Mouth-watering Figs!

Figs love the Mediterranean climate in Italy. You can find these yummy fruits in family gardens all over Italy ripening from September – October. Depending on the variety they are available from summer thru fall.

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They date back all the way to ancient times. They are even mentioned in the Bible. In ancient Rome, the fig was deemed sacred and it was thought to be a bad omen if a tree perished. It was said that every house had one and they have been found for centuries in Tuscany.

Okay like we need any more reasons to visit Italy!!!! Bologna-1Italians have loads of traditions as I discovered. Figs are the fruit of the Ficus tree and some believe it is good luck to have a fig tree in your yard. They are a great source of fiber and full of vitamins and minerals. They can add a burst of sweetness to all kinds of dishes with their soft, chewy texture.

Sadly, where I live they cannot over-winter outside and I just don’t have enough room to bring a tree inside. Once a fig ripens they don’t last very long and perish pretty quickly. Select figs with nice deep color with no bruises and with a sweet fragrance. Do not wash them and store them in your refrigerator for maybe two days max .

Here are some ideas on how to use them.

I love figs with some prosciutto, goat cheese and balsamic vinegar or honey. This is a recipe by Ina Garten that I adapted by adding balsamic vinegar at the end called Roasted Figs with Prosciutto which you can find on Food Network. This is a lovely quick appetizer.

Roasted Figs with Prosciutto

Ingredients

20 large fresh ripe figs (about 1 1/4 pounds)

20 thin slices Italian prosciutto (8 ounces)

Good olive oil

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Snip the hard stems off the figs and cut the figs in half lengthwise through the stem. With a small sharp knife, cut the prosciutto in half lengthwise into inch-wide strips. Wrap a strip of prosciutto around the center of each fig half, with the ends overlapping. Brush with olive oil and arrange cut-side up on a sheet pan.
  2. Roast the figs for 10 minutes, until the prosciutto is a little crisp and the figs are warmed through. Serve warm.
    • Level: Easy
    • Total: 30 min
    • Active: 20 min
    • Yield: 10 servings

How about on a pizza or crostini?
Simple prep is best to keep that luscious flavor and texture.
Have you tried fig jam? I love it on cheddar cheese or apples.
Try a panini maybe with ham, cheese and fig jam. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

I made this Flatbread before my figs were gonzo! Yum!

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Fig Goat Cheese Flatbread by Last Ingredient

 

Fig Goat Cheese Flatbread

Makes 1-12-inch flatbread (I used store bought pizza dough)

For dough 2/3 cup warm water 1/2 teaspoon dry active yeast 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar 1/2 teaspoon olive oil plus more for bowl 1-1/2 cups bread flour plus more for work surface 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For flatbread:
2 teaspoons olive oil
10-12 fresh figs, sliced
1/4 cup roughly chopped walnuts
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
1 handful baby arugula
1 teaspoon minced chives
1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
In a small bowl, combine the water, yeast, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon olive oil. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add the yeast mixture and process until a ball of dough forms. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled in volume, about 2 hours. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface.
Place the dough directly on the grates and grill for 3 minutes with the lid closed until the crust has grill marks and has puffed up. Turn over the crust and grill for an additional 2 minutes. Remove the crust from the grill.
Brush with olive oil and arrange the figs in a single layer leaving a 1/2-inch border at the edge. Scatter the walnuts, goat cheese and arugula on top. Sprinkle with chives, sea salt and pepper before serving.

Here’s another:

FIG, GOAT CHEESE & PANCETTA CROSTINI

By: Giada DeLaurentiis

SERVING SIZE:

20 Crostini

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups dry red wine, such as Pinot noir

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon honey

6 dried Mission figs (about 4 ounces)

2 whole star anise

3 ounces pancetta, sliced into 1/4-inch thick slices

1 loaf country white bread or baguette, cut into 1/2-inch slices, and then cut into shapes, optional

2 tablespoons olive oil

8 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature

2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 small lemon)

1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons sliced fresh mint, for sprinkling

INSTRUCTIONS:

In a medium saucepan combine the wine, 2 tablespoons of the honey, the figs and star anise. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the figs are plump and tender, about 20 minutes.

