In the valley below my in-laws’ house in Manfredonia, there is a sea of prickly pear cactus, and this time of year they are overburdened with multicolored fruit. They tell me at one time, the whole area was covered with them. In the mornings, I often saw older men walking through the cactus valley, picking fruit that belongs to no one, and later selling it on the streets. The first time I ever tried a fico d’India (Indian fig) was in Palermo, Sicily in 2003. Even in November, they were still selling this brightly-colored fruit on the street. In Italy, this fruit is most abundant in Sicily, but it can also be found in Calabria and Puglia.
When I dragged S down in the valley with me to take pictures, one of the men I’d seen in the mornings watched us from above.
As we neared the cactus, he leaned over the railing and yelled, “Giovanotto! (Young’in!) You’ll hurt your hands, they’re full of spines!”
We had just come back from the beach, so I was definitely tempting fate wandering down in my cover-up and flip flops, but I waved the camera at him and assured him I wouldn’t be touching anything as we picked our way through the sticky obstacle course.
Ivonne, from Cream Puffs in Venice has served as a big inspiration for me in cooking and blogging. The Festa al Fresco (hosted with Lis) 2006 was the first event that I really sat up and paid attention to, that really inspired me to get off my duff and get cooking. Last year, I made Stracchino, Pomodorini e Olive Crostini – a simple and fresh appetizer that could be made in minutes. This year, it’s no different – far from being hot comfort food that warms your insides, the Festa al Fresco reminds us of a time when eating is about fresh and fast – comforting ourselves in the kitchen is not as feasible when temperatures are high and muggy.
Fichi d’India, or Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit, are full of seeds and many people ingest the entire fruit without separating seeds from pulp. The most common use of this fruit, other than eating it fresh, is making preserves with it, and there are many recipes for marmelata di fichi d’india (prickly pear jelly) online.
Fichi d’India – Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit Vinaigrette
4 Fichi d’India, spines removed (about 1/2c. fruit juice)
1/4c. olive oil (not extra virgin) or other vegetable oil
1/4c. white wine vinegar
1 T. sugar
1 t. salt
Fresh ground pepper
- To cut and extract the fruit from the skin, cut off both ends and slice once through the fruit lengthwise. You can then peel the skin back from the fruit and extract the insides. Il Manfredoniano has an excellent video on how the local sellers clean cactus fruit in literally seconds. They keep them soaking in water beforehand.
- After you’ve extracted the fruit, mash them to extract the juice from the seeds. If you want to have a little fun, use your hands and squeeze them yourself! Strain the mixture through a fine collander/sieve, continually squishing to extract as much juice as you can.
- In a bowl or salad dressing shaker, pour the ingredients together and shake/stir vigorously.
Variations: – add oregano or lemon juice, use it on your Insalata Caprese or to spice up a bean salad. It’s pretty subtle so don’t use an extra virgin olive oil or you will overpower it. This vinaigrette also goes good on fruit as well.
Make sure you check the Festa al Fresco round-ups on Ivonne and Lis’ sites. For another idea to use Fichi D’India, Ilva from Lucullian Delights makes prickly pear juice!
I actually have a one of these cacti on my balcony. It’s had a bad summer though so I don’t plan on seeing any fruit.
I love how quickly an expert can skin those babies. I usually let them do it.
You know I was thinking about you the other day and wondering if you’d come to the party. Sorry I haven’t been around much lately. It’s been a busy spring and summer.
We adore fichi d’india and even though they cost an arm and a leg here, we always look forward to them. This vinaigrette is pure genius.
Thanks for coming to the party!
Wow! I don’t think I’ve ever seen something like this before! I know that in East used to eat Sabris Cactus Fruit and special peeling technics is needed for eating them.
I love your blog!
african vanielje says
Wow, I’ve just been swept of my feet by a tidal wave of nostalgia. As a child I lived in the Constantia Valley in Cape Town, with the mountain at our back and vines and views down to the sea at our feet, when we stepped out of the front door. We had (and I’m jealous of my childhood self here) an avocado tree, some banana trees, a mulberry tree, a loquat tree, lemon trees in abundance, apricot trees, vines and , you guessed it, prickly pears. We loved them and never heede the prickly warning. At least once a week my mother would have to break out the tweezers to extract splinters. I had a sister and cousins who loved them as much as I did, so it was always a study in patience to leave them to ripen long enough, but a race to get to them first the moment they did. My mouth is watering just at the memory. Thanks, that’s what I love about good blogs.
Shelley, At Home in Rome says
I lived in Arizona, cactus mecca of the States, for years, and used to see all kinds of tourist stuff like Prickly Pear candy, jelly, etc., but never really knew exactly what it looked like or how you could actually eat it. Interesting!!
Thanks for the interesting post. I haven’t had a prickly pear in many many years. I’m now hungry.
I bought a box that came with six pieces (to be honest, I was attracted to the colours that’s why I bought it). I thought they’re just be a little variation of the normal figs. I let it sat for 1.5 weeks thinking they should soften up anytime soon, they didn’t. So yesterday (before I saw this post), I cut one open for my hubby and I to share, and we actually tried to eat it spitting out the tiny hard seeds! We both gave it up without finishing it.
Now, thanks to your blog, the other 5 remaining will not go to waste, I will try to make the vinegarette and use it on salads! Fantastic!
Gian Banchero says
I first learned to love “ufigghi d’india” as a child when accompanying my Sicilian mother and grandmother in cactus fields here in central California… We had no trouble with the fuzz “stinging” us being that before harvesting the fruit we’d pass burning newspaper over the fichi which would eliminate any problems and wouldn’t harm the frond (leaf)… If growing cactus for its fruit do not water the plant during the summer being it’ll think it’s winter and won’t produce any fichi. If you’ve never eaten fichi d’india be prepared for a lot of seeds which most Sicilians swallow being they believe them to be an anti-carcinogenic… A nun in Sicily told me that the fruit’s dried flowers make a tea that is good for the kidneys… How wonderful to have a soft, almost mushy ficho d’india just cut off the plant, still warm from the sun, nothing better… Please remember that the store bought product comes nowhere close to what is grown at home or in the wilds. Most cacti produce a good product, I have three different types from Sicily and one from Mexico… In Sicily I found a red ice cream made with fichi d’india, delicious!!!
clare lee says
how is the taste of this fruit, is this fruit available in malaysia
Gian, I wish there were someway to get in touch with you :( I am interested in purchasing ficchi d’india pads from any SICILIAN varities that you may have (or anyone else!!!). My parents are from Sicily and they miss good, sweet ficchi d’India (and so do I)…please contact me at [redacted] if you have any you’d like to share/sell. Thank you!!!
bob jantzen says
In southern Italy they make a cream liqueur with this fichi d’india fruit, thanks for helping me learn that its name in english is prickly pear. It makes a terrific gelato flavor, if only I had more of the liqueur to experiment with! recipe on my website.
Prickly pears are very native to Egypt too. It’s amazing stuff really. We call it “teen shoki” in Arabic which translates into “Prickly Fig”. Heh.