It’s no secret that I love food — I was raised to relish in delicious dishes, family dinners, and milkshakes — but I was a pretty unadventurous eater until I went to Florence seven years ago. In my favorite restaurants, I was hesitant to deviate from my standard order for fear of being disappointed the one time I decided to be brave and order something different. Sure, I was used to Hungarian dishes like kocsonya (jellied pigs feet, which we Magyar descendants affectionally call ‘choke on ya’), but that was because it was the norm. No one had ever put pears and cheese in pasta or prosciutto on top of melon and offered it to me as a meal, and so I saw those combinations as downright strange. (But jellied pigs feet is ok? What’s wrong with me?)
Then I spent eight weeks in Florence and everything changed. My Florentine host parents, Carla and Maurizio, had a garden from which they sourced all of the product we ate, and so the dishes they prepared every day opened me to a whole new world of foods. My favorite of these was a fig jam that was served with breakfast, even though I didn’t know a fig from a pickle. The first time I tried it on Italian toast crackers, Carla watched me carefully with baited breath, patiently waiting for my approval. I fell in love instantly, and crave it (and Florence) all the time. I kick myself every day for not asking Carla for the recipe, but I think this adaptation would make her proud.
This recipe is really the best when you have access to fresh figs (Sophia, I’m coming to Sonoma to harvest your trees), but dried figs will suffice. This spread is so easy to put together, it’s worth always having on hand.
Tuscan Fig Spread
Adapted from Carla’s Kitchen in Florence, Italy + The Kitchn
20-22 whole figs (dried or fresh), stems removed
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a medium saucepan, combine figs, sugar, water, and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer until the liquid has thickened and changes color — it should be almost golden.
Stir in vanilla extract and mix well. Let the mixture cool for 10 minutes, then transfer to a food processor. Pulse until you reach the desired consistency (I like it to be a bit heartier with chunks of fig). Serve on a cheese plate, with butter on sourdough toast , slather on a brick of pecorino, or stuff it into baked brie bites.