Transfer the figs to a cutting board to cool for 5 minutes. Then cut the figs into 1/4-inch slices. Discard the anise and bring the liquid back up to a boil over medium heat. Cook until the mixture is thick and reduced to 1/4 cup, about 10 minutes. Transfer the syrup to a small bowl and cool to room temperature.

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.

Place the pancetta on a baking sheet and bake until the slices are crispy and brown, about 6 minutes. Set aside to cool then roughly chop.

Brush the bread slices with the oil. Place on a baking sheet and bake until lightly toasted, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack.

In a medium bowl combine the goat cheese, lemon juice, remaining 1 teaspoon honey, the chopped mint and the salt. Spread 1 tablespoon of the goat cheese mixture onto each crostini. Top with fig slices, pancetta crumbles and a sprinkle of sliced mint. Just before serving, drizzle with the reserved syrup.

Active Time
30 MIN
Total Time
45 MIN
Yield
Serves : Makes three 1/2-pint jars

This supersimple fig jam recipe—just figs, sugar and lemon juice—can be easily upgraded with white port and rosemary for an extra special treat.

How to Make It

Step 1

In a large, nonreactive saucepan, toss the fig pieces with the sugar and let stand, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until the sugar is mostly dissolved and the figs are juicy.

Step 2

Add the lemon juice and water and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Simmer the fig jam over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is soft and the liquid runs off the side of a spoon in thick, heavy drops, about 20 minutes.

Step 3

Spoon the jam into three 1/2-pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch of space at the top. Close the jars and let cool to room temperature. Store the jam in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

Notes

Variation: Substitute 1/2 cup of white port for the water and add one 4-inch sprig of rosemary with the lemon juice; discard the rosemary before jarring.

 

Never be afraid to try new things! I have plenty of suggestions for your Italy trip planning in my blogs. Here is a link to Bologna, the food capital of the world!

 

The Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre can be found between Genoa and Pisa and is an easy train ride from Milan or Florence.

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The 5 towns of the Cinque Terre are a UNESCO World Heritage Site stretching for 6 miles on the Italian Riviera but are very different from their glitzy neighbors.  We will explore each of the towns as we go.

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Monterosso coastline

Many people who plan to visit these towns also plan to hike at least part of the trail so I’ll start there. Heads up- starting April 1, 2019 a new law takes effect banning hikers from wearing flip flops or face fines. This seems like a no-brainer to me since I had on hiking boots but we saw many people who probably decided on the spur of the moment to hike part of the trail and were not prepared either with the proper footwear, water, snacks, first aid for bees, cuts, etc.

Hiking trails are available from Monterosso to Vernazza to Corniglia.  Recently the path has been closed between Corniglia , Manarola and Riomaggiore due to landslides so be sure to check if they are open. You can hike in either direction.

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We hopped the local train from Santa Margherita Ligure, our home base, to Monterosso al Mare and hiked to Vernazza then after lunch grabbed a ferry to Manarola. Plan your time wisely! It was insanely hot when we were there in early September and we encountered quite a few hikers.  Move over and let people who are quicker pass.

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This was the easy part!

Don’t overestimate how much you can accomplish in one day! The hike is strenuous, no matter your age, and exhausting!

Don’t forget to enjoy each town you do visit remembering why you went there in the first place. This section of the Italian Riviera is breathtakingly beautiful but sadly, too much tourism, like in Venice, is threatening these gorgeous places.  Be considerate and don’t ruin it for the next guests.  The area is fragile and needs to be preserved for us all to enjoy. Goes without saying in my book!!!!

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Make sure when buying your tickets for ferries or hiking that you are paying for the right thing.  We were sold hiking tickets in Monterosso but after hiking about 15 minutes up a steep hill we were told at a checkpoint that we had the wrong tickets- more money and too late to turn back!

Be prepared as things run slowly here! Our train back was well over an hour late unlike the Trenitalia trains that run all over Italy.  The local trains are not as prompt where the Trenitalia trains are very prompt!!! Don’t be late! No one will wait for you! Buy your tickets in advance is great advice!!

