Brothers Franco and Antonio Rao preserve one helluva fig. Preserved figs aren’t a food lighting up many culinary radar screens, but I think they should be. They are great in all sorts of ways . . . with yogurt for breakfast, with cheese as a lunch, snack or appetizer, with ice cream for dessert. And as a gift for someone with an eye for rustic foods with real flavor, you won’t find much better.
We flew these in immediately after the fall harvest. The Raos start with dotato figs—typical for the Cosenza region of Calabria—that are left on the tree until they’re fully ripe, beginning to dry and concentrate. They’re picked then caramelized in a low-temperature oven. That’s a step almost no one else takes because it adds extra time and expense, but the difference it makes in flavor is huge. It gives them a roasted, caramel-sweet flavor that’s irresistible.
Next, I love this part: a handful of figs are molded into a sphere the size of a big apple and wrapped in aromatic fig leaves. It’s a traditional way to store them, rustic and attractive. They can only make 300 per day, because only a few people are entrusted to make the fig balls.
Moist, luscious and slightly honey-sweet, the figs will be a hit wherever you serve them.