Elizabeth David, the wonderful British food writer, wrote in her book An Omelette and a Glass of Wine “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.” Given the Mediterranean climate we enjoy here on the Central Coast and the proximity of these tasty fruit – in my case – a very tempting tree dripping with white figs around the corner from my house (no I did not try one), I thought I would indulge in dishes with this most succulent of fruit.

There is something quite exotic about figs. Their plain exterior hiding the lush and succulent fruit within. They are rich in flavor, moist and pair wonderfully well with savory and sweet dishes alike. Late summer-Early Autumn is  fig season and the markets are teaming with them. I love the marriage of a soft creamy cheese with some fresh figs or a little salad with fresh figs chopped into it, but I also love cooking with figs and they are sensational paired with chickens or Cornish hens, duck too for that matter if your taste buds run that way.

Here is an early autumn meal in honor of that ‘exquisite pleasure’.

ROASTED CORNISH HENS WITH FRESH FIG CHUTNEY

Serves 8

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

4 Cornish Hens

2 lemons – quartered

8 sprigs lemon-thyme

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place the Cornish hens in a roasting pan and pour a little olive oil over the top of them. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; add the quartered lemons and the lemon-thyme and then place in the center of the oven and bake for 1 hour.
  3. Remove the game hens from the oven and place them on a carving board. Let them rest for ten minutes before carving. Warm 8 dinner plates in the oven.
  4. Serve with the fig chutney alongside. This is delicious served with a summer salad filled with wild greens.

FRESH FIG CHUTNEY

Olive oil

4 shallots – peeled and sliced

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons dried cranberries or golden raisins

Coarse sea salt

Black pepper

24 figs – quartered

1 large or 2 medium peaches – sliced

¼ cup fresh mint - chopped

  1. Pour a little olive oil into a shallow pan that is large enough to hold all the ingredients. Place over a medium flame. Add in the shallots and cook until they are soft and translucent. This will take at least 5 minutes. Add some salt and pepper and the balsamic vinegar. Cook a minute more.
  2. Stir in the dried cranberries (or golden raisins) and cook for 2 minutes. Add in the quartered figs and peach slices and cook, stirring carefully, for a further 5-7 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  3. When you are ready to serve the chutney stir in the chopped mint.

BAKED FIGS WITH PROSCIUTTO, ASIAGO AND ARUGULA

Serves 8 people

16 figs – washed and quartered

8 large slices prosciutto – cut in half lengthwise

8 oz Asiago cut into 16 cubes

Olive oil

16oz arugula

1 small bunch chives – finely chopped

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons fig balsamic vinegar

Freshly ground pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place a piece of Asiago inside each of the figs and then wrap the prosciutto around the outside of the figs. Place the wrapped figs in a baking pan just large enough to hold them without touching. Drizzle a little olive oil over the figs. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes.
  3. Whilst the figs are baking, prepare the arugula. In the bottom of a medium sized bowl mix together the olive oil and fig balsamic vinegar. Place serving utensils over the vinaigrette and then place the arugula over the utensils. Sprinkle with chopped chives and freshly ground pepper.
  4. When you are ready to serve the dish, remove the serving utensils and toss the arugula with the vinaigrette. Divide the arugula mixture equally onto eight salad plates and place two of the baked figs on top of the salad. Serve when the figs are still hot as the Asiago will be oozing out of it!

FIG, QUESO DE VALEDEON AND ENDIVE SALAD

Serves 8 -10 people

For the endives:

½ bunch cilantro – finely chopped

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

4 large Belgian endives – cut in half and leaves removed from the core but left intact

  1. Combine the cilantro, olive oil, lemon juice and salt in the bottom of a large bowl and whisk together. Place two salad servers over the vinaigrette and add in the endives leaves.
  2. When ready to serve the salad, remove the salad utensils and let the endives leaves fall into the vinaigrette, then very gently toss the leaves. You want them to remain intact and not bruise.
  3. Take six to eight of the endive leaves and place them on a salad plate in the shape of a flower so that the root end of each leaf is in the center of the plate. Repeat with each of the eight plates. Divide the fig salad (see below) and spoon it into the center of each ‘flower’. Serve with a nutty cracker.

For the figs:

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

2 pints assorted figs – each fig cut into 1/8

4 Asian pears – peeled and thinly sliced

3 green onions – very thinly sliced

4 oz baby Arugula

4 oz Quezon de Aledo – crumbled

  1. Pour the olive oil and apple cider vinegar in a large bowl and whisk together. Place serving utensils over the vinaigrette. Place all the remaining ingredients on top of the utensils, except for the cheese.
  2. When you are ready to serve the salad, and have prepared the plates with the endive ‘flowers’, carefully toss the fig salad. Once tossed, divide it equally amongst the eight salad plates forming a small mound of the fig salad in the center of the endives. Crumble the cheese on top of each salad.
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