Your choices are limited for staying in one of the 5 towns for the most part so you might consider staying nearby and making day trips to the Cinque Terre and Portofino. Some towns to consider are: Santa Margherita Ligure, La Spezia, Levanto, and Rapalo. Leave the car elsewhere.

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Santa Margherita Ligure
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Portofino

Monterosso al Mare

This town has a beautiful stretch of beach where you can just hang out and relax and then explore the town’s architecture in both the New town and the Old town or just start your hike.

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Monterosso al Mare
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Monterosso- play time!
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Monterosso al Mare coastline

Vernazza

This town is so picturesque with its beautiful natural harbor and tiny narrow cobblestone streets and cute restaurants flanking the small Piazza. Linger along the breakwater built only in 1972 that surrounds the harbor. Take in the sights in Piazza Marconi and watch the boats come and go as children play in the waters.

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In case you didn’t hike in from Monterosso be sure to take a few extra minutes to find the narrow stairs that mark the start of the trail that lead you up to the most quintessential view of Vernazza.

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Vernazza

The harborfront church of Santa Margherita is unusual for its east facing entry rather than the more traditional western orientation.

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Santa Margherita church

This town dates mostly from the 12th and 15th centuries. The color of the buildings are regulated (known as ‘Ligurian pastel’) MAGICAL!!!

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Just like many parts of Italy the hillsides around the Cinque Terre are dotted with olive and wine vineyards. Be sure to walk uphill in each town to avoid the crowds of the waterfront.

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Manarola

Manarola is the last town we visited as it was already late and our train ride back was about an hour and then we were delayed another hour plus. The town seems to hang in a ravine and is relatively quiet. These towns all seem to hang on the cliffs like on the Amalfi Coast and Positano. Manarola is probably the steepest of the 5 towns. Be sure when there to head uphill out of the harbor area where the crowds are less dense. The hills here are also covered with vineyards and lemon groves. For lovely views late in the day head up the trail towards the town’s cemetery.

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Manarola

Sadly we did not have enough time or an extra day to get to Corniglia or Riomaggiore but here is some information on both. Next trip!

Corniglia is the only town not on the coast. Wine is still the lifeblood of this town as it was in ancient times.  The hike from here to Vernazza is a challenging, hilly 1.5 hour hike. Check to see if the trail is open to Manarola before setting out!

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Corniglia

Riomaggiore offers lovely views back on the harbor from the breakwater. Have fun just strolling from the train station down to the harbor.  This town is very photogenic especially just around sunset.

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Riomaggiore by Kevin Mercier http://www.kevmrc.com

(sorry I couldn’t get there this trip) here is a great shot by Kevin Mercier

Where is your next trip?  My wish list is so long and made even more complicated by all the towns I really want to revisit. Hard to complain! See you in our next town 🙂

If you are planning a trip to Italy I have blogs on many towns some which I have visited 2 or 3 times often employing guides so I don’t miss the local highlights that most tourists miss.  Guides are well worth the extra money.  If it is pricey for you, consider some less expensive meals or forget the souvenirs to compensate.  You won’t be sorry.  Travel Agents who specialize in Italy can help you with guides, train and travel arrangements as well as affordable accommodations in convenient locations so you don’t waste too much time checking out your location.

The Italian Riviera – Santa Margherita Ligure

Santa Margherita Ligure is part of the Ligurian region on the Italian Riviera. We stayed at a wonderful hotel called the Imperiale Palace Hotel.  We chose this specifically because they had both a pool and a beach area so we could unwind after two weeks of traveling around Italy and it was close to the train station and a quick walk into town.

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Imperiale Palace Hotel (pool and beach below)

Here and in Portofino you find the outside of buildings painted with Trompe L’oeil frescoes typical of this part of the Riviera during the Art Nouveau period.  They used the painted exteriors to identify and distinguish their homes. Painting fake balconies, 3D effects, window sills, etc.

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There are many lovely hotels here and in this old fashioned town there is more room to spread out than in The Cinque Terre or in Portofino.  It is a great place to make your home base when staying in the area.  Day trips to Portofino, Genoa, The Cinque Terre and Milan are easy day trips from Santa Margherita Ligure. You can catch a boat to Portofino or the Cinque Terre from the Pier right in town and buses run daily down to Portofino as it is a very short trip.

