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If there were a hierarchy in the world of snobs, I'm pretty sure that fig snobs would be the worst type of snob. Pizza snob? I'm cool with that. Bagel snob? Even better. But a fig snob? A fig snob?!?* We're pushing into Alice Waters territory here. The kind of thing I swore I'd never do before I came to California.
*As you can see, I'm quite selective about what types of snobs are okay. A snob snob, if you will.
Yet here I am, slowly becoming a fig snob before my very own eyes and utterly helpless to stop it. It began a couple of years ago, when I had a simple, barely cooked fig tart at Frances, one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco, over in the Castro. Sweet, jammy, and intensely fragrant, it opened my eyes to what a great fig can be. Since then, I've been hitting the figs hard during the season, buying them wherever I see them, whether it's at the farmers market (hit or miss), Bi-Rite Grocery (pretty consistently great), the Mexican produce market down the street (even better than Bi-Rite, when they have them),** and even at Whole Foods (they're batting about .225). Mission, Sierra, Calimyrna, it doesn't really matter to me. I look for the ripest ones—if they're dripping with honey-like juices and the skins are just starting to split, all the better—and take them home, pints at a time.
**You know, the kind that says "produce market" on the sign but mainly sells meat and cheese?
When the figs aren't fantastic, they get used for cooking. They're great grilled or on top of pizza. But when they're perfect, I do very, very little to them. Most of them I'll eat simply by splitting them open (always from the non-stem end, to reveal the seeds inside more easily) while standing at the counter. If I want to get a little fancier, I'll do something like this salad here, part of our Easiest Summer Ever collection of four-ingredient, fruit- and vegetable-driven recipes. There's not really much to it. Perfect figs, a little salty aged goat cheese for contrast, some Marcona almonds for crunch, and a drizzle of Mike's Hot Honey (even regular honey will work, but I do suggest getting the hot stuff). A little olive oil and salt and a few random herbs from the garden finish it off.
Unlike, say, grapes or cabbage, the difference between a great fig and a pretty good fig is enormous, so you really want to seek out the best ones you can find for this. Keep your eyes peeled—you never know where they might turn up.
Did I mention I'm planning on putting a fig tree in our yard? Oh, man, will you guys have a real fig snob to look forward to then!