Figs and fig trees are native to the Mediterranean region and the Middle East – and not exactly common in colder climates like Central New York. But Faraj Aouad, owner of Omar’s Beauty Salon, on Thompson Road, patiently persists in growing them here.
Faraj, a native of Lebanon, says he started with three trees (bearing common black and white figs) and now has 15 of them. In early September, when the figs start to ripen, he puts a small, hand-lettered sign out in front of his salon offering Fresh Organic Figs.
If your only experience with figs is in Fig Newtons, you haven’t truly experienced figs – and you are in for a treat. We picked some up from Faraj on Saturday and they were lush and ripe – plump and swollen, like tender little balloons. They’re purplish-green on the outside, reddish and seedy on the inside and a little bit squishy.
Last year, we ate them out of hand and in green salads. On Saturday, I halved them, tossed them lightly with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a touch of honey and roasted them in the oven just long enough to render them syrupy but still hold some of their shape.
I used a small amount on pizza and refrigerated the rest to eat with my morning yogurt. They also are a delicious partner with blue cheese and make an excellent crostini with goat cheese or ricotta spread on some toasted bread, then topped with rosted figs.
Figs also pair nicely with cured meats like prosciutto and salami – the combination of sweet fruit and salty meat is hard to resist. We put roasted figs, caramelized onion and strips of salami on top of a “white pizza’’ – olive oil, garlic and several cheeses -- with yummy results.
Get some while they last and have fun experimenting with them. And tell your friends about the man who grows figs in a place where one doesn’t expect them to thrive.
Figs are available at Omar’s Beauty Salon, 5829 Thompson Road, DeWitt, for a limited time. It is best to call ahead. Call 315-446-0101 or 315-445-1190. If you have a small market basket or produce container, bring it with you. Figs are fragile and need to be used quickly. They’re priced at about three for $1.
Pizza with Roasted Figs, Caramelized Onion and Salami
Half of a small red onion, sliced; caramelized
1 package Columbus Bakery pizza dough (or your favorite pizza dough)
¼ cup olive oil (approximately)
2 plump cloves garlic, minced
About 1.5 cups grated cheese of your choice (I used a combination of grated Jarlsberg and Parmesan)
4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed
Half cup (approximately) roasted figs (see below)
4 ounces (approximately) salami, cut in thin strips
Handful of fresh basil, julienned
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
A couple hours before you're ready to cook pizza, put pizza dough in an oiled bowl and cover with a towel. Punch the dough down every now and then.
Heat oven to 500 degrees. Put oven rack in lowest position. Grease a perforated pizza pan.
Place pizza dough on greased pan and stretch/roll it out it to edge of pan to create a thin crust. Combine olive oil and garlic. Drizzle olive oil on crust and spread it to edges of crust using a brush or your hands.
Sprinkle on the grated cheeses, then arrange fresh mozzarella cube on top. Top the pizza with caramelized onion, roasted figs and salami. Don’t use so many toppings that you can’t see the cheese; heavy toppings can make for a soggy crust. Garnish with julienned basil and freshly ground black pepper.
Bake pizza until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbling, about 13-15 minutes. Let rest about 3 minutes then transfer to a cutting board and slice. Makes about 8 servings (one slice).
To roast figs: Rinse and halve figs. Toss with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar and honey. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Roast figs at 400 degrees for 15 minutes (approximately). Transfer to a bowl, saving the juices. Cool, then cover and refrigerate.