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Portofino

We arrived via an easy, convenient train ride from Florence. The old town center is so charming with shops, bars and restaurants lining the streets while its glitzy neighbor, Portofino is filled with yachts and movie stars.  Santa Margherita Ligure has a beautiful harbor and beaches with room to enjoy it all since the crowds typically head to Portofino and The Cinque Terre.

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The Cinque Terre is any easy train ride from Santa Margherita Ligure so you can go for the day.  This area is well known for its 5 quaint towns.  You can swim, shop, eat or hike your way from town to town.  The scenery will take your breath away.  Sadly, these towns are very crowded with tourists just like us. Be considerate and don’t ruin this beautiful place for the next group to come. We headed down to Monterosso and hiked to Vernazza (be prepared and dress appropriately and bring water and snacks) then a ferry to Manarola and the train back to Santa Margherita Ligure in time to hit the pool for a quick swim and cocktail!

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Vernazza

Be sure to spend time wandering around in Santa Margherita!! Loved it!

There are farmers markets to enjoy near the Basilica in Piazza Caprera.  Fresh fruits and veggies but the flowers were calling my name!!

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There are statues of both Christopher Columbus and King Victor Emmanuel II in town commemorating the town’s history.

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We walked into town to the Basilica of Santa Margherita.  Be sure to go inside!! The Italian Baroque interior is ornate and the altar features a statue of Our Lady of the Rose since 1756.  The inlaid marble floors and glass chandeliers are remarkable to say the least!

After the Basilica we walked up to Villa Durazzo with its Italian and English Gardens and Chiesa Di San Giacomo Di Corte – wow- gorgeous! They were decorating for a wedding.  It’s well worth the walk up the stairs!! Also the views of the entire harbor are striking.  This Baroque church dates back to 974.

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Harbor views

As you wander you will find other gems: some were closed when we stopped by in our wanderings.

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Oratorio di Sant’Erasmo
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Chiesa dei Frati Cappuccini

This was the last stop in our two week adventure this time and a nice place to slow down and revel in living in Italy, even if just for a few weeks!!  We will return!!

Have you been? I’d love to hear your favorite places.

 

 

Portofino, Italy

Well Portofino is probably the most photographed fishing village on the Italian Riviera! Whatever you have in mind, relaxing is in store since there is not much to actually DO here! Be prepared to just stroll around the boutiques, the harbor and walk up to Castello Brown maybe and of course, don’t forget people watch!

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The yachts that grace this picturesque harbor are luxurious to say the least but it is also full of small fishing boats.  Don’t forget this was always a fishing village!

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It is worth the short hike up to Chiesa di San Giorgio and Castello Brown.  The views from both spots will not disappoint you!

Chiesa di San Giorgio has had a commanding presence over Portofino and the Ligurian Sea since it was constructed in 1154 or perhaps even earlier.  This Romanesque church was sadly bombed during WWII and then reconstructed in 1950.

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Chiesa di San Giorgio
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Chiesa di San Giorgio

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Castello Brown was well suited as a defensive site and was used as such since the 15th century. There are 2 methods to ascent to the Castle. You can walk up the steep staircase or take the winding path up.  We walked up the stairs and down the path which opens up the best panoramic views of this town.

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Castello Brown

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Don’t miss a chance to walk around this picture perfect town!  The brightly colored buildings just beckon you in. Sit and sip in the Piazzetta or at a seaside bar in the U-shaped harbor or grab some gelato, always a favorite.

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Don’t miss the Chiesa di San Martino in town with its beautiful bronze doors is just up the hill off the Piazza.  Note the mosaic on the landing made from rocks gathered on the shore.

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Portofino is a very convenient day trip from Genoa, Milan, the Cinque Terre or the towns just above it of Santa Margherita Ligure and Rapallo.  We made Santa Margherita Ligure our home base to travel the Riviera heading to The Cinque Terre, Portofino and exploring the wonderful town of Santa Margherita Ligure.

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See Santa Margherita in the distance

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If you are looking for luxury; look no further in Portofino than the Belmond Hotel Splendido.  This is a luxury hotel built in the 1920’s and sits on a hill overlooking the sea and its lovely gardens.

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