The majority of the countryside of Tuscany is made up of hills where farming is the main occupation; grapes, olives, vegetables and fruit. Fig trees enjoy the heat and the dry weather conditions so they grow there in abbundance.
We enjoyed our first taste of this succulent, heavenly fruit while staying at "Antico Borgo di Sugame", just outside Greve in Chianti. The family friendly acriturismo with charming, traditionally renovated apartments overlooking the hills and vinyards of the area is owned and operated by the Miceli family. While Lorenzo works tirelessly on his organic Chianti vinyard and produces wonderful vintages of Chianti Classico and Chianti Reserva as well as his own, rich Tuscan oliveoil with a distinctive peppery finish, his wife Catrina takes care of the holiday rentals and the guests.
The old Borgo, consisting of several stone houses was built around a shared piazza. Big arched french doors opened straight from our cute Tuscan kitchen onto that common area and to the left grew the biggest fig tree I had ever seen.
Well, frankly I hadn't seen any such tree species up until that point . Neither my home country, Germany, nor the Mid-Hudson Valley in New York grow these fabulous culinary wonders. The only figs I had tasted, where in the mushed up paste in Fig- Newton cookies and the dried varieties in the produce section of the grocery stores. I tend to stay clear of those since they bear a disconcerting resemblance to prunes, which we all know are favored to help things along a bit.
So imagine my surprise, when my husband picked the plump green fruit right off of the tree and after cutting it in half told me to try it. It was delicious!!! An explosion of sweet, honey flavored juices made me shiver with pure delight and I was in love. We enjoyed those figs, which became a part of our daily diet while staying at this enchanted place high up on the hill.
The second time I experienced this amazing ' food-gasm' was in Parma in the Emilia-Romagna area of Italy. On a different trip to the furtile Po River Valley in northern Italy we spent a pleasant morning exploring the town. Our growling tummies were a sure indicator that lunch time was nearing.
In the center of Parma is a beautiful, peaceful, public park and we decided to have a picnic there. Russ and I went foraging for fresh foods. We started of at the butcher where we purchased prociutto, and prociutto cotto ( cooked ham). At a small cheese shop we added 48 month ripened Parmeasano Reggiano and a medley of olives to our treasures. And to complete our feast we stopped at the street market and purchased plump, ripe, enourmous figs.
Now the only thing missing was the vino. We decided to go with the famous wine of the region Lambrusco, a bubbly easy to drink red. The store owners were incredibly kind and provided us with plastic cups and even opened the bottle for us. As we have often been reminded, drinking in public is not frowned upon in Italy and wandering around with glasses of wine, or an open bottle would not get us in troble with the local poliziotti.
All set now, Russ and I picked up my in-laws, which we had parked at a caffe to enjoy an espresso and rest their tired tootsies for a while. All four of us set off for the park and found a beautiful old stone bench in the shade of big trees, unwrapped our treasures and began to dig in. We wrapped chunks of parmesan and fig with pieces of procuitto and deoured them.
The figs were so ripe that the honey juices ran down our fingers and caused us to be surrounded by bees in moments, who apperently approved of our choice of food and were drawn by the irresistable sweet smell. Who could blame them? That unforgetable lunch is one of our favorite vacation memories, and my mouth waters just thinking about those dolce fichi...