I always remember walking down the hill that led to my grandmother’s house in Emilia-Romagna and passing an overflowing fig tree in someone’s garden. We’d pick up the fruit from the ground, or take the odd one from the tree if no one was looking. As a child, I loved the sticky moreishness of fig roll biscuits, but my mum always loved biting into those delicious, velvety fresh figs.
Now, I use them often in my dishes. Juicy and sweet, they’re a seasonal ingredient coming into their own now. I like the fact they’re not available year-round, but that they’re something delicious to indulge in and celebrate as we head into autumn – at this time of year in Italy, you see them everywhere in the markets. Figs are very versatile, and work just as well in savoury dishes paired with meat as in desserts, as my recipes this week show.
I love to eat them for breakfast with yogurt and granola, or for dessert poached in red wine, but they pair equally well with mozzarella, duck or venison, so don’t be afraid to incorporate them into your cooking.
Here, the crostini combination of sweet figs with salty Parma ham cut through with acidic balsamic vinegar is not a dissimilar combination to the classic summery appetiser of melon with prosciutto.
Similarly, the sweetness of glazed figs provides a contrast with the fattiness of roasted pork belly and beautifully crunchy crackling. The trick is to cook the pork belly low and slow, until tender and pink in the centre.
Mint and lemon zest lifts the rich creaminess of my fig tagliatelle, but if you liked, you could just make it with olive oil. Finally, my frangipane tart with figs is a variation of a tarte au poire bordelaise, with pear and almond; in summer, you might use peaches or apricots.
It’s important to make sure your figs are perfectly ripe, not too hard and pale, but soft and red in the centre. If they’re overripe, you can still use them in jams and chutneys or as the base for a tart, rather than waste them.