Oh Bring Me Some Figgy Something

After 39 years of celebrating Christmas with food, and about 15 of being the chef to prepare it, I’ve eaten just about everything on the 24th and 25th of December including lobsters on Christmas eve in Vermont, a whole turkey roasted on the Weber and fruit cake laden with candied fruit and whiskey in Canberra, Australia, and fiery green chili stew with hominy in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Appetizers have included shrimp cocktail with plenty of lemony homemade cocktail sauce, Providence-style pizza, (cheese-less and spread with a layer of concentrated tomato sauce), and a family favorite: sopressata with brie and Triscuits. But the food that reminds me most of Christmas is dried figs stuffed with walnuts.

We always had a bowl of mixed nuts in the shell for cracking. I’d break open the walnuts (no easy task for little hands), searching for the meats among the shards. I’d bite the hard stem of the fig and stuff it with the nut pieces. For a long time, it was the only way I ate figs-with their concentrated earthy, sweetness and chewy, coarse texture. It wasn’t until I spent some time in Australia that I tasted a fresh fig off the tree. Soft and juicy with a diffuse flower-like taste–a totally different animal!

Fresh figs can be challenging to find and they don’t last long. You can store them for up to three days in the refrigerator on a paper towel, and loosely covered with plastic wrap. Packaged dried figs can be stored at room temperature for months, but once you open them, store them in the fridge for up to six months.

Figs have continued to hold an allure of celebration and specialness for me. They can be used in sweet desserts, savory-sweet appetizers (like stuffed figs) and salads, and main dishes, especially recipes with pork and chicken. They divine on a cheese plate with strong blue cheeses, creamy goat cheese, and brie. Over the years, I’ve found some great recipes for eating these ancient delicacies.

Fresh Figs with Goat Cheese, Honey, and Pepper, 4 servings

  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 fresh ripe figs
  • 1/4 cup soft goat cheese

Blend honey and pepper in a small bowl. Slice figs in quarters from top, stopping a 1/2 inch from the bottom. Gently push the figs open, like a flower. Put 1 teaspoon cheese in the center of each fig and drizzle with the honey.

Fruit Compote with Dried Figs

  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 4 ounces dried figs, stems removed
  • 3 ounces dried apricots
  • 1 ounce dried cherries
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 star anise

Bring water, wine, and sugar to a boil. Add fruit and spices. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes (till fruit has softened). Cool and serve warm or cold with vanilla ice cream.