I’ve already lamented the quick passage of summer, which here in SoCal is flaming out in a blaze of 102° glory. I’m ready for even the implication of fall weather, but I’ll miss the fruits of the summer produce season — peaches, plums, the sweetest blackberries and bing cherries, and my favorite — fresh figs.
I love figs’ not-too-sweet versatility, their lush juiciness and fertile shape.
They suggest a Bacchanalian sensuality that has me dreaming of breezy Mediterranean courtyards fringed with olive-trees and toga-clad serving boys bearing platters of sticky, dew-kissed pearls of the Ficus carica, which my concubine (it’s my dream) feeds me. Lacking most of the above, I feed them to myself — and others — at every opportunity while their too-brief season is upon us.
Besides champagne and a good mix tape, figs are one of my favorite things to bring to a dinner party. Adorn a cheese and charcuterie platter with mild-tasting Brown Turkey figs, or stuff pale green Adriatics with Marcona almonds and wrap with salty prosciutto. And that’s when that champagne comes in handy, and then, of course, the mix tape.
Figs with salumi, Marcona almonds, P’tit Basque cheese
Black & White figs, prosciutto, goat cheese with honey
I’ve also just learned of the existence of the gorgeous Panache Fig — a late-season yellow and green striped beauty with a jammy, red interior. I’d just about given up on finding them, when I found what might have been the last tub of them in all of SoCal, sitting lonely on a produce table at my neighborhood Gelson’s. Since it was the beginning of a weeks-long heat wave, I devised a main course salad of arugula with grilled figs, honey-lime shrimp and Manchego cheese. Dressed with some unfiltered local olive oil and a fig balsamic, it was summer perfection.
Earlier in the season, I was in a “what can I make with what’s in the fridge?” mode — or maybe it was more of a “how can I open this bottle of rosé?” mode. I had, of course, figs, as well as some boneless chicken breasts and some shallots that weren’t months old. I’ve never done a wine sauce with rosé, but it was certainly time to try.
After browning the chicken breasts to almost-doneness, I removed them and softened the shallots. Then I deglazed with some rosé, added quartered Black Mission figs and the chicken breasts and simmered about five minutes until the chicken was cooked through and the sauce was reduced. Added a bit of butter, finished with a sprinkle of lavender salt and served it with glazed zucchini. It was not a bad accompaniment to the rest of the wine.
One of my staple desserts is clafoutis, a not-too-rich custard normally made with cherries. I posited that it would be fabulous with figs, so I adapted my favorite no-fail recipe from Bon Appétit, using Black Mission and White Adriatic figs, and substituting lime zest for the lemon zest.
Bacchus would have been pleased.
1 lb. fresh figs, any variety, stemmed and quartered
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
4 large eggs
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8 or 9 inch springform pan. Wrap outside of pan in aluminum foil to prevent leaks. Scatter the figs evenly over the bottom of the pan.
Combine milk and cream in a small saucepan; bring to just a simmer over medium heat. Set aside
Combine eggs, flour, sugar, lime zest, vanilla and salt in a medium bowl; whisk to blend.
Gradually whisk in hot milk mixture; whisk until custard is smooth. Pour custard evenly over figs in pan.
Bake clafoutis until custard is set and top is golden brown, about 45-55 minutes. Let cool 3-5 minutes, then run a knife around pan sides to loosen.
When clafoutis is at warm room temperature and set, unmold and set onto a serving plate. Dust with powdered sugar; cut into wedges and serve.
If you’ve missed out on the riches of fig season, it’s not too late! The San Diego Public Market is holding its Fig Fest on Sunday, September 8th. It will be a beautiful, bountiful way to bid summer adieu.