Growing up in Louisiana, Michael Gulotta was as familiar with figs as most kids are with apples, thanks to a huge Celeste fig tree that dominated his backyard. “We had so many that we had trouble finding uses for all of them,” says Gulotta, now chef de cuisine at August restaurant in New Orleans. “I remember washing them in large metal mixing bowls full to the top, the entire house smelling like little flowery gumdrops.” That scent is reflected in the Celeste’s delicate flavor and floral finish. “People aren’t used to figs being that sweet,” Gulotta says.
The chef likes to split his lengthwise and sauté them with bacon fat until golden and crispy around the outside. He drizzles a little cane syrup and vinegar over the top, finishes them with torn basil and crushed red pepper flakes, and serves them with whipped goat cheese and pecans. When selecting figs, look for Celestes that are light brown or purple and feel heavy for their size. Most important, their aroma should be apparent, even overpowering. “The first thing I did when I purchased my house, right down the street from my mom, was plant a Celeste fig tree in my backyard,” Gulotta says. Home sweet home.