Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Produce of the Week: Exploiting a Backyard Garden

When house-sitting, one normally expects the usual burdens - taking in the mail and newspaper, feeding the cat, walking the dog - but eating large quantities of produce is not generally on the agenda. However, that is the predicament in which I found myself these past two and a half weeks. Tomatoes, cucumbers, basil ... out of control!

As such, I decided to fall back on a tasty fruit for this week's produce. Now, most of you have probably eaten this delicacy, but most often it is found in dried form. Only last summer on my happy little Italian farm did I truly grasp the beauty of a fresh fig. Yes, ladies and gents, figs come juicy and ready to eat off of a tree!
The common fig, Ficus carica, falls under the same genus as the strangler figs you would find in tropical rainforests, who take over a healthy tree leaving a hollow hulk of ficusness behind. But besides having some crazy relatives (don't we all), fig trees come from a long and noble line. First recorded over 10,000 years ago, figs predate our staple grains of wheat, barley, and rye. Fossil evidence places them in the Jordan Valley, where they represent one of the first instances of agricultural cultivation!

Figs played a central role in the diet of Egyptians and Grecians alike. Evidence of their abundance appears in both ancient literature and the archaeological record. A sacred fig even found its way into the myth of Romulus and Remus, the founding twins of Rome! While the Mediterranean civilizations - and shortly before the common era, China as well - were lavishing themselves with this honey-sweet fruit, Northern Europeans did not enjoy the bounty until the 16th century. Around the middle of that century, the fig made its way up to Great Britain, and then it jumped over the Atlantic to North America in the later 18th century.
High in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, these little beauties are healthful desserts! Oh my, so many delightful possibilities:
* Fig and pear tart, with a bit of honey drizzled on top.
* Tartelette has some beautiful crumbles for the ogling.
* Take the non-vegan route, and make yourself a nice mozzarella and fig panini!
* Also great in salad.
* And if you are going to go the dried fig route, this roasted fingerling potato recipe sounds fantastic!

Finally, on my to-make list, Figs Stuff with Bulgur and Cranberry Salad (from The Book of New Israeli Food).

10 Fresh Figs
100 g bulgur wheat (cooked as directed; use soaking method)
1/2 cup dried chopped cranberries
1 cup carrots, coarsely grated
1 tbs sesame seeds, roasted
3 tbs pecans, chopped
2-3 tbs fresh coriander
Pomegranate seeds to garnish

1. Mix bulgur and all ingredients but figs.
2. Halve the figs, scoop out some inside (add to filling mix), and then heap the salad inside. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and enjoy! Mmmm...would be good with a little honey and lemon or orange juice!

Or, take the simple approach, and just pop one in your mouth au natural!

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