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My grandfather’s hobby and passion was his garden. Two fig trees stood at the head of the garden next to his beloved grapevine covered terrace. One was green and the other purple figs. We watched as they matured and their beautiful tropical foliage gave the garden an exotic look. Artists have painted the fig leaf to depicted modesty. But the fruit is sweet and alluring.
My grandfather would cover them with burlap and bury the trees in the ground during the winter. We watched this ritual and thought this was so strange, but they are delicate and susceptible to frost damage.
Vegetable and fruits are a main part of our diet and using fruits in the main course of a meal is one way of incorporating them into your diet and getting children to enjoy them. I think figs are one of these foods that many people don’t experience and they don’t know what they are missing.
Figs are very versatile and pare well with meats, breads and desserts. They can be canned, made into jams, dried or in cookies such as cucitdati (Sicilian stuffed cookie). Make a a tart, cake or poached as in this recipe, there are many ways to prepare them. Their sweetness adds an exotic dimension to a meal.
This recipe is so easy anyone could make it and with a little cinnamon ice cream it is dream of a dessert.
Poached Figs in Red Wine
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 4 people
8-10 ripe fresh figs
1 bottle red wine
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
Skin of a lemon
Skin of an orange (optional)
1 Star Anise
Put them in a saucepan, pour the wine and add the cinnamon stick, skin of the lemon, star anise and add the sugar. Cover the pan and cook at medium high temperature for 10-15 minutes. Turn the figs around so that all sides are stained red. Cook for an additional 10 minutes. Test the figs with a skewer. If it goes through easily they are done. Remove the cinnamon stick, star anise and lemon.
Remove them from the pan and add the butter and reduce the wine down to about 1/2 cup. The figs should not be too sweet and usually don’t need extra sugar. The butter will make the sauce glisten and will give the sauce a warm buttery taste.
They can be served hot or at room temperature. When you are ready to serve, place 2-3 figs in a glass or decorative dish and dribble the wine sauce over them. Or scoop some cinnamon or vanilla ice cream in a bowl and add the figs with dribbles of the wine sauce.
Note: reduce the sugar and serve the figs with a main course of game, pork or chicken.
One of my friends on Foodbuzz was looking for ideas on how to use Ficoco, which is fig jam with cocoa. Sugar was expensive so many desserts were made with jams or mosto cotto (grape syrup) to sweeten cakes, cookies etc. Itlians have many jam or fruit filled cookies that ficoco would be perfect for, in fact figs were also used to make mosto cotto.
I have several stuffed cookie recipes that we make and one is “Ravioli Dolci”. This cookie is a recipe from Apuglia. Ravioli Dolci is a fried cookie that does not have a long shelf life, in fact this is best eaten the day they are made.
Ravioli Dolci di Puglia
Prep Time: 1 1/4 hours
Cook Time: 1 second per batch, about 3 at a time
Yield: 26 Dozen
8 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup shortening
1 shot glass of Marsala wine
Warm water, as needed
Canola or peanut oil for frying
8 oz. size bottle of honey or mosto cotto
1 lb. roasted almonds, finely chopped
1/2 lb. chocolate or chocolate chips, chopped
Ground cinnamon, to taste
Ground cloves, to taste
A teaspoon of any variety of jam or Ficoco.
In a pan on medium heat, melt all of the ingredients together, taste for seasoning and place it in the refrigerator.
Put all the dry ingredients together in a bowl or on a board and make a well in the middle. Put in the shortening, wine and if needed a little warm water. Mix until you can form the dough. Knead until the dough is smooth and place in the refrigerator for about 1 hour. You can also mix the dough in a food processor.
If you have a pasta machine, you can roll out the dough to the second to the last level. Or you may roll a thin layer of dough with a rolling pin. With a round cookie cutter, cut circles about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Place a small amount of jam or of the roasted almond honey mixture with the tip of a teaspoon in the center of each circle. Fold over like a half moon and crimp the edges with a fork.
In a deep pan filled with oil, fry about 3 at a time until they are golden brown. They turn brown very quickly; only about a second per batch.
Allow them to cool and sprinkle confectionary sugar over the top.
While living in Cully, (Lavaux) Switzerland, I shopped at the farmers market in Vevey. There I noticed bottles of dark syrup for sale. A vendor explained that this deep brown/purple syrup was made from grapes and is used in the preparation of fruit tarts. This is a wine-growing region with many small vintners. During the vendange (harvest) I would see mounds of grape skins stacked along the side of the wineries. I thought they were to be discarded. Not so, with such an important product every last part of the grape is made into wonderful surprises, such as Grappa or Raisinée au Vincuit. The mystery of this syrup is of course dependant on the type of grapes used. You will find a different flavor in each wine-growing region, so it is worth it to buy a bottle wherever you find it. The syrup can be sprinkled over cakes or ice cream, or mix it with fruit to be baked in tarts and glazes for meats or fish.
In the French part of Switzerland it is called Raisinée au Vincuit.
It is also made from very ripe fruits when the sugar is most concentrated. It is a reduction of fruit juices and pulp or skins until the liquid becomes thick and syrupy, the consistency of honey. It can also be made from pears or apples or as in Italy figs and raisins.
In Italy it is called mosto cotto or vino cotto, and it is also called sabe. Sugar was so expensive and grapes grow all over Italy, that they made the syrup and used it to replace sugar. It is used in the preparation of desserts, or whenever a sweetener is needed. As in Switzerland, it is sprinkled over cheese, breads and cakes or ricotta, yogurt or cookies. Mosto cotto not only adds sweetness but an exotic flavor.
You will not find grape syrup on your grocery store shelves, but if you happen to find it on a visit to a vineyard region, buy a bottle and keep it in a cool place. A supplier in the US of Vino Cotto is http://www.vinocotto.us/
I have experimented with Raisinée au Vincuit in fruit tarts and love it especially mixed with plums in the tart recipe below. Serve it with a little sweetened ricotta or crème fraîche.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 410ºF oven for 30 minutes
Yield: 8 servings
2 cups all purpose flour
1 pinch of salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon Raisinée au Vincuit (grape syrup)
1/4 cup ice cold water or less
2 pounds plums cut in half, stones removed
1/4 cup Raisinée au Vincuit (grape syrup)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch or flour
1 1/2 cup Raisinée au Vincuit (grape syrup)
1 tablespoon Grappa
Prepare the piecrust by mixing the butter, flour and salt in a food processor. Add in the egg yolk and a tablespoon of Raisinée au Vincuit. Add about 1/4th cup or less of ice water and form a ball. Cover it with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Remove it from the refrigerator and roll out the piecrust and put it into a false bottom tart pan or tart-baking dish.
Wash the plums and cut them in half removing the stones. Prepare the filling mixture in a bowl. Place the plumbs in the filling mixture and toss them gently. Layer the plumbs overlapping them in the baked tart shell.
Place it in a pre-heated oven at 410ºF for 20 – 30 minutes.
Remove the tart from the oven and brush the plums with the glaze while it is hot.
Allow the tart to cool and serve it with cinnamon or vanilla ice cream or Crème fraîche on the side.
NOTE: The dough can be made a day in advance and kept in the refrigerator.
NOTE: Fruit tarts should be eaten the day they are made, as they don’t store well.
NOTE: You can substitute Raisinée au Vincuit with Current Jelly.