already mastered making a fruit crostata (or galette, as you’ll see in French-inspired cookbooks). I keep playing with the tart dough and now think that the addition of pastry flour with the egg will help the tart be both flaky and tender. At least, that’s my latest theory.

Ingredients

Tart Dough

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup pastry flour (or use total of 1 ½ cups all- purpose if you wish)

9 tablespoons (127.5 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces

½ teaspoon salt

1 large egg

1 tablespoon sugar

2-3 tablespoons chilled water

For filling 2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 pounds figs, top removed and cut into quarters

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 large egg, beaten

2 teaspoons turbinado sugar (it’s coarser and less refined than granulated sugar but use what you have)

Make the dough by mixing the flour and salt in a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture has a crumbly, cornmeal-like texture. Whisk the egg to combine completely and pulse the food processor again while adding the egg mixture until the dough holds together. If not coming together easily, add the additional tablespoon of chilled water using the egg dish. Form the dough into a flat disk, cover with plastic wrap and let the dough completely hydrate and relax in the refrigerator for an hour or more.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees convection bake (or 375 if you don’t have the convection option on your oven)

Roll the dough with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface, adding additional flour only to keep it from sticking to the counter. Once the dough is about 10 ½ inches in diameter, lightly roll the dough around the rolling pin, then unroll into a half sheet pan lined with parchment paper and return to the refrigerator for the dough to firm as you prepare the figs.

Combine everything for the filling except the beaten egg and sugar. Arrange fig mixture (this can be a neat circle pattern or simply dumped and pressed into an even thickness) in center of the chilled dough circle, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Fold dough edges up and over filling (dough will only partially cover filling), pleating every 3 inches. Lightly brush folded dough edges with beaten egg. Sprinkle dough edges and filling with sugar.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the fruit is bubbling and the dough has transformed into a golden crust. Pull the parchment paper topped by the crostata onto a wire rack and let cool for about 20 minutes before serving. This tastes great at room temperature or warm it up in the oven at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes while you serve dinner and it should be perfect in time for dessert. Sure, it’s been done before, but a scoop of vanilla ice cream served next to a slice of warm fig tart seems to make the meal even better.



Watch now: What skipping breakfast does

Ken Morris has been cooking for comfort for more than 30 years and learning in kitchens from Alaska to Thailand to Italy. He now cooks and writes from his kitchen in Napa. Email macmor@sbcglobal.net.

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