When it comes to things edible we have a lot to be thankful of from the ancients of the Mediterranean basin. Imagine if you can, who would have first thought that a horribly spiny thistle, possessing bitterness beyond belief, could be transformed into the classic Artichokes a la Grecque, or that olives, equally bitter and looking poisonously purple when ripe, could be cured with salt water to become a delicacy and in fact a signature ingredient of a entire region. What about caper leaves, and to be honest caper buds and berries, then there are apricot kernels, which though full of toxic Prussic Acid (aka Hydrogen Cyanide), could be turned in to the delicious liqueur Amaretto, by steeping them in neat alcohol and adding caramel. Of course the list goes on, and includes the subject of todays blog, something that really is seemingly thoroughly inedible.
You see, its midsummer here in the Barossa, and of course that means we are moving closer to vintage. It also means the ancient, gnarly, fig tree in our garden (see my previous post “What’s with the Figgin Seasons..”) is chockablock full of tiny green fruit, awaiting that final flush of growth and ripening that runs parallel to the Shiraz harvest in our locale. What’s more, as summer progresses we see hordes of birdlife descend to feast on the fruits of our valley at this time of year. As a consequence, each year we lose at least 60% of our fig crop to our avian friends and neighborhood possums. Just for once it would be nice to be able to use some of these fruits before they are either decimated by wildlife, or end up ripening so fast that I can’t keep up with them.
But who or why on earth would you want to eat a green fig? At this stage in their ripeness, (or lack of) green figs are about as attractive a food as an olive straight from the tree or an artichoke bud straight from plant. They are hard, fibrous and oozing a irritating, lactic sap when cut. In fact, they are exactly the kind of thing the Mediterranean food alchemists would have had fun with. But I have eaten preserved green figs in my travels and with a little research I was able to discover numerous recipes designed to make these inedible “flower buds” delicious The majority were for unripe figs cooked long and slow in a heavy sugar syrup and destined to accompany cheeses once fresh figs run out. With a bit of a tweak I have come up with something unmistakably Mediterranean, one which sees them stuffed with pistachio nuts and candied in a spiced, rose flavored, wine syrup. Green Figs and Pistachio Nuts in Rose Scented Wine Syrup
24 small unripe green figs
24 pistachio nuts – shelled
¼ cup dried rose petals
4 cardamom pods
1 lemon – peel and juice
2 cups sugar
½ cup honey
1 cup water
1 cup white wine
Cut a small cross into the base of each fig, place in a stainless steel saucepan cover with cold water and bring to a simmer, cook gently until figs are just tender.
While figs are poaching make a little spice bag containing the lemon peel, rose petals and spices using cheese cloth or a little square of chux cloth, tie securely with kitchen twine and reserve.
When tender drain and refresh figs briefly with cold water and then drain for a couple of minutes before stuffing each fig with a pistachio kernel by inserting it through the previously made cross in the base.
Meanwhile prepare a syrup with the sugar, honey, water, wine and lemon juice and bring to a simmer, skim any impurities from syrup and pour over stuffed figs and spice bag.
Bring back to a gentle simmer and cook until syrup is rich and thick (2-3 hours), remove figs if they are getting over cooked and reserve them to place back in syrup once it has reduced to the desired consistency