Make fantastic sweet and savoury recipes with figs this year

Country Life says:

One of the earliest plants domesticated by Man, predating even wheat, figs were popular with the Romans, who fed them to geese to aid in the production of a precursor of foie gras.

In the 16th century, Cardinal Reginald Pole brought a tree to England from Italy and planted it in the grounds of Lambeth Palace.

Melanie says
‘I grow figs against a sunny wall in the kitchen garden, but it took a few disappointing years for the tree to actually bear fruit. Finally, we seem to be getting somewhere and, by next year, I’m hoping our harvest will be large enough to make fig jam, which is one of my favourites.

‘Unlike our orchard fruits, the figs all seem to ripen at different times, which means I have to check them daily or run the risk of the wasps getting there first.’
Porcini-mushroom risotto with Port-roasted figs
Serves four

Ingredients
3 figs
100ml Port
4 sprigs thyme
A splash of olive oil
1 red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
or finely sliced
2 sprigs rosemary
400g Arborio rice
80g dried porcini
mushrooms, diced
200ml red wine
1.25 litres chicken
or vegetable stock
25g butter
Seasoning
Parmesan to serve

Method
Preheat your oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6. Cut the figs into thirds through the stem. Line a roasting dish with foil (enough that you can create a parcel from it) and arrange the figs in it. Pour the Port over them, add a sprig of thyme and loosely bring the ends of the foil together. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes.

Heat a splash of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed dish with a lid. Fry the onion until translucent, then add the crushed or finely sliced garlic, the remaining sprigs of thyme and the rosemary. Fry for a minute more, stirring well, then add the rice to the dish and stir it around for a minute or so to ensure every grain is coated in olive oil. You may need to add a little more oil if it seems to dry.
Add the porcini mushrooms, then pour the red wine over the rice (it will sizzle) and continue to stir until it’s fully absorbed. Add a third of the stock, stirring all the while, and wait for it to be almost fully absorbed before pouring in the next third of stock. Again, continue stirring until virtually no liquid remains before adding the remaining stock.

When the stock is almost entirely incorporated and the rice is cooked, remove the dish from the heat and add the butter, stirring until the grains glisten. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly before putting the lid on the dish and leaving to stand for about eight minutes. This resting period makes the rice creamy. Remove the sprigs of herbs from the risotto and divide it between plates. Take the figs out of the oven and arrange them on top of the rice on each plate. Serve with grated Parmesan

More ways with figs

Fig, almond and honey tart

Serves 4

Pulse 250g plain flour, 125g cold butter and a pinch of salt in a food processor until it resembles breadcrumbs.
Add a few tablespoons of water, a teaspoon at a time, and continue to pulse until the pastry comes together. Wrap it in clingfilm and leave in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can use a packet of good-quality shortcrust pastry. Remove the pastry from the fridge, roll it out evenly and use it to line a 25cm tart dish. Prick the base, then blind-bake in a moderately hot oven for 20 minutes.
Remove from the oven and pour in a whisked mixture of 300ml double cream, 100g ground almonds, 2 eggs, 1tspn vanillabean paste and 4tbspn honey. Arrange fresh figs cut-side up in a circle on top and bake for about 35 minutes. Drizzle honey over it before serving warm with ice cream and a few fresh figs.
This is the simplest and most impressive tart I make when I need to rustle something up at the last minute. Try using other fruit such as raspberries, apricots or rhubarb, depending on the season.

Fig and prosciutto pizzas

Brush mini pizza bases with olive oil and top each with a little pesto, a slice of prosciutto and a slice of fig. Bake in a hot oven for about 6 minutes. Scatter rocket and Parmesan shavings over the dish before serving.

* This article was first published in Country Life Magazine on September 24 2014

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