I love finding out silly, fun facts about food; peanuts are not really nuts, they are in fact a legume; a bunch of bananas is more accurately called a hand; or that strawberries are not berries at all. I do often get quizzical looks when imparting the knowledge unsolicited over a dinner table, but it usually matched with interest.
One of the most interesting, if a little macabre, food facts is the tale of the wasp and the fig. The two live in mutual dependence of each other, it is the tiny fig wasp that helps this unusual plant to survive, but often the wasp pays the price. What we think of as a fig is in fact an inverted flower rather than a fruit, like all flowers it needs pollen to pollinate it, so it can reproduce. A fig tree produces both a male and female figs, if the wasp lays her eggs in a male fig, which does not ripen into an edible 'fruit', she will find it a perfect place for her brood to grow. But, if the wasp crawls into a female fig by mistake she cannot get back out, but she carriers with her the precious pollen that allows that fig to swell and ripen. This fig will produce a special enzyme which then breaks down the insect's body into proteins that get absorbed by the plant.
Perhaps that is not the best preamble to a recipe section containing figs but nature is fascinating and the results of this strange relationship, built up over thousands of years, are a nutritious, tasty ingredient that can be used in many different ways. Fig jam or chutney will preserve the figs throughout winter or simply roasting them and serving them with cheese and bread can make for a satisfying lunch. The three recipes printed here are all for sweet desserts. The fig rolls are a little niggly to make, but they taste good and will last a few days in an air tight box.
175g of butter
170g of golden caster sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
200g of self raising flour, sieved
50g of ground almonds
the zest of three oranges
100g of semi dried figs, finely chopped
2 tsp of vanilla
80 mls of cream
80g of white chocolate chips
3 fresh figs, quartered
a handful of slivered almonds
Line a 2 lb loaf tin with parchment and pre heat your oven to 170 degrees.
Beat the butter and sugar until pale, and creamy in colour. Slowly add the eggs one at a time. Add the flour until combined then add in the ground almonds, orange zest, dried figs and vanilla.
Scoop the mixture into your prepared tin and bake for 55 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin until you can remove it comfortably, then place it on a wire rack.
To make the white chocolate glaze heat the cream over a low heat until shivering, which will happen just before it boils. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate chips until melted. Allow to firm up slightly then pour it over your cooled cake. Place the fresh figs on top and sprinkle with the almonds.
8 fresh figs
1 tbs of honey
the zest of 2 oranges
300g of ricotta
50g of unsalted, shelled pistachio nuts, roughly chopped and toasted
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees and line a large flat baking tray with parchment.
Cut a small cross shape in the top of each fig and pinch the base slightly so the top of the fig opens up. Place a teaspoon of honey into each fig and sprinkle in some orange zest. Place each fig onto the baking tray and bake for about ten minutes.
Whisk the ricotta with the remaining honey.
Serve the figs warm with a scoop of the ricotta and a sprinkling of the pistachio nuts.
150g of plain flour
75g of wholemeal flour
1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp of ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp of powdered ginger
45g of golden caster sugar
2 egg yolks
140g of cold butter, cubed
200g of semi dried figs, chopped
45g of golden caster sugar
the zest of 2 oranges
Mix the two flours, and spices together in a large bowl.
Stir the sugar into the egg yolks and set aside so that it dissolves slightly.
Rub the butter into the flour mixture until it looks like rough breadcrumbs. Add in the egg and sugar and bring everything together with a fork, then with your hands until it forms a smooth dough. Do not over knead as the less you handle it the better. Turn the pastry onto a sheet of baking parchment, wrap it up and place in the fridge for at least an hour.
To make the filling place the ingredients into a heavy based saucepan, add water so the figs are just about covered and simmer for about ten minutes. Blitz gently with a soup gun or in a blender and set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and line two flat baking trays with parchment.
Gentry roll the pastry into a rectangle shape about 12 by 8 inches, cut this in half lengthwise so that you have two long rectangles. There is quite a lot of butter in the pastry so it can be crumbly.
Scoop half of the filling along the long of edge of each rectangle. Brush some water on the exposed pastry and roll up and seal. Score and press gently with a fork to secure the seal. Place with the seam side down onto the tray.
Bake the long rolls for about twenty minutes until golden. When still warm cut them with a sharp knife to the desired size for your biscuits. Allow to cool on a wire rack.