Tag Archives: figs

Oh Mon Amour! The Stolen Heart

Ah, ’tis once again Valentine’s Day! In previous years I have treated you to pink and romantic treats, but this year I felt that a little bit of a twist was in order. Everyone is all about hearts, so let’s take that idea and run with it.

I’ve drawn my inspiration from the cold and snowy weather we’ve had in olde London Town for the last few days (even if today has warmed up rather nicely). I was in the City earlier in the week, and was fascinated by those medieval buildings that are still clinging on in the face of advancing glass and steel monsters. In the icy mist, they give you brief glimpses of times long forgotten, but still not quite gone. I passed one church that looked like something from a fairy tale, but more like one of the darker true Grimm tales than anything more recent and sugar-coated. It was striking how the cool weather seems to be able to strip a scene of almost all colour, leaving it eerie and silent.

Against this atmospheric scene, this dish is a tribute to those old tales, where key characters encountered  unexpected things in the woods. There might be a happily-ever-after, but there could equally be a grisly end in the dark forest on the snowy ground at the teeth of the big, bad wolf. Yes, you guessed it, I’m going with the latter. And you can guess how that heart was stolen – basically, it’s a crime scene on a plate!

Stolen_Heart

In coming up with this, I had something rather like Snow White in mind. There had to be lots of red and white – which are, after all, the key elements that go into making the most romantic colour of all, pink – but they are presented in a way which I’ve called The Stolen Heart to suggest that some beast has just “stolen” someone’s heart in the most literal sense. Rather than lovely fluffy pink macarons or cupcakes with love hearts, this is intended to look shocking.

The idea is that this is a snowy scene, achieved with a mixture of yoghurt and mascarpone. Roasted figs are added (a fruit that is so often linked with romance and passion) to represent something that has been left behind by the miscreant. The scene is dusted with snow-like sugar, and then finally splattered with a red fruit sauce with a dash of pomegranate molasses, this latter ingredient bringing in the fertility associations of pomegranate as well as adding sharpness. The result is strange, in turns both pretty and unsettling, and perhaps the complete antithesis of all the chocolate hearts and sugared rose petals that seem to be everywhere else at the moment. That said, perhaps this is not the most suitable thing to serve your special someone on Valentine’s Day, but then, that wasn’t what I was going for.

So what do you think? Taste-wise, it’s actually delicious – rich roasted figs, heady with the perfume of spice and lemon in red wine, chilled mascarpone with just a light hint of sweetness – so it does make a lovely late winter pudding. But it might just freak you out too…

Finally, just one little tip – it’s wonderfully great fun to splatter the red sauce in a dramatic fashion, but either do it over a sink or in the garden – otherwise you will find your Jackson Pollock frenzy makes the kitchen look like a crime scene. And serve it straight away – the sauce will start to bleed (ha ha!) and dissolve the sugar snow. You want it to look like the crime has just been committed, and someone’s heart really has just been stolen. Perhaps too literal an interpretation of Valentine’s Day?

To make The Stolen Heart (serves 2):

For the figs:

• 4 large ripe fresh figs
• dash of lemon zest
• 3 tablespoons red wine
• 1 tablespoon honey
• 1 tablespoon brown sugar
• pinch of allspice

For the snow:

• 100g natural yoghurt
• 100g mascarpone cheese
• icing sugar

For the blood:

• 100g raspberries (frozen work best)
• sugar (to taste)

1. First, roast the figs. Cut the figs into quarters, then mix with the zest, wine, honey, brown sugar and allspice. Put into an over dish, cut side up, cover with tin foil, and cook at 200°C (400°F) for 20 minutes (you might need to check from time to time and spoon the wine sauce onto the cut figs). Remove the tin foil, spoon the sauce into the figs again, and cook for another 10 minutes. Put the tin foil back, turn off the heat, and leave until cold.

2. Make the “blood”. Heat the frozen raspberries in a saucepan until quite liquid. Mash, then pass through a sieve to remove the seeds. Sweeten to taste with sugar. If you want, you can add any left-over wine syrup from the figs to add flavour and deepen the colour.

3. The prepare the dish, mix the yoghurt and mascapone cheese until smooth. Spread onto two large plates.

4. Chop the figs into large chunks. Drop onto the plate in a rough manner.

5. Dust everything liberally with icing sugar for a snow-like effect, and immediately “splatter” the plate with the red fruit sauce (you might not need all of it – just enough to create the dramatic effect). Serve straight away.

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Fig Jam

Have I told you that I have a fig tree in my garden? When I moved, I was very excited to see this large specimen that already had lots and lots of fruit, and a few figs that looked as if they were approaching ripeness. Ideas went though my head about figs fresh from the garden, baked figs, figs with cheese….you name it, I was going to make it.

As summer wore on (remember summer?) a few of them got very dark indeed, and a taste test confirmed they were indeed edible. The skin was a little tough, but the seeded red interior was delicious. I relaxed, and though that all they needed was a little time. I shooed away the greedy birds, and tried to bide my time.

