Recipes: Fig Jam, and Fig And Blue Cheese Flat Bread
Dividing her time between Hampstead and Gozo, Frances Bissell indulges her weakness for this highly versatile fruit which can suit either climate.
Cooking and writing in two climate zones has its pitfalls. By early October in my London kitchen I am cooking game, daubes, roasts and thick soups. In my Gozo kitchen, I am mostly preparing cold vegetable antipasto, platters of salume, marinated fish, gazpachos of every colour and flavour and chilled fruit with the temperature still in the 30s and showing no sign of dropping much. I might toy with the idea of a roast for Sunday lunch, but no more than some quails or a pork fillet.
But in both kitchens I am enjoying purple figs from Turkey. The local autumn fig season in the Maltese islands lasts for no more than a few days, and now we have imported figs. I know I should be celebrating new season’s English apples. plums and pears, but figs are my weakness, and I’m prepared to relax my locavore principles. Although expensive, they are so delicious and versatile, and can be eked out with other ingredients. Perfect with salty cheeses such as Roquefort and feta, I use them in salads with rocket and pine nuts or walnuts. The same combination makes a wonderful flatbread.
Look for firm unblemished fruit that just yields when you hold it in your hand without pressing. The skin of a perfectly ripe fruit is velvety and soft, rather than taut and satiny. It can be a number of colours from pale green and golden yellow for early summer figs to deep purple for autumn figs, which is what I use when I make fig jam in my Gozo kitchen. This looks and tastes as fresh and bright as strawberry jam. It is essential to use jam sugar, which contains pectin, as figs contain no pectin. Alternatively use granulated sugar and powdered or liquid pectin, following the manufacturer’s instructions on the label.
Fresh fig jam
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(Makes about 3 x 400 g/14 oz jars)
1 kg ripe purple figs
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1 kg 750 g jam sugar
Peel and quarter the figs, put them in a bowl and cover them with the sugar. Leave overnight. Simmer the fig skins in a small saucepan with about 200 ml water for about 15 minutes, strain them and reserve the lovely red juice.
Next day, in a non-reactive sauce pan combine the fruit and sugar with the fig juice, and cook gently until the sugar has dissolved. Boil according to the instructions on the sugar packet, until setting point is reached, which may be as little as 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat then pot the jam in sterilized hot jars, seal and label.
Fig and blue cheese flat bread
250 g strong bread flour
1 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoons fast-action easy-blend yeast granules
1 tablespoons olive oil
Generous 150 ml warm water
1 large mild onion
Extra virgin olive oil
6-8 large ripe figs
200 g blue cheese
In a bowl mix the dry ingredients for the dough. Make a well in the centre, and pour in the liquid ingredients. Draw the flour into the centre, and mix well, until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl. You can, of course, make the dough in a food processor. In Gozo I buy my dough from the baker; I wonder if some of the seemingly hundreds of bakeries in north London might be persuaded to sell dough?
Turn onto the dough a floured surface, and knead for five to ten minutes. Shape it into a ball, and put it into a lightly greased bowl. Cover loosely with lightly oiled cling-film, and let it rise in a moderately warm place for about an hour until doubled in size. Turn out onto a floured work top and punch out the air. Knead lightly again until smooth, then roll out and stretch the dough and place on as baking sheet or pizza stone.
While the dough is proving, make the topping. Peel and thinly slice the onion and gently fry in olive oil until soft and golden. Remove the stalk from the figs and cut into quarters or smaller wedges. Crumble the blue cheese. Brush the dough with extra virgin olive oil and arrange the onion, the figs and finally the blue cheese on top of the dough.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200° C/400°F/gas mark 6 for about 25 minutes or until the dough is crisp and baked through. Serve very hot.