Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Fig Tree is Working!

Late last October, I raced around getting ready for a 3 week trip to France. I got the house vacation-ready, paid bills online, halted the mail, packed, got some Euros and sent my itinerary to my family. The day I was leaving, I gave the yard a last look and I gasped. I forgot to plant the fig tree!

I'd bought a 4' tall Brown Turkey Fig in Pineville and it reminded me of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree. I was told to plant it before November, so on October 31st, an hour before I left for the airport, I dug a hole in the hard red clay, and tried not to get myself dirty.

When I got back late November, the leaves had fallen off, and all that was left was a scraggly brown stick for a trunk. I watered it, apologized,  and told it that I hoped the winter wouldn't be too bad. Joe Savino, my sweet elderly neighbor up in Long Island City, NY used to wrap his fig tree in burlap, and put a blanket and a big bucket over the foliage to keep it from being exposed to the ice, snow and below freezing temps. In Autumn, Joe would wait for me to pass by the bench in front of the dry cleaners where he'd sit with his lifelong friends, and he'd hand me a small brown paper bag filled with sweet, ripe figs. So thoughtful! I'd get some prosciutto and melon, and sip some red wine in front of the fireplace. Wow! When my commute home became less predictable for him...I could either take the subway or ferry and it changed my walk home...he'd leave the bag inside my storm door. Between Joe and my 2009 Fig Awakening in Tuscany, I've dreamt of having my own tree.

As I put away the shovel on October 31, I was a little worried for my little tree, but I didn't wrap it for the winter. I'm 12 hours south of NYC, we had just 3 icy days, and Spring weather arrived here by late February.

9 months later---a very healthy and happy tree!

I've been watering the stick since late November and it seems quite content tucked back against the fence, getting sun for most of the day. It could grow 20' tall and 8' wide, so I'll be watching it to see where to prune as it matures.

I didn't think I'd get viable fruit this first season, but I saw a handful of green figs last week! I thought that birds or bees would nab them before they had a chance to ripen.

I tugged gently on them today, and 'harvested' (!) my first little batch of 5 figs---perfectly ripe and sweet!!!

I fought the urge to pop them right into my mouth. I was inspired, so for lunch today I made a version of a Grape & Fennel salad that I had this week at a Greek restaurant. Theirs was pretty good, but it was lacking protein and depth of flavor. This is what I came up with and boy was it GOOD! I think I'll have it for dinner, too.

Baby Spinach
1/2 Fennel bulb, with a few fronds reserved for mincing
Grilled chicken breast, sliced
Figs, sliced
Ricotta Salata cheese, crumbled (mmmmm...salty and tangy)
Lemon vinaigrette

For this salad, I prefer a rounder flavor than raw fennel, so while the chicken breast was on the grill, I drizzled some olive oil on sliced fennel (on a piece of tin foil) and grilled it for just a few minutes. Don't roast the life out of it~~you want to maintain the crisp texture.

Just toss all the ingredients together in a bowl, and you'll have a salad that's the perfect balance of sweet, salty, crunchy and citrus-y.

The Greek restaurant's version does not add chicken, and they use raw fennel, grapes and some sauteed shallot. The figs don't need competition from grapes! I actually like mine better...and nothing beats picking figs from my very own tree. Thank you Joe Savino and thank you Italy for inspiring me!


  1. What is Ricotta Salata cheese? Oh, how I love figs, too. I've got some great recipes, but no fig tree in sight. Cucumbers, yes. Lots and LOTS of cucumbers!

  2. Figs are pretty readily available this time of year--check Trader Joes for Black California Figs!

    Here's a proper description from Ricotta Salata is a dried, salty, aged sheep's milk cheese from Sicily. Ricotta means re-cooked and Salata means salted. It is sometimes called Ricotta secca, or Ricotta Pecorino. The cheese is made from the whey part of the sheep milk and is very white.

    Ricotta Salata is made from fresh ricotta that has been pressed, salted and aged for at least 90 days, the result is a firm cheese, ideal for grating and often used in salads or pasta dishes.