After a few weeks, it seemed like I had a haul of figs and could make plans. I wasn’t sure they were the kind of figs that were good for eating (the skin was still a bit tough). But surely they would be fine for that old standby, jam? And who doesn’t like a good pot of fig jam? Dramatic colour, rich flavour and that funny little “pop” of those seeds…

Well, it turns out that the answer is “these figs are sort of okay for jam”. I chopped up the figs, added lots of sugar, boiled away, then tasted the jam. And there it was – that raw “green” flavour from the fig skins. All that hope and patience – all for nothing! Not one to give up on the culinary front, I worked quickly – the lot went through a sieve (so all the pulp and seeds were saved, the offending skins left behind) and a good pinch of cloves and a dash of port went in to boost the flavour. To this day, I am not entirely sure what I have actually managed to make, but I’ll let the jam mature for a while (so the flavour of the cloves can work its magic) and I’ll see what I’ve ended up with. I’m hopeful that the passage of time will be kind, and there is still a thrill of knowing that this jam is made from stuff from my own garden.

You might think that this would be enough to put me off making fig jam, at least for a little while, but of course that was not going to happen. Just after my first batch, ripe black figs started appearing in fruit shops, and I came across a recipe flavoured with rosemary and lemon zest. It looked too good to resist, and as you can see from the results below, I am glad I gave in to the urge.

From the moment I took the figs from the bag I could tell these were of a different class to those from my own garden. Mine were soft-ish, but these seemed almost ready to collapse, and the skin was a deep, silky purple.

This is a very easy way to make jam – the figs just need to be chopped up and cooked with a little water and some sugar. I’ve seen versions that involve either pureeing the figs to get a smooth paste, or pushing the lot through a sieve, but when the figs are properly ripe, this is not necessary. The strips of fig add some texture and I think make it look much more impressive when spread on a piece of bread.

I found the lemon and rosemary worked incredibly well here. The lemon provides just a little bit of freshness and sharpness to cut through the sweetness of the sugar. The rosemary contributes a little bit of fragrance to the jam – think of hot days in a warm climate, and figs and rosemary are two of the things that come to mind. In this case, I boiled a sprig of rosemary with the jam, and added one to each of the pots that I made. Again, I will let this sit for a while, so it will be interesting to find out how it has developed over time.

In the meantime – the other pot has been opened, and I can assure you that it tastes sublime in the morning on a croissant.

To make fig jam (makes 2 pots):

• 8 ripe black figs
• jam sugar with pectin (half the weight of the figs)
• 150ml water
• zest and juice of 1 lemon
• 1 sprig of rosemary

1. Start by sterilising some jam jars(*), and put a plate into the freezer – you’ll need this to test when the jam is set.

2. Rinse the figs. Cut each in half, and slice roughly into thin strips.

3. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan, stir well, and slowly bring to the boil.

4. Reduce the heat and keep the jam on a rolling boil for 10 minutes. After this, start to check for a set every minute or so(**).

5. Once the jam is ready, ladle into the prepared jars (get the stick of rosemary into one of the jars), seal, label and hide it somewhere to enjoy later.

(*) To sterilise jam jars: wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Place upside-down in a cold oven, and heat to 90°C for 15 minutes. Leave in the oven to cool down while you are making the jam . To sterilise the lids, wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well, place in a saucepan with boiling water for 5 minutes.

(**) To test for the setting point, put a spoonful of the mixture on the icy-cold saucer. Let it cool, then tilt the saucer – if the jam wrinkles, the setting point has been reached.

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Grilled Figs with Honey

When I was on holiday recently, I saw fig trees dotted across the Umbrian landscape. I kept looking for ripe figs, but without success. All very frustrating, as when I was on holiday in the French Pyrenees two years ago, the trees there were covered in deep purple figs that just fell off the tree into your hand. I guess that it’s just a lesson that if you want figs, you need to wait until the end of summer…

One rather curious thing about London is that you do come across a fair few fig trees. While I have yet to find one that actually yields ripe fruit, in warm weather, you still get that rich, sweet aroma of figs from their leaves. Walk past the National Portrait Gallery on the north side of Trafalgar Square or through many of London’s parks and you know what I mean.

Even if our local trees are holding out on me, the local fruit shop has come through. I have been buying quite a lot recently, either eating them raw, or using them as the basis of very simple desserts. Figs are great in a pie with a light custard filling, similar to an apricot tart, but as desserts go, it doesn’t get much easier than grilled figs, served with a spoonful of thick natural yoghurt.

Per person:

• 1 ripe fig, quartered
• 1 teaspoon runny honey (I used orange blossom)
• 1 generous tablespoon natural Greek yoghurt

Lay the figs skin-side down on a heatproof dish and drizzle with the honey.

Grill on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes, until the figs are just starting to brown at the edges.

Remove from under the grill, transfer to a plate, and serve with the yoghurt. If any juice has leaked from the figs, drizzle over the yoghurt.

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