Figs! Such an elusive fruit in Singapore! I've always seen them in food magazines, on food blogs and in restaurant menus, but seldom in supermarkets. Maybe except the really up-market ones. So imagine my surprise when I saw them in the small and sometimes badly stocked, 24-hour NTUC branch in my neighbourhood! There they were, sitting in the corner of the fruit chiller waiting to be picked up by someone who knew what they exactly were (the aunties and ah-mas around the neighbourhood probably thought they were kindaweird). I was mumbling to myself in excitement while choosing carefully which box of 4 figs I should get and resisted the urge to put 2 boxesinto my shopping basket. Although I'm a self-proclaimed bargain hunter and auntie when buying groceries, the figs unfortunately came with a rather hefty tag of $4.95 for 4. Well, if this auntie could only be a spendthrift just once, it would be a box of 4 figs.
I've never known figs to be a summer fruit. Maybe it was its more common rich, dark purple colour that reminded me of fall rather than summer, but I've never seen fresh figs for myself while growing up. In childhood, figs came in the form of preserved little brownish strips in vinyl bags. When I got a little older, I was eating dried baby figs as a snack during one of my many diet days. Fresh figs only came under my radar when I started getting interested in food blogging. I remember seeing them only this once in Carrefour years ago, where you could pick and choose, but walked away thinking they were too expensive. Then earlier this year, I tasted my first fresh fig at House, Barracks Cafe in the form of a pizza. So what was I going to do with this precious box of figs, I thought. While I pondered on my options, the figs waited patiently in the fridge.
There was this post on Chika's blog that left me with so much inspiration. In the midst of my ice cream-making craze, I had very much wanted to try Chika's rendition of this recipe, but decided against it since I wanted to milk the most out of the 4 little figs and it called for, erm, much more than what I had.
Since it was the first time I was cooking with figs, I decided to go with something simple so that I could familiarise myself with and appreciate how figs tasted without too much fuss. I also wanted to try figs in both sweet and savoury recipes, just to see how it paired with other ingredients. I also just realised that the 2 ways I used my figs both used balsamic vinegar which was newly acquired (a little before the figs) and one of my (many) new obsessions.
The first thing I made was a simple fig tart. 1 fig tart and 1 fig and plum tart to be exact. Using one portion of the leftover pastry from this recipe, I simply filled the tarts with sliced figs and plums and brushed the fruit with a syrup of balsamic vinegar and sugar. Pop them into the oven at 180 degC and they're done within 20 minutes. How wrong can you go with that? Although the figs tasted mellow and mildly sweet when raw, their flavour concentrated with baking and with the addition of balsamic. Baking with the figs also released their brilliant, intoxicating perfume that I can't quite find any other word to describe except "musky" (in perfume terms I think it's like a base note component). The tarts were great warm, and of course I had to have them with my homemade chocolate sorbet (recipe on its way, I swear). I think a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream should also do the trick.
I also remembered there was a feature on figs in issue #43 of Donna Hay magazine and everything looked so good! Especially a fig and goat cheese tart and creamy fig and chilli pappardelle. I went with a pizza recipe in the same feature, just because I wanted to try making pizza and my mother had very weirdly bought some yeast a while ago even though I've never baked bread. I only followed the recipe for the dough and just used whatever I had in the fridge for toppings.
My first time working with yeast was a big flop: the dough refused to rise (it wasn't warm enough) and the pizza was brick hard. The edges were almost inedible but at least the center was less dry with the moisture from the toppings. Oh wells, back to the figs. Basically, I worked the pizza toppings around the basis of balsamic caramelised onions paired with figs, which was what was in DHM. I varied the toppings slightly for each of the two "no-rise" pizzas I made; the "autumn" style one with blue cheese and deeper flavours, and the other one with orange and parmesan crisps which is supposedly more "summery" and inspired from the skinny pizza I had at House, Barracks Cafe. No rocket leaves, so I tore up some spinach leaves I had left, and used sausages instead of proscuitto. I love how the flavour of the figs develop and deepen upon baking and the sweetness went well with the salt in the sausages. I liked the blue cheese one but the oranges in the other one brightened up the palette and was good too.
Anyhow, I had fun experimenting with the figs and was quite glad the results turned out relatively good tasting, except the pizza dough. Let's hope the next time fresh figs come on the shelf in supermarkets their prices would be a little less ridiculous and this bargain hunter can happily tote more home.