Although they have been around since Eden -- their leaves made the first clothing, remember? -- figs are still not a very high-profile fruit. Familiar as we might be with Fig Newtons, too few of us have bitten into the yielding flesh of a fresh fig. Too bad; no fruit is sweeter. Figs are gorgeous, too -- the turban shape, the purplish-greenish-brownish skin, and the fleshy pink insides make even non-artists long to sit down and paint a still-life.
Figs are fragile and perishable, and even picked green must be handled with care. The season for the fresh fruit, therefore, is short, and market prices can be high. But tree-ripened dried figs from California, which were harvested in August, are easy to find in the fall. And those lucky enough to have a fig tree at home are enjoying a bumper crop right now. The hot, dry summer just past may not have pleased our lawns, but the figs loved it.
Although they are as sweet as candy, figs are relatively low in calories, and very nutritious, containing potassium, calcium, iron and even more fiber than prunes.
If you get hold of fresh figs, plan on eating (or using) them immediately. A ripe fig will yield to the touch. However, if it is over-ripe, its sugars will ferment, giving the fruit a sour smell.
Figs come in both light and dark varieties. Popular light types include the Calimyrna and Kadota; Black Mission and Brown Turkey figs both sport bruise-y dark purplish tones. They can be eaten out of hand fresh or dried, are excellent stuffed with cream cheese or nuts, and are useful additions to salads, sandwiches and stir-fries. Chopped and added to cookies or muffins, figs will add sweetness without sugar.
The following recipe is from "New Home Cooking" by Florence Fabricant (Clarkson Potter, 1991).
Veal scaloppine with fresh figs
1 1/3 pounds veal scaloppine, pounded thin
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry Marsala wine
6 fresh dark figs, sliced
few drops lemon juice
Pat the veal dry with paper towels and dust lightly with flour.
Heat the butter and oil in one or two large skillets. Add the veal and saute over high heat until lightly browned, about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer veal to a warm serving platter and season with salt and pepper.
Add the Marsala to the pan and cook over medium heat, scraping the pan, until the wine has reduced by half. (If you used two pans for cooking the veal, use only one of them for making the sauce.) Add the figs and cook, stirring gently, a minute or so longer, until the figs are warmed through but still hold their shape. Stir in the lemon juice. Pour the sauce over the veal and serve at once.