Grilled spiced quail with fig and date salad. Photo: Jennifer Soo
Figs are one of my favourite ingredients, as they are so versatile in both savoury and sweet applications. Black or deep-purple figs and green figs are the most common.
Under-ripe figs don't really ripen further once picked: they just begin to soften and deteriorate. So choose figs that are in perfect condition and clean, dry and free from cracked skin, soft spots, blemishes or bruising. They should feel heavy for their size and smell perfumed and earthily sweet. If they start to smell sour, that is a good indication they are deteriorating and starting to ferment.
Fig puff pastry, lemon mascarpone and pistachio. Photo: Jennifer Soo
Be careful with the shelf life of fresh figs as it is a brief one; store them in the fridge and try to eat them within two days of purchase. Protect them from knocks as they bruise and spoil easily.
Figs are perfect eaten raw in salads, grilled with game birds or lamb, or incorporated into sweets such as tarts, cakes and puddings. I often buy cheap over-ripe figs, which are wonderful for jams, preserves and ice-creams. A top treat is to cut figs in half, sprinkle the cut side with sugar and grill them to a caramelised sticky-toffee consistency, then serve with fresh blackberries and vanilla ice-cream. Just sensational.
GRILLED SPICED QUAIL WITH FIG AND DATE SALAD
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt flakes
1/2 tsp five-spice powder
4 quails, butterflied
4 ripe figs
6 dates, dried
1 tsp aged balsamic vinegar
4 slices local prosciutto
2 cups watercress or
Preheat barbecue or grill pan.
Mix together 2 tbsp of olive oil, salt and five-spice, then rub all over quail and set aside to marinate while preparing remaining ingredients.
Slice figs into neat wedges.
Remove stones from dates and roughly chop, mix with remaining olive oil, balsamic vinegar, prosciutto and cress, then arrange on serving plates.
Grill quails on hot grill for 4-5 minutes on each side until nicely charred on outside and pink and moist inside. Place on plates alongside the salad of figs and serve. If you wish, you can grill figs for a few minutes until they are warm with a jam-like interior.
FIG PUFF PASTRY, LEMON MASCARPONE AND PISTACHIO
1 sheet puff pastry (cut into 4 rectangles approx 3cm x 8cm)
1 tbsp icing sugar, with a sieve ready for dusting
1/2 cup sugar
¼ cup water
1 tbsp orange blossom water
4 ripe figs, cut into chunks
2 tbsp pistachio nuts, peeled and roughly chopped
elderflower or similar flower to garnish
Preheat oven to 190°C.
Dust the 4 pieces of puff pastry with icing sugar, place on a non-stick, baking paper-lined oven tray and bake for 12-15 minutes until crisp, puffed and golden brown. Allow to cool.
Whisk together mascarpone and cream till combined and thick, then mix in a little grated lemon zest and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Place sugar, water, orange blossom water, a little lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice into a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for a couple of minutes, then allow to cool to room temperature.
Separate a couple of layers of the puff pastry from each rectangle and spoon in the mascarpone and figs, then sandwich back together and place on your serving plates. Drizzle with the orange blossom syrup and sprinkle with the nuts and flowers.