Off the Beaten Aisle: Fig Jam

By: J.M. Hirsch

A jam would seem an unlikely ingredient to be overlooked.

After all, legions of parents rely on the many offerings of the grocer’s PB&J aisle to maintain peace with the lunch-box crowd.

Except that when you peer past the usual suspects -- strawberry, raspberry, grape, apricot -- you find some seriously wonderful hidden jam gems that belong as much at the dinner table as they do slathered between slices of bread.

My favorite? Fig.

Fig jam has a thick, almost dense consistency and a rich, full sweetness that isn’t cloying the way many preserves are. My theory on that? Much of the sweetness comes from natural sugars; figs have one of the highest sugar contents among fruits.

Except they aren’t technically a fruit. Figs actually are flowers folded in on themselves. The tiny, crunchy seeds inside are the fruit. But I digress.

Fig jam loves to be paired with Mediterranean flavors, from oregano and feta cheese to almonds and just about anything lemony.

And it’s great with meat, in part because it's loaded with an enzyme that is a potent (and delicious) tenderizer.

Which means you should consider adding a bit to your next beef stew. Or rub it under the skin of a chicken or turkey before roasting. Or substitute it for the apricot jam called for in many sweet-and-sour chicken recipes.

And that’s just the start. Here are some more ideas for moving this jam from the sandwich scene to the dinner table.

  • Make the best grilled cheese ever. Slap some Cheddar, a bit of sliced ham or prosciutto and some fig jam between slices of sourdough, then toast until oozy and crisp.
  • Puree about ⅓ to ½ cup of fig jam with a bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce. Use as you normally would (basted on toward the end of grilling) for unbelievable grill grub.
  • Speaking of the grill, top a burger with a spoonful of fig jam and some crumbled blue cheese. Continue grilling until the cheese just softens, then slap that sucker in a bun and enjoy – no condiments needed.
  • For an easy appetizer, top thin slices of apple or pear with shavings of Parmesan cheese, then top with a dollop of fig jam and some black pepper.
  • Pizza! Spread a thin layer of fig jam over a raw pizza crust. Top with chopped prosciutto and Gorgonzola, then bake. Sprinkle with fresh oregano.

Tomato, Avocado and Feta Salad With Fig Vinaigrette

Start to finish: 25 minutes
Servings: 6
6 thick slices sourdough bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus ¼ cup
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic
3 tablespoons fig jam
1 tablespoon white wine or water
3 large tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 avocados, pitted, peeled and cubed
1 bulb fennel, trimmed and chopped
6 ounces crumbled feta cheese
3 cups arugula

Heat the oven to 400 degrees °F.

In a large bowl, toss the bread with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the garlic powder, ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper. Arrange the bread in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast for 15 minutes, or until golden.

Meanwhile, in a blender, combine the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil, the red wine vinegar, garlic, fig jam and white wine. Blend until smooth, then season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a large bowl, gently toss together the tomatoes, avocados, fennel and feta. When the bread is done, add that. Drizzle the dressing over the tomato-bread mixture, tossing gently to coat.

Place ½ cup of the arugula on each of 6 serving plates. Top each with the salad mixture.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 609 calories; 246 calories from fat (40 percent of total calories); 27 g fat (7 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 25 mg cholesterol; 75 g carbohydrate; 19 g protein; 9 g fiber; 1,014 mg sodium.

J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. He is author of the recent cookbook, High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking . He also blogs at jmhirsch.

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