“FIGS!” I exclaimed out loud the other day when I came upon a display of them at the grocery store. My outburst startled a woman near me, but instead of subtly side-stepping away as many do when I talk to myself in public, she did a double-take and also exclaimed, “Oh yeah! Figs!” I love them so much, and their season and shelf life are both so short that when I find them, I go an all-figs-all-day diet so as not to let a single one spoil.
Just a few days ago, however, I came across David Lebovitz’s recipe for Roasted Figs. I bookmarked it because I knew the season was near, and I wanted to be armed and ready when I spied my first one. For a change, it was a thrill to take home more than I could reasonably gorge myself on within three or four days.
David finds his figs at open-air markets in France. Paris, France. Probably not far from where they are grown. Figs grow abundantly in Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern climes, and will also grow a bit farther north in areas with a dependably hot summer. Mine come from a grocery store a few blocks away, and by the time they get there, they’ve got some miles on them. I don’t care. They’re figs. I’ve got to have them. Their arrival tells me that summer is winding down. There couldn’t be a better way for it to go than on the heels of figs.
Figs have almost no redeeming nutritional value. They contain a moderate amount of fiber, but beyond that you’d need to consume an entire treesworth to garner enough vitamins and minerals to register as even slightly significant. I don’t care. They’re figs.
Figs are sensuous. They are plump, soft, veritably made to cup tenderly in one’s palms. Inside and out, their colors are incomparable. No two look alike. Biting into one is an experience in subtle layers of flavor and texture. The skin yields much more readily than one might expect. The inner flesh is of a tenderness all its own. And the deep pink-to-crimson center is full of tiny, satisfyingly crunchy seeds that will remind you of those in a kiwi, if only a kiwi were fortunate enough to be a fig. It’s only after the bite is gone that you realize the lingering sum of gentle figgy flavor. God, I love figs!
So, while we are still pre-Labor Day on the calendar and in the 90s on the thermometer, today I’m going to do some cooking for winter. Come a rainy November eve, I plan to make some sort of custard (possibly this one, also from David’s Parisian kitchen). While it’s baking, I’ll thaw a small container of figs roasted on hot August day, and spoon them over the still-warm custard. I’m surprised to find myself longing for rain to come.
A pound of figs will comprise about 20. Do trim off the stems; they’re tough. Cut the figs in half lengthwise and arrange them in a non-reactive baking pan. I had more than would fit in a single layer, so I wedged the extras and strips of lemon zest in among their friends. David’s recipe calls for fresh thyme, but I’ve been snipping from mine enough that it is still growing back, so I turned to my rosemary plant instead. Figs? Rosemary? Hell yes. I sprinkled the brown sugar over the figs, then drizzled some honey over the top. A little red wine into the pan, and they were almost ready for the oven. Since I had more than one layer, I snugged them up with a blanket of aluminum foil to ensure that the would all roast evenly and also yield some invaluable, fragrant juices. After all, they were going into a 400º oven.
Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven. Stand right over the pan as you fold back the foil so as inhale every last molecule of emanating fragrance. It’s worth every minute of heating an oven on a hot day.
I divided my figs among several small freezer containers. They’re exactly right for 6 halves each. I poured the residual juices into a measuring cup because it was the easiest way to divide them (about 4 ounces) equally among the containers. The amount in each one is just right to top a dessert or two. Or for an hors d’oeuvre I’m beginning to imagine. Before the rains come.