When traveling through central Italy, especially Tuscany, you will find that the concept of dessert is often not what we see in the USA. Most often fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, and cheese will be served after dinner. In many cities and regions, it is not unusual to see sweet & savory desserts, such as a sweet spinach pie. There was a very good discussion of such desserts in the Jan/Feb 2013 issue of La Cucina Italiana.
One recipe in particular caught my attention. When in season, Italians love fresh figs; when not in season, Italians use dried figs. We Italians love figs, and will use them in appetizers, incorporated into a main course (think about stuffing pork, beef, or lamb with goat cheese and figs), for breakfast, or for dessert. I was making a Tuscan meal for a small party, and decided that figs needed to be on the menu. Fresh figs are not quite in season, so I resorted to the dried variety.
Most folks are familiar with the Turkish figs – those squat orbs of intense sweetness, having a honey aftertaste.
I have often use black mission figs, which have more of a mocha aftertaste.
But my favorite is the Calimyrna figs – even in their dried state, they have a wonderful flavor profile, sweet with a bit of earthiness. The recipe that posted below is a slight variation of the one that appeared in the Jan/Feb issue of La Cucina Italiana – but I think you’ll love it. Click here to see the original. Simple, elegant, and absolutely addictive. Enjoy!
2 cups dry white wine (I used Soave)
1 Star anise
Rind from one medium orange
1 tsp sugar
3 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 62% cacao), finely chopped
Generous pinch fine sea salt
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 cup roughly chopped shelled unsalted pistachios, toasted
Flakey coarse sea salt for topping
- In a medium saucepan, combine figs, wine, star anise, and half of the orange rind. Bring liquid to a simmer over medium heat; Put a lid on the pot, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until figs are tender (about 18 to 20 minutes).
- Meanwhile, combine chocolate and fine sea salt in a medium bowl. Bring cream just to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove from heat. Pour hot cream over chocolate; whisk until smooth. Cover surface of ganache with plastic wrap; refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes.
- Strain poached figs through a fine-mesh sieve, and save the liquid; remove and discard the star anise. Transfer figs to a plate and let cool completely, about 15 minutes. Place figs, seed-side up, on a large plate; gently press to flatten slightly.
- Transfer the wine from the poaching to a small sauce pan. Add one teaspoon sugar, and the remaining orange rind, then cook over medium heat until the liquid turns viscous. Remove from the heat.
- Transfer ganache to resealable plastic bag, squeezing it into 1 corner of bag, then cut off ⅓ inch of plastic bag corner to allow for piping. Pipe ganache onto figs.
- Sprinkle nuts and flakey coarse sea salt over ganache. Chill figs in refrigerator to set ganache, 10 minutes or overnight. (If chilling longer than 30 minutes, allow figs to stand at room temperature 20 minutes before serving.) Immediately before serving, drizzle the reduced wine sauce over the figs.
(Note: When I served these at the Tuscan dinner party, I also served a small bowl of zabagione. It was a good match).