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!

 

Borgo Egnazia NOWHERE ELSE

Recently I had the pleasure of staying at the Borgo Egnazia Resort and Spa in Puglia, Italy. They will tell you it is “far more than a resort but rather represents a new concept of hospitality.” Right on the Mediterranean Sea it offers magnificent rooms, The San Domenico Golf, an 18 hole championship course facing the sea, 2 private beaches, The Vair spa and did I mention the Mediterranean food!!! There are 3 large outdoor pools, one heated indoor pool, 4 tennis courts, swimming, cooking and ceramics lessons as well as water sports, game and reading rooms. Borgo is dedicated to providing a unique family experience. Kids play, parents RELAX!

The unique architecture of this resort is like nothing I have ever experienced.  The simple but unique design details emphasizing the repetition of an item were luxurious but welcoming and cozy.

Here is some history of the creation of this resort taken right out of their brochure. (Thank you Borgo Egnazia since I could not have said it better myself). “The Melpignano family had a vision: combining Puglia with luxury, refined hospitality, cultural richness and elite tourism.” “Borgo Egnazia was built entirely of tufo, a local type of limestone..” “The architect … Pino Brescia was inspired by Puglia’s farms and rural villages, from nature, and from simplicity.”

Keep following my blogs!  I am headed to Venice, Florence and Tuscany this summer so the journey continues.

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Lecce – “The Florence of the South”

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Lecce is located in the Puglia region in the heel of the boot in the Italian Peninsula where the Adriatic and Ionian seas are easily accessible. This city is over 2,000 years old and is one of the most important cities in Italy. Commonly known as “The Florence of the South” for its Baroque architecture. The town’s treasure is its architecture.

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There are 3 Baroque style gates into the historical city center and 2 centers: the central square of Lecce the Piazza Sant’Oronzo where the ruins of the Amphitheatre stand and the Piazza del Duomo (the Cathedral square). In the Piazza Sant’Oronzo is a statue of a bishop perched on a column.  This column is one of 2 which originally marked the end of the Roman Appian Way.  The other is in Brindisi. One gate, the Porta Napoli was built in 1548.

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Porto Napoli
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Porta Rudiae (rear)

This city existed at the time of the Trojan War and was conquered by the Romans in the 3rd century B.C.

The Baroque buildings built by the 17th century architects rival those in Florence. So distinctive is Lecce’s architecture is has acquired its own name “Lecce Baroque”.  It is now a casual university town with boutiques, restaurants and a strong tradition of Papier-mâché making.

As is common in Italy, the streets empty as the hottest part of the day passes and this was the case when we were in Lecce so of course if you can’t shop….the infamous gelato was enjoyed by everyone in our group! As evening approaches Italians get out and ‘stroll’ this is called “Passeggiata”.  This ritual evening stroll can be experienced all over Italy. We found it on the Amalfi Coast, in Rome and now in Puglia. It is just a leisurely time to walk and chat with neighbors.  See and be seen!

Some of the sights of Lecce:

Basilica di Santa Croce; Church of the Holy Cross begun in 1353 was completed in 1695 and features sculptures and a rose window (the church was under renovations so no great photos of the entire church). It is a Baroque church that is decorated on the facade with all manner of animals like sheep, cherubs and grotesque figures right out of Harry Potter and has a large rose window and Corinthian columns. Next door is the Government Palace which was a former convent.

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Piazza del Duomo- Lecce Cathedral and seat of the Archbishop of Lecce was originally built in 1144 and rebuilt later and finally restored by 1670.  The Duomo Square features a 5 story Bell Tower.

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Lecce Cathedral
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Lecce Cathedral

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Chiesa di San Matteo, a Baroque style Catholic church built in 1667 has 2 columns on its facade, one is decorated but the sculptor was killed before he could finish the work.

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Chiesa di San Matteo

Chiesa di Santa Chiara 1429-1438 – A Baroque church with twisting columns and ornate statuary and a ceiling of classic Leccese Papier-mâché.

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Chiesa di Santa Chiara

Chiesa di Sant’ Irene from 1591 has one of the largest altars in Lecce.  From the 17th century it contains a pair of mirror Baroque altar pieces facing each other.

Church of San Giovanni Battista.  There was a long traditional affinity with the Greek culture due to its proximity.

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Church of San Giovanni Battista

Limestone is one of the city’s main exports.  it is very soft and workable and very suitable for sculptures.

