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Sweet, savory ideas for fresh figs

Other than the Fig Newton, I dare you to name one food you eat that has fig in it (cue “Jeopardy!” music and say your answer in the form of a question, please).

This exotic, tender, purplish green fruit, a fixture in ancient manuscripts, is now in season and ready to be plucked from your produce sections and celebrated with a festival of fig dishes.

The best way to tell if the fig you’re buying is ripe and ready to eat is to feel it. Don’t squeeze too hard, but it should give just a little to the touch, sort of like a peach.

A fig tastes equally delicious fresh or cooked in a dish. It also works equally well in sweet or savory dishes.

There is a real bonus to eating figs because they are like a vitamin pill and health food all wrapped up in a delicious fruity package. Figs are also full of antioxidants and contain more fiber, potassium, calcium and iron than most other fruits.

Be warned, however: Fresh figs are extremely perishable and bruise easily. They must be kept refrigerated and eaten quickly after they are picked or bought as they tend to spoil quickly at room temperature.

Prime season for fresh figs is mid-July through late-August or early September, so now is the time to try these fig recipes and have some fun. You can, of course, get dried figs year-round.

Honey Walnut Fig Tart

2/3 cup flour

2/3 cup finely chopped walnuts

3 tablespoons cold butter

2 tablespoons sugar

1 egg yolk, beaten

1/2 to 1 teaspoon ice water

Caramel Fig Sauce:

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup white wine

4 fresh figs, stems removed and chopped or 8 dried California figs chopped

1/4 cup whipping cream

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Honey Cream:

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened

2 tablespoons honey

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

8 dried California figs or 4 fresh figs, stems removed and sliced or quartered

Mix flour, walnuts, butter and sugar together with pastry blender or fork until it resembles coarse crumbs. Beat egg yolk and water together; stir into flour mixture and knead for about 15 seconds on a lightly floured board. Roll out and, with a 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut into 16 discs. Run finger around edges to form a shallow rim. Transfer to lightly greased baking sheet and chill for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes; cool.

For sauce: Melt butter with sugar and cook for 2 minutes in small saucepan. Stir in wine and figs; cook 2 minutes more. Add cream and cinnamon; stir well and remove from heat. Cool slightly; then purée until smooth. Set aside.

For cream: Stir cream cheese, honey and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Divide and spread evenly onto crusts. Spoon a thin layer of Caramel Fig Sauce on top and spread evenly. Arrange sliced figs over all and serve with additional sauce to spoon on.

Fig and Onion Crisps

1 loaf French or Italian bread baguette, sliced into 1/2 -inch thick slices

2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 red onion thinly sliced

1 teaspoon sugar

2/3 cup cream cheese

8 fresh figs

Fresh or dried rosemary

In broiler, lightly toast bread slices on both sides. In a small frying pan, combine the oil and garlic and sauté it until the garlic is soft. Brush the oil mixture on both sides of toast slices saving any remaining oil. Cool the toast on wire racks.

In same pan, sauté the sliced onion with the sugar until it’s soft and golden brown. Spread each bread slice with cream cheese and top with spoonful of sauteed onion. Remove the stems from the top of the figs and slice each fig into quarters. Arrange one or two pieces of fig on the top of the bread. These can be served at room temperature or placed under a broiler for 1 to 2 minutes to serve hot. Garnish with a sprig of fresh rosemary or a sprinkle of dried rosemary. Makes 30 to 36 depending on how thick you cut the slices.

Rosemary Fig and Chicken Kebabs

2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, divided

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, divided

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

4 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into 1-inch chunks

16 figs, trimmed and halved

Nonstick cooking spray

Coarse salt to taste

In a bowl, combine 2 tablespoons oil, 1/4 cup vinegar, 1 1/2 tablespoons rosemary, thyme and black pepper to taste. Add chicken and toss to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes (may be done up to 2 hours ahead).

In a separate bowl, combine remaining oil, vinegar, rosemary and black pepper to taste. Add figs, toss gently to coat, and set aside until chicken finishes marinating. Position oven rack about 6 inches from heat source and preheat broiler to high. Line a broiler pan or baking sheet with foil and coat with nonstick cooking spray. Thread the chicken and figs onto skewers, alternating as you go, and place on broiler pan. You may need to do two batches. Season chicken and figs on both sides with salt to taste.

Broil until chicken is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Turn skewers and broil until chicken is cooked through, about 3 to 5 more minutes. If working in batches, transfer to a plate, cover with foil to keep warm, and repeat with remaining skewers. Serve immediately.

– Recipe modified from California Fresh Fig Growers Association – Modified from NPR.org Slice of Life is a food column that offers recipes, cooking advice and information on new food products. It appears Sundays. If you have a question about cooking or a food item, contact Eileen Goltz at ztlog@verizon.net or write The Journal Gazette, 600 W. Main St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802.

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