Monday, April 13, 2009

Stewed Figs

For me the fig season all too often passes by in the blink of an eye. I seem to miss those precious few weeks (days) when figs are just right in terms of quality and price. It's a grey area, I feel, between figs that are early season and exorbitantly priced and figs that are late season and terrible quality. (Clearly I'm not blessed with a tree in my backyard).

I did happen to pick up a punnet a short time ago that was filled with plump, unblemished figs and I feasted on them for 3 days straight. I enjoyed figs, rocket and feta as a salad and figs with melted blue cheese alongside steak. The third night however saw the few remaining figs looking a little worse for wear. Clearly they needed cooking but I wanted something quick. My favourite fig dessert from a few years ago involved grilled fruit drizzled with redcurrant sauce, but this was a complex process of frying, grilling and then reducing the sauce.

To solve my problem I found this reciped for Stewed Figs, cut out from an ancient Good Weekend magazine (you'd expect nothing less from me surely). The use of basil was intriguing, but quite appropriate as my plant was bordering on going to seed and I was trying to use it as much as possible before trimming back. In the end the basil complimented the light sweetness of the overall dish and I enjoyed the last of my figs immensely.

150g sugar
200ml water
1cm piece ginger, peeled and julienned
1/2 lemon, zested
1/4 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped and removed
8 medium sized figs
6 basil leaves, torn
Good Greek yoghurt
Bring to a simmer the sugar, water, ginger, lemon zest and vanilla. Gently cook for 5 minutes to draw the aromatics from the spices.
Place the halved figs skin-side down into the hot syrup and cook for 5 minutes. Carefully turn the figs in the pan so that the flesh is facing down, add the torn basil leaves and cook for 5 more minutes.
If your figs are not completely ripe they may need a little more cooking. If overripe, take care they don't break apart and become pulpy. For presentation purposes the figs need to keep their figgy shape.
Let the cooked fruit cool and serve in a bowl with plenty of the cooking syrup and some yoghurt on the side.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Parap Markets, Darwin

Is this really a blog about Melbourne food? You may very well be wondering this as I write about eating in Perth, tasting in Tasmania and now drowning (in sweat) in Darwin. Darwin may not be quite so disgusting right now (weather wise), but back in February when I penned this post it was.

It is true, I have not had much time in Melbourne this year and this particular humid Saturday morning I found myself at the Parap Markets in Darwin. The top-end capital is known for being an Australian frontier from which South East Asia beckons. Furthermore, it is a melting pot of local cultures and of those that seep in from the north. Nowhere is this more evident that at Parap markets. Wander past the paintings from Arnhem Land and the over-priced pendents and the markets open out into tropical fruit heaven. Dragon fruit, paw paw, passionfruit and monkey bananas all compete for space while stall-holders slice up pineapple into snack size pieces.

I had not had a latte for four days, so I was naturally drawn to Just Coffee. Glance over the many blends of beans lining the counter while you wait for your fix. And fix it did… for about 5 minutes. The coffee was strong and bold however after only a few sips I realised this was a bad idea. As I sweated like someone who’d eaten too many chillies I decided that the varied fruit smoothies on offer would have been a smarter option. We live and learn.

After buying Morrocan Cous Cous, Pumpkin Ravioli and Beetroot and Feta salads to take home for lunch, I turned my attention back to the Asian influences. Gado Gado from Jakarta was sold alongside Thai Sweets and the steaming hawker food was a tempting mid-morning snack, despite the heat. As is standard for many of these markets in Australia all of the offerings were fried with nothing steamed in sight. Disappointingly the money bags, chicken satay and beef spring roles reminded me that all too often markets like this smell better than they taste. Nevertheless, the oppressive humidity, the vapours of wok-tossed meat and tropical fruit made me feel just for a second that I really was in a hybrid country of Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, so close yet so far from Australia.