As I get older the holidays are more special as family and friends are all so busy year-round that they are the few times to really be together. I so enjoy my family, so full of love and laughter. And as I always say in my holiday columns, it is also the time for much eating (and maybe over-eating).
Appetizers are my favorite part of all the get-togethers. There is always such a delicious array of cheeses, crackers, dips, chips, vegetables, seafood and so many delicacies. I find I really like those rare ones that incorporate figs, satisfying that sweet-salty taste so many of us savor. Figs wrapped in prosciutto being the most well known one.
Having been around since 5000 B.C., in some religions, figs are referred to as a sign of peace and prosperity and thought to be native to Western Asia or Egypt. They reached England and China by the 1600’s and thanks to some Spanish missionaries, they were planted and still thrive in California. There are many varieties, each with its own unique flavor. We see mostly the purple or yellow figs in our grocery stores. Once bought, figs are quite perishable and should be refrigerated if not eaten within a few days. They also claim many health factors, such as lowering blood pressure and adding fiber to your diet.
After some research through my cookbooks and hunting down recipes I have collected over the years, here are a few of my favorite fig appetizers.
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. black pepper (freshly ground)
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
1 Tb. olive oil
12 tablespoons fresh goat cheese or crumbled blue cheese
Preheat the oven to 350°. Slice the baguette in 12 long, thin slices.
Rinse the figs clean and pat them dry. Trim off any excess stem ends and chop. Place the chopped figs in a medium bowl and toss with the vinegar, pepper, and salt. Let the figs sit for at least 15 minutes at room temperature or up to 1 hour covered in the fridge to let flavors blend. When you're ready to serve, try the fig mixture and adjust seasoning to taste.
Place the baguette slices on a baking sheet and brush them with olive oil. Toast them lightly for 7 minutes, turning once, until lightly golden. Spread about 1 tablespoon of your chosen cheese on each baguette slice and top each with an even amount of the fig mixture. Serve. Makes 12 pieces.
**Both the fig mixture and bread toasts can be prepared in advance, just don’t assemble them until ready to serve as the bread will get soggy.
Bacon & Fig Bread Jam
12 ounces Applewood Smoked Bacon chopped
1/2-pound shallots peeled and roughly chopped
10 ounces Mission Figs stemmed and chopped
2-1/4 tsp salt kosher
1 dash black pepper
2 tsp sherry vinegar
Place the chopped bacon in a sauté pan and fry. As it begins to release grease, stir in the shallots, figs, salt, and pepper. Sauté for an additional 3 minutes, stirring to combine. Cover slightly and cook for another 10 minutes or so until thick. Stir in the vinegar and transfer the mixture to a food processor. Pulse until chunky (about 10 pulses to turn into jam.) Store in a glass container in the fridge and use on toasts, vegetables or meats.
California Fig Skewers
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1-1/2 tsp honey
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
2 Tb. fresh parsley chopped
2 Tb. fresh thyme chopped
2 cloves garlic smashed
2/3 cup olive oil
16 bamboo skewers
16 California Mission figs stemmed
16 mozzarella balls drained and patted dry on a paper towel
1 red pepper cut into 16 pieces
16 pieces green onion 2" lengths
16 pieces dry Italian salami or whole pitted olives
Make marinade: In a small bowl, combine the wine vinegar, honey, salt and crushed red pepper. Stir to dissolve honey and salt. Stir in parsley, thyme, garlic and olive oil. Transfer half of the marinade to a separate bowl. Put the figs into one bowl and add 1 tablespoon water. Combine cheese and the remaining marinade in the other bowl. Cover both bowls and chill for 8 hours or up to two days, stirring occasionally.
To assemble the skewers, drain the figs and cheese, reserving marinade and discarding the garlic. Alternate one of each item (Fig, cheese ball, bell pepper, green onion and salami or olive onto each skewer). For larger skewers, alternate two of each item on each skewer. Arrange on a plate and serve.