Preserved figs aren’t a food that’s 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. 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.
The fig never really caught on in America.
Even though figs are the most popular food mentioned in the bible and America was originally settled by avid bible readers, the fig never caught on here. There weren’t any fig trees planted in the U.S. until the first one came to San Diego in the mid 1700s. Commercial cultivation didn’t catch on until the late 1800s. Even today, we’re most likely to have eaten figs in newtons than we are fresh or, as we have them here, dried. Most of the fresh figs you see in U.S. produce markets are one of two varieties, Common or Mission, the latter named for the Franciscan monks who planted them. They’re both big with relatively thick skin.
The ones we feature, dried on their own or with chocolate or nuts, are often smaller with thinner skins. The Calabacita, a tiny fig that grows in only one village in Spain, in chocolate dipped figs. The Pajarero, paired with Marcona almonds in fig and almond cake. The sweet Portuguese pingo de miel. And the dotato from Calabria.
The dotato is the cream of our fig crop.
Picked and preserved by Franco Rao once a year in his home town of Cosenza in Calabria, far southern Italy. Franco starts with dotato figs that are left on the tree until they’re fully ripe, beginning to dry and concentrate. After hand picking, they’re caramelized over twenty-four hours 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 the figs a roasted, caramel-sweet flavor that’s irresistible.
Next comes my favorite 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.
Moist, luscious and slightly honey sweet, Franco Rao’s figs will be a hit wherever you serve them.
Fig serving tips
Figs with cheese is very common in Italy and Spain, so pair some with any of those country’s cheeses. I like the combination of figs and saltier, tangy sheep’s milk cheeses. Pecorino Toscano and Manchego are great choices.
Figs and ham. Italian prosciutto, Spanish jamon serrano, American cured ham. They all make natural accompaniments.
Figs and yogurt are a natural combination. I love adding a couple of Franco Rao’s figs, plucked from. under the fig leaves, to fresh, plain yogurt for breakfast or a late night snack.