The mad rush has begun.

figs1

The fresh figs have arrived.

Every September, I rush from market to store and back again, searching for fresh figs.

They’re finicky, this fruit. Some years, I find them through October. Other years, for only a week or two. And (deep sigh) some years I can’t find them at all. (Curse our Mid-Atlantic climate!) So I’ve learned to buy — and eat them — as soon as they appear.

They’re not only delicious. They’re healthy, too. Besides hefty doses of dietary fiber, they’re loaded with calcium, B vitamins and iron.

But they don’t stay around very long, and they’re highly perishable, meaning I have to gobble them up almost as soon as I get them home.

My favorite way to serve figs is the simplest: Cut them in half, drizzle them with honey and pair them with cheese (usually blue, but this comté was lovely), candied nuts and grapes.

fig platter

Nothing adulterates the figs’ subtle sweetness or their pillowy texture. Fold some cheese atop one, adorn it with a candied walnut, and you have the quintessential taste of fall.

Sometimes, though, I like to dress my figs up. When these moods strike, I slice them and bake them with apples or pears into a fall crostata:

fig pie

The figs turn jammy and intense — little jeweled candies amidst the apples.

I snapped up my first pint of figs last Friday from Balducci’s. They lasted two days. Now, I’m off to scour the shelves of Roots and Trader Joe’s and beg my local market to stock them.

After all, there’s not much time. The figs are fleeting.

Candied Walnuts

nuts2These take all of 2  minutes to prepare and are the perfect accompaniment to fresh figs. Simply place 1/2 to 3/4 cup walnuts or pecans in a dry pan and toast over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon of maple syrup and a pinch of kosher salt, and stir for 1 minute. Turn the walnuts out onto a greased sheet of foil and let them cool. Store in an airtight container for up to one week.

Fig & Apple Crostata

I found a basic crostata recipe years ago in Bon Appetit magazine. I use it with all kinds of seasonal fruits, staying true to the crust recipe but changing up the fillings according to my whims.

  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup coarse cornmeal
  • 3 tablespoons sugar (try using raw for extra texture)
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 14 tablespoons cold butter, cut into dice
  • 1/3 cup ice water
  • 3 medium apples (I like Honeycrisp)
  • 5-6 fresh figs
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon  ground ginger
  • Juice of half an orange and half a lemon

Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the butter with your fingers until you have pieces the size of peas. Add the water and gently toss until the dough comes together. Make a ball, then wrap it in plastic and press it into a disk. Refrigerate for an hour.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Roll it out on a lightly floured sheet of parchment paper to an oval about 1/8-inch thick. Don’t worry if the edges are a little ragged or your oval is a little lopsided. Imperfection is desirable when it comes to crostata.

Place the parchment paper on a large baking sheet with sides, then return it to the refrigerator while you make the filling.

Peel and core the apples,then cut them into 16 thin slices.

Stem the figs, then cut each one vertically into four slices.

Combine the apples, figs and remaining ingredients in a clean bowl. Toss well to combine.

Remove the baking sheet from the fridge. Sprinkle the bottom of the crust with a little flour and sugar (this will keep your bottom crust flaky). Pour in the apple/fig mixture and distribute as evenly as you can, leaving a 1 1/2- to 2-inch border.

Fold the border up over the fruit, bending and tucking as needed. Lightly brush the crust with milk or cream, then sprinkle it with sugar.

Bake for 1 hour, or until the fruit is tender and the filling thickly bubbles. (Cover with a sheet of foil if the crust is getting too brown.) You’ll have some juices run out onto the parchment, but that’s okay.

As soon as you remove the crostata from the oven, gently loosen it from the parchment paper and carefully transfer it to a platter or a clean baking sheet. Let it cool completely before serving.

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