Figs and Feta served together on a plate with fresh mint is the perfect summer appetizer. Open a bottle of wine and very good conversation will soon follow. If I’m invited to the party I admit that conversation might revolve around figs. Because I love figs. I have been known to go to great lengths to acquire excellent figs. I’ve even been known to steal them from the neighbors. Though I prefer the term urban foraging.
Very good figs are difficult to buy at the grocery store. They don’t pack and ship all that well. That’s because the very best figs should be allowed to completely ripen on the tree. Once ripe they last but a few brief days.
These facts might make figs seem too troublesome for a casual summer dinner party. However, their finicky nature makes me love figs all the more. Anything so truly special, so utterly delicious, and so mind-blowingly perfect deserves to be a wee bit demanding in my opinion.
Which is why I’m always so surprised when otherwise perfectly sane people say to me: “I don’t really like figs.”
What? To me figs define what’s truly glorious about food. To put it simply, like many of the best food experiences, figs are enjoyed with all five senses.
First, figs are visually very sensual. There’s no denying that fact. Secondly, their aroma is sweet, but there’s something dusky behind that sweet floral fragrance that adds to their primitive appeal.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of picking your own figs you know what a silky, smooth skin they have. Ripe figs also have a satisfying heft that just feels right in the palm of your hand.
Some say figs taste like strawberries. I say that’s an over-simplification. It’s true that figs are sweet like strawberries – but they’re oh so earthy too.
And though figs don’t make a lot of sound all on their own, the very mention of the word is likely to cause the other four senses to make quite a racket!
Which is why I’ve decided that disappointing figs are very likely the culprit behind that incomprehensible phrase: “I don’t really like figs”.
So let’s talk about selecting fresh figs. It’s not too difficult. But there are a few tricks.
The best figs come from hot climates. The hotter the better. The figs I remember from Southern Italy are far superior to some of the figs I’ve tasted from Northern California.
You should also know that figs range from pale green though deep black or burgundy red. Many people believe that color is an indicator for flavor. I have heard that the deep dark Black Mission figs are the sweetest. To my palate this is not true. I’ve eaten pale green figs as sweet as jam; much sweeter than the commercially grown Black Mission variety.
Whichever the color, a fig should look firm and well-shaped. If there’s white sap weeping from the stem end then it was picked too early.
Check the other end too. A drop or two of nectar slipping out of the just beginning to crack open depression at the base of the fig is ideal. Slight splits in the skin elsewhere are also acceptable.
A very ripe fig can be very, very sweet. You recognize that sweetness when the interior flesh becomes deeply colored and the seeds are very well defined. However, once a fig is to this stage it won’t last more than a day or two before it’s gone too ripe.
The main reason figs send food loving folks over the moon is because they’re one of those unique foods that changes when paired with other foods. Sweet, salty, sour or spicy. Figs accentuate, compliment and are defined by all these flavors. A fig is like wine in this way. It can be transformed by the flavors it’s paired with.
To illustrate this fact, I’ve developed a simple and elegant appetizer of Fresh Figs with Feta Cheese, Balsamic Vinegar and Mint. Put these flavors together on your plate as you like. Take a nibble here. Add a bite there. Let the combinations work their way around your taste buds and I think you’ll see what I mean. GREG