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A celebration of… figs

Categories: Expert guidance

Borough Market regular Ed Smith contemplates this fresh autumn fruit and its many uses in the kitchen

Figs are one of those fruits that seem to be available throughout the year (I say one of those fruits, but a fig is, in fact, a syconium containing hundreds of tiny fruits—all those seeds that you see in the reddened centre and that get stuck in your molars as you eat). But of course, they are actually seasonal—and those that are imported into the UK are best at the end of September and through October. Accordingly, they’re in abundance on the fruit and veg stalls around the Market right now. Look for the ones that are already purple and ripe—green figs will never truly ripen once picked.

Figs are extremely versatile and work equally well as the main event in a dish, or simply as a support act. Moreover, figs are as at home in a savoury dish as they are in a dessert. No surprise, then, that it was easy to suggest two very different ways with figs for the purpose of this blog.

To my mind, a fig comes into its own when warmed. You can do this in any number of ways (grill, fry, roast, bake, poach) and achieve different effects with each method. I particularly like frying or grilling figs, with the face of the cut fruit in direct contact with high heat. The aim is to get a little charring and some caramelisation, without cooking it completely through.

Simple yet decadent
It’s this method that I suggest for my fig, blue cheese, fennel, radicchio and orange salad recipe. There’s so much going on here—salty, sweet, bitter, sour. The charred and caramelised fig is the ingredient that pairs well with each of the others, bringing the whole dish together. It’s a very simple and decadent salad that would work as part of a feasting buffet, or simply on its own for lunch or supper. Try using a subtle, slightly creamy blue cheese, like Stichelton or Stilton from Neal’s Yard Dairy, bleu d’Auvergne from Mons Cheesemongers or Une Normande a Londres, Bath Soft Cheese’s Bath Blue, or Alsop and Walker’s Sussex Blue.

My second fig recipe is for ginger baked figs, which I suggest serving with melt in the mouth, moreish ginger butter biscuits and cinnamon spiced mascarpone cream. It adds up to a lovely autumnal dessert that manages to be elegant and sophisticated, soothing and restorative, all at the same time. Fig heaven.