Pantry Raid! Forgive figs their outward appearance
This time of the year, the winter chill chases us into our warm jammies by the time dinner hits the table, even on date night. While we’re peering into our pantries, looking for some spark of romance flickering softly in the far corners of the shelves, staring back at us are beans, quinoa and canned tomatoes. Ahh, nothing says date night like a bowl full of beans.
No! No matter how great we are at dressing beans up, we need something a little more exotic, a little sexy if you will (to make up for our pajama-wearin’ ways). Even ridiculously busy, thrifty ladies like us need some lovin’ in our pantries now and then, and we think we found it. How about this little bag of shriveled, nearly-inedible-looking dried figs? Stay with us here, folks, we have reasons-a-plenty to be excited about this unassuming pantry find.
While fresh figs are oozing with voluptuousness and R-rated movie potential, they are available for only a short time in the summer and are extremely perishable, lasting about two days after you bring them home — not long-term commitment material in the least. Dried figs, on the other hand, may not make the best first impression, but are hiding an inner beauty that just needs a little nuzzling and coercing to come out of the pantry. And couldn’t we all use a little extra nuzzling from time to time? Oh, and they’ll stick around patiently for up to a year if kept cool and dry, a reasonable request, we think.
Dried figs on their own are a respectable nosh — a little sweet, a little musky, chewy and pleasantly crunchy. And if flavor alone isn’t enough, you can snack happily with the knowledge that with just one cup of figs, you can pack in about 25 percent of your daily calcium, magnesium, potassium and copper needs and almost 40 percent of your daily manganese requirement. Pretty impressive, huh?
We also think that all the fiber they provide is equally impressive but we’re trying our best at romance here, and frankly, fiber isn’t all that romantic.
We had a heck of a time choosing our favorite recipes for this month’s column; our little figgy friends seem to be equally wonderful in both sweet and savory applications. We’re hoping what we chose will make your hearts flutter at the hidden potential and beauty that these little pantry jewels have to offer.
This jam makes an incredible gift, and makes you seem very exotic. To ensure romance in your pantry at the twist of a lid, you can actually can the jam according to the directions on the box or jar lid — or you can refrigerate and consume within a couple weeks, because who are we kidding?
Makes 4 pints
2 ¼ cups dried figs
5 cups water
½ cup lemon juice
3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon dark rum
4 one-pint jam jars & lids
1. Place figs in four-quart pot. Add water, cover and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let the figs sit in the hot water for at least an hour to plump them. (Don’t you dare lift that lid!)
2. After an hour, remove figs from the water with a spoon, reserving water.
3. Cut stems off figs with scissors and chop figs medium coarse.
4. Add lemon juice and sugar to the fig water and bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer (uncovered) for five to 10 minutes.
5. Add cardamom and chopped figs, bring back to another boil, let simmer 15 – 20 more minutes until jam is slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the rum.
6. Ladle into pint jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace.
Balsamic-Fig Braised Chicken with Wild Rice Medley
We couldn’t think of a more beautifully simple and luscious way to dress up an otherwise pedestrian chicken and rice dinner. If you’re not a fan of wild rice, by all means substitute with another grain. The rich fig sauce gathers the whole meal together and gives it a big saucy hug.
Serves 4 or 2 with leftovers
¾ cup wild rice
¾ cup short grain brown rice
¼ cup quinoa
1/3 cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon hazelnut or olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Chicken and Fig Sauce:
4 boneless chicken breast halves
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 ½ cups chicken broth, more on reserve if needed
12 dried Mission figs, halved lengthwise
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
Rosemary sprigs for garnish
1. Bring four-and-a-half cups water to a boil in a large pot. Add wild rice and boil uncovered for 10 minutes.
2. Reduce heat to a simmer and stir in brown rice. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. After about 30 minutes, check to see if any of the wild rice grains have split open. Once this happens, stir in quinoa and simmer 10 to 12 minutes longer, adding more water if necessary.
3. Turn off heat and let grains sit covered.
4. While grains are cooking, season chicken with salt and pepper.
5. Heat oil in a large pan over high heat. Sear the chicken breasts on both sides, about 4 minutes, and remove to a large plate.
6. Reduce heat to medium and add onions to the pan. Sautée three minutes until lightly browned.
7. Pour balsamic vinegar into pan with onions and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.
8. Cook over high heat for 1 minute.
9. Stir in broth and figs and bring to a boil. Add chicken, cover and simmer 25-45 minutes until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Add more broth if needed.
10. When the chicken is done, transfer to a serving platter. Using an immersion blender or stand blender, blend the fig sauce into a coarse purée. Stir in fresh rosemary and season to taste. Simmer uncovered to thicken if desired.
11. Transfer the hot grains to a serving bowl and toss in chopped hazelnuts and olive or hazelnut oil. Spoon rice medley around chicken, then spoon fig sauce over chicken and some of the rice. Garnish with rosemary sprigs.
Sexy Pantry Sandwich
We’re not going to lie to you; this sandwich will make your knees weak and your heart flutter. This nuzzles up nicely to a spinach salad dressed with balsamic vinaigrette for a sweet little dinner date. We’re partial to freshly sliced bread, but your favorite pre-sliced bread will work great too – and if you’re feeling fancy, foccacia or ciabatta bread would be the pièce de résistance.
Makes 2 sandwiches (wink, wink)
4 tablespoons fig jam (recipe above)
4 slices of good bread, thickly cut
4 slices thinly sliced prosciutto or another ham
3 large balls of fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
Extra-virgin olive oil
1. Preheat a large frying pan over medium heat. Spread the fig jam on each slice of bread. Place the prosciutto on two slices and the mozzarella on the other two. Close the slices together and brush olive oil on the outside of the sandwich.
2. Place the sandwiches in your preheated pan and set a heavy pan on top (we don’t own sandwiches presses, this mimics it pretty well – or just press firmly with your spatula for the same effect.) Each side will take a few minutes to get crispy and golden. Watch your heat so the bread doesn’t brown before your cheese melts.
- good bread
- fresh mozzarella
- 4 boneless chicken breast halves
- chicken broth
- fresh rosemary
- dried figs
- ground cardamom
- dark rum
- extra-virgin olive oil
- wild rice
- brown rice
- balsamic vinegar