My fig tree not only bestows me with gorgeous summer fruit but presents a nature show all year long. In the fall and winter, it loses its leaves to reveal bare-naked limbs. Small green buds evolve into broad, finger-like leaves while nubs form on its skinny branches in spring. Finally, in early summer, these little fig buttons push out pear shapes whose bottoms balloon and begin turning a musty burgundy. Biting into a fig is like a beautiful kiss. Sweet, soft, juicy, velvety, downright sexy! Perhaps this is why I have such a passion for this fragile fruit that I eat with abandon during its short-lived season.
My fig tree is named Paradiso, after its southern Italian roots. When my dad and dog, Star, died seven years ago, I wanted to plant something to honor them both. The fig, a sign of peace and prosperity, seemed appropriate. My new-found interest in figs coincided with my exploration of southern Italian food, most specifically in Puglia. Green figs with fleshy pink insides were everywhere and luscious.
A search in San Diego came up empty for this kind of fig, so I found a man in Boston who grows over 25 varieties of this delicacy. He matched my description to our growing conditions and sent me an Italian Paradiso. The long, narrow box contained a 15” twig, clustered with leaves and a few small figs. My friend, Jenny, and I cleared a space near my orange tree, and with love, gave this new tree a home. The first two years were rough, and I wasn’t sure if he was going to make it, but the third year he decided to stay and grew at least three feet! I have been enjoying the sweet fruit ever since.
What do you do with figs besides just eat them off the tree? I made a fig compote with roughly chopped figs, a little sugar, some lemon juice, water, and lots of crystallized ginger. It is tasty on toast or on grilled meat. When you cook a fig, its sugar oozes out, and it becomes almost candied. I serve these alongside grilled chicken or pork. You can also pair raw or grilled figs with ice cream and drizzle a little balsamic on top. Here I made a fig crostada.
Last weekend, Chris and I made the ultimate, decadent breakfast inspired by none other than our favorite chef, Jacques Pepin‘s Instagram post. French toast soaked in vanilla ice cream, then pan-fried in butter, served with grilled figs and grilled pineapple. No extra butter or syrup is needed. The bread, Praeger Brothers Country Artisan boule, when cut into thick slices, made bunny shapes! Light and creamy with just the right amount of sweetness and fun to eat. Irresistible! If you haven’t tried this, you must!
Enjoy these beauties while they last and please send me your favorite fig recipes.
“To eat figs off the tree in the very early morning, when they have been barely touched by the sun, is one of the exquisite pleasures of the Mediterranean.”
Ciao for now,