This month’s Good Eats is all about California Figs! They were the secret ingredient for my Eat Write Retreat‘s Amazing Apps Culinary Challenge. I learned all kinds of great facts about figs while developing my recipe for Broccoli Raab with Sausage and Black Mission Figs & Gluten-Free Hot Pepper Ziti. You can find out how to make it at the end of the post and don’t forget to comment and tell me how much you loved it!
Figs are an ancient food. They are sacred foods in Greece, Italy, Egypt and the Middle East. Figs were actually the fruit in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, not apples. It was the favorite fruit of Cleopatra. Elizabeth Taylor probably liked them, too.
Fig trees symbolize abundance, fertility and sweetness. The twin founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, rested under a fig tree. The early Olympic athletes used figs as training food and they were given to the winners. Figs were the first Olympic medals.
I grew up eating figs. That’s what happens when your father is Greek and your mother is Italian. Figs happen. A handful of figs (or Fig Newtons) is a great snack, perfect to satisfy those afternoon tummy grumblings or before a really long bike ride or walk with the dog.
What’s awesome about these good eats is that a serving of them, about ¼ cup dried, counts as one fruit serving. They are fat, sodium and cholesterol-free. They are richer in antioxidants than red wine or tea, and offer more fiber than any other fruit or vegetable in the world.
Figs were one of the first fruits dried and stored by man. The United States ranks third in world production for dried figs, that’s 11,000 tons of figs each year from the Central Valley of the great state of California. The Spanish introduced figs to the territory in the early 16th century and, well, they just sort of ran with it.
Figs start growing in May and are harvested in the late summer and early fall. There are five kinds of California Figs: Black Mission, Calimyrna, Kadota, Brown Turkey and Sierras. All figs can be eaten fresh or dried, except for the Brown Turkey which can only be eaten fresh.
Black Mission figs have purple and black skin with a deep earthy flavor like a Cabernet. They were originally planted in 1769 by the padres at Mission San Diego. When these figs are blended with savory ingredients like salt, cocoa and spices, the figs can have a meaty flavor, almost steak-like in aroma and taste.
Calimyrna, a distant cousin of the Smyrna fig from Turkey, have pale yellow skin with a buttery and nutty flavor like a Chardonnay. When these figs are blended with aromatic ingredients like lavender, pine nuts and fennel, the flavors are nutty and butter with notes of roasted chicken.
Kadota figs have creamy amber skin with a light flavor like a Sauvingnon Blanc and Sierras are light-colored with a fresh, sweet flavor like a Reisling. Brown Turkey figs have light purple to black skin with robust flavor like a Pinot Noir.
Hungry for some figs? Check out the recipe after this delicious photo. PS – You’re welcome!
Broccoli Raab with Sausage and Black Mission Figs & Gluten-Free Hot Pepper Ziti
A simple spin on an Italian classic my grandmother used to make when I was growing up. This amazing appetizer can certainly make a meal. The ingredients below make for eight wine tasting-sized servings or four invite-your-friends-over-and-let’s-party servings. It’s a fast dish to make in 30 minutes or less. Best yet, you can make it ahead and be extra host or hostess with the mostess.
What You Need:
1-1/2 lbs broccoli raab, trimmed and cut
1 lb garlicky sausage
½ pound dried California black mission figs, sliced
2 cups gluten-free ziti
2 tbsp olive oil
Hot pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste
What You Do:
-Boil and steam broccoli raab until it is bright green and starting to get tender. Drain and shower with cold water to stop the raab from cooking. Gentle squeeze out cold water and rough chop on a cutting board. Set aside.
-Bring water to boil in a medium-sized pot for gluten-free ziti. Cook until al dente. Drain and set aside.
-Cook the sausage over medium-high heat in a large skillet with olive oil until lightly browned. Remove and carefully cut sausage into bite-sized pieces. Put back in the skillet and continue until nicely browned.
-Add broccoli raab to the skillet and stir in with sausage for a few minutes. Add figs last and cook through, about five minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to serving dish and cover to keep warm.
-Add gluten-free ziti to skillet on medium-high with olive oil. Mix in hot pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to serving dish.
Recommendations: Grab your Oxo grater, some pecorino romano cheese and your choice of red wine without a bite. The broccoli raab is pretty bitter so the smoother the red, the better!