Italy has long had a love affair with the fig and savoring this fruit under a tree in the Bel Paese is a taste of heaven. Fig trees grow in abundance throughout the Italian peninsula, with lush, oversized leaves that conceal this delightful fruit.
In recent times, figs have become increasingly popular in America. You can find them in both supermarkets and specialty stores. There are dozens of different varieties, grouped into four main colors of white, green, red and purple/black. Although dried figs are available year round and mission figs are good as well, fresh figs, harvested from the summer months through the fall, are still the best. Many young couples today are planting fig trees, like their families did.
The uses of figs are nearly endless. Many of you have made prosciutto and figs as an appetizer or grilled figs with gorgonzola as a side dish. For an Italian American family, it would not be Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve without dried figs on the table. Below are a few recipes using this sweet and exotic fruit from Italy.
Capocollo and Fresh Fig Bruschetta
Sweet fresh figs are balanced with salty capocollo in this quick and easy appetizer.
1 crusty loaf of Italian bread
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
16 thin slices of capocollo
4 ripe fresh figs
1/4 cup full flavored honey (such as truffle honey or chestnut)
cracked black pepper
Preheat your broiler. Cut 8 slices from the bread and lay on a baking sheet. Purchase Italian bread that is long and thin, rather than a round loaf. Lightly brown both sides of the bread slices under the broiler then brush one side lightly with the olive oil. Arrange the bread slices on a platter and place two slices of the capocollo on each oil brushed side, folding the meat over to fit. Slice the figs crosswise and top each bruschetta with a slice of fig. Warm the honey and drizzle a little over each of the piece. Use a pepper grinder to top each bruschetta with a little bit of fresh cracked black pepper. Serve immediately.
Pasta with Grilled Fig and Prosciutto
1 lb short or long fusilli
1 red pepper
1/2 lb thinly sliced prosciutto
8 fresh, ripe figs
3 tbsp minced garlic
3 tbsp olive oil
6 tbsp freshly grated Parmigiano, plus additional for serving
chopped fresh Italian parsley for serving
Place the prosciutto over a medium flame on the grill and cook for about 1 minute per side until it becomes crispy and brown, then set aside on paper towel. Place the pepper on the grill and cook until the skin is blistered. Place in a plastic bag.
Using two metal skewers, thread the figs from end to end. Place on grill and turning halfway, cook for about 2 minutes or until figs begin to brown; remove from heat. Remove the peppers from the plastic bag and peel, core and de-seed. Cut into 1/4 inch slices and then again in half. Cut prosciutto into thin slices as well. Carefully cut the figs to a good bite size.
Cook the pasta until al dente. Save a small cup of the pasta water before draining. In a small pot, heat the garlic in the oil until sizzling, but not browned. Add pepper strips, prosciutto and remove from heat. Drain pasta, return to heat and add prosciutto mixture, chopped figs, herbs and seasonings. Add 2 tablespoons of pasta water if the mixture seems dry. When everything is hot, fold in the 6 heaping tablespoons of Parmigiano. Place in 4 individual serving bowl and sprinkle with the parsley on top before serving.
Fig Mascarpone Gelato
This is a creamy and rich gelato, full of fresh fig flavor.It is perfect if you have an ice cream machine, but you can still make it by chilling the gelato in a freezer.
2 lb fresh figs (about 20 green or black)
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup mascarpone cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
Remove the hard stems from the figs and carefully chop. Place the figs in a saucepan with the water. Zest the lemon and add to the figs, then cook over a medium flame until the figs are very tender, about 10 minutes. Add the sugar to the fig mixture; stir well and continue to cook until thick, about 8 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Place the figs, mascarpone, milk, cinnamon and two tablespoons of lemon juice in a blender and pulse until smooth. Freeze until set. If using an ice cream machine, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.