Olive oil and wine production are prominent in this area as well as ceramic production.

The Roman Amphitheatre was built in the 2nd century and is located near the Sant’Oronzo Square.  It once seated more than 25,000 people.  It is half buried now as other buildings and monuments were built above it over the centuries. You can feel the history when you stand here.

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Roman Amphitheatre

I was fascinated with all the doors in this historic city and I will do a separate photo blog of those but check out some of the ornate building details.

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I couldn’t let the opportunity pass without mentioning our guide Giuseppe who made our tour of Lecce extremely memorable! Thanks Giuseppe!  I guarantee we will not forget you 🙂 or to the Bride and Groom whose wedding arrival we interrupted for pictures!

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If you are considering a trip to Puglia I hope you have gotten a little taste of how fabulous this region can be.  It is becoming a more and more popular travel destination.  Where to stay?  We stayed at the Borgo Egnazia Resort and Spa in Savelletri di Fasano right on the coast.  Their slogan is NOWHERE ELSE and I can tell you I concur!  Madonna left just before we arrived. Bummer! This is a great spot for visiting all the sights in Puglia like Alberobello, Lecce, and Martina Franca.  I bought a case of Olive Oil!  This resort does not require my endorsement. Follow the blog (up next week) to see some of the many pictures I took trying to capture the magnificence of this resort. Borgo Egnazia, Puglia

If you missed the beginning of this series head back to the beginning: Puglia – an Undiscovered Gem in Italy.

MATERA: a UNESCO World Heritage Site

SASSI di MATERA- Ancient cave dwellings

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This is a true walk back in time but amazingly people inhabited these caves until the 1950’s. Before the Sassi (historical center) were abandoned this was one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world.

These natural caves dot the steep ravine and were first occupied back in the Paleolithic Age.

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Sassi di Matera
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Notice the Belvedere Piazzetta Pascoli standing tall in the background

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There were approximately 1,500 Sassi and they were expanded into living spaces as these peasant dwellings were occupied. Many of the caves had their ceilings extended to make a vaulted ceiling to expand the available living space so it was not so cramped.  This was a typical Sassi that we were able to tour and is open to the public. The rooms were dug into the soft limestone.  These were very poor people sadly.

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Casa Grotta di vico Solitario – kitchen area
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Even the animals lived in the Sassi notice the Bread on the table

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To tour this ancient city is a fascinating experience.  We walked down into an underground area where deep cisterns collected rain water for drinking.  There were 8 deep interconnected cisterns throughout this ancient city.  This 16th century cistern complex is right under the main town Piazza surrounded by historic buildings!

Check out the water lines on the walls!

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Piazza  Vittorio Veneto – Palazzo dell’Annuziata

This is a popular city for shooting movies like the remake of Ben Hur  starring Morgan Freeman which began shooting in early 2015 (below) and Passion of The Christ.  It is one of the oldest living cities.

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Right out of the movie Ben Hur

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Chiesa dei Santi Pietro e Paolo
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Love the ancient doors

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The Matera Cathedral.   Magnificent!

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Pane di Matera

Bread is this city’s symbol.  It’s form and unique taste are symbolic of a tradition that is still strong today. The bread’s shape is reminiscent of the hills or a mountaintop range. Each family had a brand on their bread using a wooden stamp so they could recognize it in the shared ovens. It has a slightly salty taste with a crunchy crust.  This traditional bread goes back to the Kingdom of Naples in the 15th and 16th centuries.  The wheat which is grown in this area has a unique and distinct flavor and the preparation of the yeast uses fresh fruit!

Again, we had a wonderful guide who regaled us with all sorts of history and stories. Thanks Giovanni! Next up Lecce! Follow along as our journey continues!matera-18

Alberobello – a UNESCO World Heritage site

alberobelloA small Town within the City of Bari, in Apulia’s region of southern Italy known for its Trulli buildings. The area is part of the coastal plain to the Mediterranean where olive groves are everywhere.  It does snow here in winter but only occasionally!

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The Masseria, the largest farm houses, have mostly been subdivided now but many are still working farms.  This region was once filled with oak trees that were only found here in Puglia until in 282 B.C. this valley was crossed with elephants and the oak trees were leveled. This was farmland, cows everywhere! Believe me the burrata and mozzarella here are amazing as is the white wine! Wine! Did someone say wine?

