Consider the Fig

Thanks to all who came out to the Pittsburgh Public Market on Saturday  to see Mary Menniti and me, learn about growing fig trees and sample some yummy fig recipes! Special thanks to Mary, the Italian Garden Project, and all the local fig growers who provided plenty of luscious figs!! As promised, below are my notes:

These recipes below aren’t really recipes—they are more like methods. Once you learn the method, feel free to improvise. Try different cheeses and even different fruits to suit the season and your taste. The possibilities are endless!

Cut little matchstick-sized pieces of any mild and mellow cheese you like. (You don’t want to overwhelm the lovely, delicate flavor of the fig with a strong cheese.  I consulted Carol, (aka “The Dearheart Lady”) at Penn Mac who recommended Piave, a mild Italian cow’s milk cheese.)  Take a ribbon thin piece of basil and wrap it around the cheese.  Cut the fig in half.  Spear the cheese stick into the flesh of the cut fig and, and wrap it all in a piece of prosciutto.

Variation 1: In the cooler months, omit the basil and completely encase the fig and cheese in the prosciutto. Bake at 375 for a few minutes—just long enough for the cheese to soften.

Variation 2: You can also gently embed a bit of gorgonzola dolce into the cut fig and top with a walnut half.  Serve either warm or at room temperature.

Mustard is used very sparingly in Italy, but Marcella Hazan has a wonderful recipe for fruit preserves and mustard. (And you don’t get more Italian than Marcella Hazan!) Combine equal parts fig preserves* and good-quality Dijon mustard to create a “mostarda.” Feel free to adjust the quantities according to your taste. If you want it sweeter, use less mustard, if you want it to have more of a kick, use a little more mustard.

Toast up some thinly sliced baguette slices (whole wheat or multigrain baguette works nicely). Spread crostini with goat cheese (I used wonderful local goat cheese from Paradise Gardens) and top with a dollop of the fig mostarda.

Variation 1: If you don’t like goat cheese, feel free to substitute mascarpone.

Variation 2: Prepare the mostarda and use it to top a small wheel of brie. Bake at 375 for just a few minutes until the cheese just begins to soften– watch it carefully because it goes from wonderfully oozy to a melted mess in the blink of an eye! Serve with a crusty baguette for dipping.

*There are several wonderful fig preserves on the market, (I particularly like the Organic Adriatic Fig Spread available at Whole Foods), but it’s also quite easy to make your own. The recipe I used for Fig and Thyme Jam comes from this month’s issue of Bon Appetit magazine.

Buon Appetito!