One of nature's greatest gifts has to be figs. A nutrition packed sweet treat, that plays such an important part in Greek and Mediterranean diets. For the few short weeks at the end of summer and the beginning of autumn, I love to enjoy figs fresh from the tree - or when they run out, from our local farmer's market. The closer we get to winter though, the less perfect figs become. However, that said, oven-roasting figs will bring out the flavour of less-than-perfect, end of season figs.
In Greek cooking traditions, figs are often pared with spices - particularly when they are dried. In Corfu, black pepper is the spice of choice. In the other Ionian islands and the Peloponnese, bay leaves are often used to scent and help preserve the dried figs. On the island of Ikaria, dried figs are sprinkled with antioxidant-rich oregano when stored. In Chios, the spice of choice is of course mastiha and in other Aegean islands the choice of spice is often cinnamon.
In Crete, another regional cooking tradition involves serving dried figs dipped in grape must syrup, called petimezi. Grape must has been used as sweetener in Greece since ancient times. Along with honey, it was the only sweetener that was actually available and it came if varying degrees of concentration. In modern Greek cooking petimezi has a variety of uses - from moustalevria (a grape must pudding) to loukoumi, cakes, pastries and more.
This recipe is a little tribute to the different regional styles of preparing figs in Greece. it incorporates the traditional Cretan touch of some petimezi, as well as some spice elements - balsamic bay leaves, a little cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper. I love using the 'Daphnis and Chloe' Balsamic Bay Leaves, which you can purchase online in Australia from Homer St, in this dish. They have a wonderful sweet spicy quality, with a hint of nutmeg. I like to enhance this element in this dish by also adding an extra pinch of nutmeg.
The spicy-sweet figs are perfect served with the contrasting texture of a little fresh mizithra made from sheep or goat's milk. You could substitute a little ricotta or fresh goat's cheese if you prefer. This dish makes for a super easy and refreshing dessert. If you happen to be having a bit of an Autumn harvest themed dinner, you can also add some clusters of red grapes to your roasting tray.
Figs roasted with bay, spices and petimezi (Σύκα ψητό με δάφνης, μπαχαρικά και πετιμέζι)
Prep 5 mins, cooking 15 mins
8-12 fresh figs, halved
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 tablespoons petmezi
6 Daphnis and Chloe Balsamic Bay Leaves (you can purchase these from Homer St)
Pinch ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Pinch sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
Fresh mizithra to serve, or you could substitute with fresh ricotta
1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan forced or 200C.
2. Put the figs, cut side up, in a lined roasting tray.
3. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat, and whisk in the petimezi and spices (except the bay leaves).