I received an invitation from Karla Stockli of the California Fig Advisory Board inviting me to a special dinner, featuring figs, at one of Philadelphia’s best restaurants, Osteria Ristorante. You might not be familiar with Karla’s name, but you might be familiar with Karla – she worked on the Dancing Raisin campaign, positioning raisins as a healthful snack from 1999-2008 – “I heard it through the grapevine!”
When I arrived at Osteria, I was escorted through the hustle and bustle of the dining room and main kitchen and down a corridor leading to the pastry kitchen. It was a beautiful and intimate setting, dimly lit with lots of white votive candles placed all around the perimeter of the room; it looked heavenly.
I met seven other people who were writers (bloggers, cookbook authors, etc). We all had one thing in common: we all love to eat and write about food…and are all big fans of figs!
During the cocktail hour, Chefs and co-owners Marc Vetri and Jeff Michaud, the nicest guys in the industry, mingled with everyone. Chef Michaud won 2010’s James Beard award for Best Mid-Atlantic Chef, and I knew we would be in for a fantastic culinary journey on this magnificent night.
You could tell Chef Michaud spent lots of time preparing this ecclectic menu. Each course was paired with a specially selected wine. The following are the highlights of the evening’s menu. First, we enjoyed Prosecco and stuzzicchini (Italian for appetizers) featuring glorious figs; Crostini with chicken liver mousse and a caramelized fig on top was heavenly — the mousse was whipped to a creamy consistency and melted in your mouth. Next, we moved onto antipasti consisting of delectable scallop carpaccio, which tasted mildly of the sea and perfectly paired with thin slices of salty house cured prosciutto and sweet creamy figs. The salad presentation was excellent, something as simple as a salad can make an impressive presentation on your dining room table. The salad was composed of lettuce, figs, honey, crumbled savory sbrisoluna cookies and drizzled with a buffalo milk ricotta dressing; a great contrast in flavors and textures.
Our primi course consisted of two pastas: caramelle (Italian for candies), which looked like wrapped taffy, stuffed with dried figs and caramelized onions, served with a Parmigiano Regianno cream sauce, and gnocchi filled with dried figs and pancetta. The combination of sweet and salty was delectable; Chef Michaud hit all the right notes. The secondi course was sublime, wahoo served with luscious pistachio crema and figs gratinee.
Finally, dessert was served; all I can say is, wow! A huge bowl of fig sorbetta with fig saba. Saba is like aged Balsamic vinegar, thick and sweet – I could have eaten the whole bowl all by myself, it was so creamy and sweet. Dinner was “Fignomenal!”
The dinner conversation was lively and enlightening; we learned more interesting things about figs from Karla. Fig season runs mid-May thru December in California. The first crop is always sweeter because of the warm temperatures during the day and the cooler temperature at night. California figs are the highest quality figs in the world due to the cultural practices of the dedicated farmers. California produces 100 percent of the nation’s dried figs and 98 percent of the fresh figs. Increased demand for California Figs has set the state for a sustainable industry.
California produces 100 percent of the nation’s dried figs and 98 percent of the fresh figs. Increased demand for California Figs has set the state for a sustainable industry.
In California, there are 5 primary varieties of figs and can be compared to wines.
Black Mission: (dried/fresh) purple and black skin with deep earthy flavor, like a Cabernet
Calimyrna: (dried/fresh) pale yellow skin with a buttery and nutty flavor, like a Chardonnay
Kadota: (dried/fresh) creamy amber skin with a light flavor, like Sauvignon Blanc
Brown Turkey: (fresh) light purple to black skin with robust flavor, like a Pinot Noir
Sierras: (dried/fresh) light colored skin with a fresh, sweet flavor, like a Riesling
Another type of fig we talked about was the Tiger fig, which is striped on the outside; the inside’s color and taste are similar to raspberries. I have never seen or tasted this one; Karla promised to send me some…I will keep you posted!