One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.

-Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, "Pavarotti, My Own Story"

Monday, August 22, 2011

Broiled Figs with Feta, Mint and Balsamic Syrup

Every year around this time, something magical starts to happen in western Turkey: Figs start to come into season and their perfume permeates the air, thick like a blanket. There are some who find the heavy, sweet smell cloying, but to me, the aroma of fig trees always brings back fond memories of countless childhood summers spent at our beach house on the west coast. We have a fig tree in the yard and to this day, I always stop and fill my lungs deeply with the fig-scented air whenever I pass by. 

A ripe fig is a delicious, beautiful, sensual fruit. I love the interplay of textures it provides. Its thin skin yields easily to teeth, giving way to the quick crunch of the seeds and a burst of sweet pulp. Unfortunately, the figs that I've been able to find in the States are expensive and nowhere near as good as those grown near the Aegean. To make up for the disappointment of getting mediocre fruit, I created a recipe which uses a tasty assortment of toppings. Each fig gets a nub of feta and a splash of olive oil, before being broiled and topped with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and some fresh mint. The heat of the oven makes the figs jammy and sweet, which is offset nicely by the salt in the cheese and the tang of the vinegar. Of course, I needn't mention that while this appetizer is delicious with so-so figs, it will be absolutely amazing with good, ripe ones! 

Broiled Figs with Feta, Mint and Balsamic Syrup 
These figs can also be prepared on the grill, over indirect heat. The balsamic vinegar is simmered to thicken it and concentrate its sweetness, but you can skip this step and drizzle it on straight if you'd rather not bother. Serves 5.

10 figs, halved length-wise
Olive oil
1-2 oz feta or goat cheese, roughly crumbled
A few mint leaves, stacked and cut into very thin strips with scissors
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1. Turn on the broiler and place a rack in the top third of the oven. Line a baking sheet with foil and brush the foil with olive oil.

2. Gently push a hazelnut-sized bit of cheese into each fig. Line the figs, cut-side up, on the prepared baking sheet and drizzle them with a little olive oil.

3. Put the figs under the hot broiler. While the figs are broiling, simmer the vinegar in a small pan over medium-low heat until reduced by about a third, then take it off the heat. 

4. Check the figs after five minutes. The cheese should be slightly melted and browned. Broil for a minute or two more if that is not the case, then take the figs out of the oven.

5. Put a drop or two of the reduced vinegar over each fig, followed by a few strips of fresh mint. Let cool for a few minutes before serving. 

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