The Trulli have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996.  There are more than 1500 Trulli in this non-farming environment.  Trulli are also found throughout the countryside but the largest collection is right within the Town of Alberobello.  A single house in known as a Trullo.  The popular central town area is Rione Monti leads up to the top of the hill to the main church – Chiesa di Sant’ Antonio.

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Trulli have conical roofs constructed of limestone from the region.  These are ancient stone houses some dating back as far as the Bronze Age c.1350.  They were constructed by peasants using a dry wall construction method made without mortar, a prehistoric building technique still in use featuring domed or conical roofs.

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Today some are used as stores, restaurants, lodging but most are homes. They developed as temporary structures that were easy to demolish and an efficient means to evade taxes at the times to the feudal lord. They are and were incredibly durable so this was not at all accurate.  They are warm in winter and cool in summer.  The roof is composed of horizontal limestone slabs in concentric circles and typically have a central room with additional living spaces in arched alcoves.

The keystone is often decorated and is a very important structural element individualizing each property and is something of a status symbol.

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Keystones on the rooftops
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Conical roofs
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Wandering the streets

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The roofs are often decorated with fanciful symbols supposedly having religious symbolism or superstitious significance.

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Fanciful roof symbols

This is an area of Italy I will return to someday.  Fascinating history and architecture and oh yeah the WINE!!!!

Again I would be remiss if I didn’t thank our fabulous guide Michele who gave us all sorts of history, stories and shared more than a few bottles of wine with us before jetting off to spend the weekend with his lady in Russia!

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Ready to continue our tour of the Puglia region. Next up is Matera!  Come join me.

 

Puglia, an undiscovered gem in Italy

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Puglia is quite often a point of departure for Greece with ferries taking you across the Adriatic Sea from its ports in Bari and Brindisi. I was fortunate enough to discover this increasingly popular region of Italy last fall while documenting a tour group for L’Esperta (Italian Travel & Lifestyle Expert) to this region.

 

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Awesome group of women!

The area of Puglia is located in the heel of the boot of Italy and is becoming a trendy tourist destination. While in Puglia, we were able to explore many of the ancient towns in the area like Alberobello with its white-washed Trullo houses; Lecce with its Baroque beauty and Martina Franca with its olive groves and orchards.  Of course, you might just want to visit the beach! It is on the Adriatic Sea of course! Wait did I mention the food!  Oh My gosh!!!! Fabulous!

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Prickly Pears

 

As we made our way from the Amalfi Coast eastward we stopped in the ancient cave town of Matera then onward to Puglia.  Our final destination was the impeccable Borgo Egnazia. They say “Nowhere Else” and that describes the beauty of this unique resort and spa. In upcoming blogs we will visit each of these towns as we make our way across Italy!

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Capri – Amalfi Coast- Faraglioni rock formations

 

 

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Matera

 

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Borgo Egnazia

 

 

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Borgo Egnazia entry hall

Puglia has always been basically an agricultural/farming region.  The large agricultural estates have become upscale resorts, spas, etc. I found out the Appian Way which starts in Rome ends in Puglia and is still marked by one surviving Roman column.  The second is found in Lecce.

Much of the region is covered in olive groves, orchards and other crops.  I never saw celery growing before.  My garden is limited to tomatoes, cukes, eggplant and herbs.  Some of these olives trees are over 1,000 years old. The roots of olive trees do not die of natural causes.  The trunk and branches can hollow out and die off many times over the life of the tree.  I have never tasted olive oil like we tasted in Martina Franca and promptly bought a case after we learned how to determine what is “great” olive oil vs. very commercial “not so good” olive oil.

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1000 year old Olive trees

 

So let’s start our journey across Italy.  We started on the Amalfi Coast which was my third trip and boy it never gets old!  Since I have blogged about all the cities on the Amalfi Coast previously I won’t get into that now but here is a link to those blogs.

We began in Pompeii, headed to Matera, then to Savelletri di Fasano in Puglia.  Come join me and discover “the” up and coming tourist destination in southern Italy!

My next blog documents our travels to Pompeii then on to Alberobello, Matera, Lecce and then on to Savelletri di Fasano on the coast. Here is a link to Pompeii. See you next time!

In case you missed my Amalfi Coast series here is a link to the first of that 5 part series: The Ultimate Guide to the Amalfi Coast

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