One day not so long ago, I was in the produce section of the supermarket, lost in thought as I tried to remember my shopping list. Apparently my vacant gaze fell on a basket of fresh figs. An elderly man shopping nearby mistook my glazed-over stare for interest. He got my attention and then with great enthusiasm began to tell me about the fig bush he had at home. The fruits were perfectly ripe just now and they were unbelievably tender and sweet. “Most people don't know about fresh figs,” he said sorrowfully, and then shook his head in amazement at the $0.99 each sign on the produce bin. I said something polite and off he went, but I stood there for a few moments, absolutely floored. Brief as the encounter was, he reminded me so much of my father – his age, his phrases and mannerisms, his love of growing things – that I almost felt I'd seen a ghost. How do you reach out to someone like that? Do you say, "Hello, you remind me of my father, I would like to get to know you better?" I'd get put away for trying to pick up grandpas in the grocery store.

I'd been too embarassed to tell him, but I'd never had fresh figs before. So now in honor of this gentleman I simply had to try some, and I bought four. I vaguely recalled that figs went well with goat cheese, a new favorite of ours, so once home I looked for that combination in my books and on Google. The most popular cooking method seems to be grilling (preferably on fresh rosemary skewers) but I lack a grill, thus the broiler. Herbs are not always included, but rosemary seems the most popular, followed by thyme. Some recipes leave the figs whole and pipe the filling into the cross-cut stem end of the fruit. Others use grilled fig halves and suggest a bowl of goat cheese mixed with cream cheese or heavy cream as a dip. The figs are not always wrapped, but when they are, prosciutto, pancetta, or grape leaves are used. I took all that into consideration and created a recipe that made sense for what I had on hand, but you could easily vary it and still have something fantastic.

Somewhat to my surprise, my fruit-despising husband endorsed this recipe with a request to make it a regular on our menu. The crisped prosciutto contrasts beautifully with the creamy, tangy goat cheese and the sweet tenderness of the fresh figs. I added the walnuts for more crunch and the orange to direct the flavor of the sweetness. The hint of black pepper helps to balance it. It can be served as a delicious treat, appetizer, side dish, or even as a dessert. I prepared this intending to serve two people for a light lunch and we wound up with leftovers, as Mr. Maylith and I were quite happy with two fig halves each. Whatever your name may be, sir, I hope this does justice to your treasured fig bush.

Ingredients

  • 4 fresh figs, rinsed, stems sliced off, split in half longwise
  • 8 walnut halves, toasted in a dry pan over medium heat until they smell nutty, about 2 minutes
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) plain goat cheese (also known as chèvre)
  • 1 Tablespoon (15 ml) honey
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) orange marmalade
  • small pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 inch (10 cm) stem of fresh rosemary, leaves stripped off and finely minced
  • 8-10 thin slices of prosciutto
  • non-stick spray

Method

Set up a small sheet pan that will fit in your broiler, or use heavy duty tinfoil to make one. Spray it with non-stick spray.

Cut your goat cheese off the log and put it in a small bowl on your countertop for about an hour. Once it has softened, use a fork to mash in the honey, marmalade, pepper, and rosemary and mix it well.

Split the goat cheese mixture into eighths. Top each fig half with an eighth of the cheese mixture and top with one walnut half.

Turn on your broiler. If you are in the UK, turn on your grill. (Thanks XWiz!)

Take a prosciutto slice and fold it in half longwise. Use it to wrap up a fig half. If the prosciutto slice is ragged, try to find a solid area in the slice to place over the goat cheese, and patch as needed with bits from other slices. Continue until you have all the fig halves done.

Place the fig halves with the cheese side down onto your broiling sheet. Broil for 3-4 minutes. Pull them out, flip them over so the cheesy side is now facing up, and broil for another 3-4 minutes. The prosciutto will blacken slightly around the edges; that is what you are looking for.

Serve, warm or at room temperature, with a knife and fork. Or, if you don't mind getting messy, pick it right up with your fingers and have at. You can serve them on a nice bed of salad greens if you wish, but ours didn't last long enough for the salad treatment. Devour at will!

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Notes

If you want to scale this recipe (and it scales well) here's how to estimate how much goat cheese you need. For a goat cheese log about as big in diameter as a hen's egg, a 1/4-1/3 inch (1 cm) slice is enough for two fig halves.

I don't know what variety of figs it was that I used, or even whether it matters. They were green and brown on the outside and fairly firm to the touch. Once cut open, they were a soft white inside with a very delicate rosy coloring in the middle.

If you dislike figs (though I can't imagine why!) you might try this with fresh stonefruit such as peaches. Pears would also work, and Stilton or another blue cheese would be lovely if you do not care for goat cheese.

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