Want to celebrate Italian-American heritage? Plant a fig

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

In the late 1800s, a Mediterranean tree began to take root in the United States when Italian immigrants began arriving in the country. Their suitcases were filled with things that reminded them of their homeland. Along with seeds for traditional vegetables, they always carried one twig that would hopefully grow into a fig tree.

It is said that you can still identify historically Italian neighborhoods by the presence of backyard fig trees. Because they are not native to cold climates, gardeners took great pains to ensure their survival.

Figs have a very long history. Even if you have never seen a fig tree, most people are familiar with the picture of the biblical Adam and Eve covering themselves with fig leaves. Botanically speaking, it is probable that the forbidden fruit was a fig rather than an apple.

Following tradition, my Italian-American mother made sure that a fig tree was planted in her yard. Because I am living in my parents’ home, I have become its caretaker.

This year, my tree is loaded with figs, though I fear none of them will ripen before a hard frost does them in. My stewardship has not been on par with my ancestors in helping them overwinter to get a head start in the spring.

The good news is that I received a generous gift of fresh figs from a friend. I could have eaten them all in one sitting, but I wanted to showcase them in a manner that celebrated their ability to survive so far from their native land.

The fig tart below pairs the sweetness of the figs with a tangy goat cheese. Fresh rosemary highlights the flavors of both.

The tart comes together quickly with the help of store-bought puff pastry.

A fig tart showcases the sweet Mediterranean fruit with tangy goat cheese, fresh rosemary and a mixture of honey and vinegar. Fig trees can be difficult to keep alive in colder climates. (Julie Falsetti/For The York Dispatch)

Fig Tart

  • 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed but still chilled
  • 4 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt, at room temperature
  • 1 pound fresh figs
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a medium bowl, use a fork to mash together the goat cheese, egg, rosemary and salt until smooth. Whisk in the yogurt and beat until smooth.

Trim the stems from the figs, and cut them in half lengthwise.

In a small bowl, mix the honey and balsamic vinegar.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry into a 13-by-11-inch rectangle. Transfer the dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet. With the tines of a fork, gently prick a 1/2-inch border around the edges of the pastry.

Spread the cheese mixture evenly inside the scored border. Place the figs on top, and lightly brush with olive oil, and then generously brush with the honey/vinegar mixture.

Sprinkle the pine nuts between the figs.

Bake until the pastry is puffed and golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at julietrulie11@gmail.com.