Friday, March 19, 2010

To Start: Homemade Fig Jam with Pecorino Romano and Prosciutto

If you will, please take a few moments to imagine the following flavor experience. As you bite into a chewy piece of bread, you immediately taste slightly salty prosciutto, followed by the mellow creaminess of pecorino romano cheese. And then, with the saltiness and creaminess still lingering in your mouth, you taste the luscious, sweet, elegant depth of homemade fig jam.

How could you pass this up?

Now, if confessions are to be made, the inspiration for dried fig jam didn't come out of nowhere. I have become slightly obsessed with dried figs, and it is all thanks to a recent Bicoastal chefs 'trio of figs' tasting (results will be posted soon!). I was amazed to find how delicate, sweet, dainty, and all around delightful figs are. Armed with a new-found love for dried Black Mission Figs, I knew I needed more figs in my life.
And, flipping through my Giada cookbooks, I stumbled across this recipe for fig jam. Given my new culinary inspiration, it seemed perfect. And it was perfect. The jam is amazingly easy, and it is an absolutely delicious way to start a meal.

To make this dish, you need to start by making your simple syrup (equal parts water to sugar).

In a sauce pan, bring the water and sugar to boil, and then reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes. The liquid should be translucent by the time you are done.

In the meantime, toast up some hazelnuts over the stove top (medium heat 8-10 minutes in a dry skillet).
Now, you are going to want to cut up some dried figs.
And pour yourself some brandy. And then pour some more to add to the jam.
(I like E&J VSOP Superior Reserve, you get a lot of quality for an affordable price)

Next, add your figs and brandy to your simple syrup, bring to a boil, remove from heat, and let the figs soak in all that delicious liquid for 10 minutes.
Get out your food processor. Add in the fig mix.
Add in the hazelnuts.
Whiz it all up, until pureed.
And... that's it!! You just made fig jam!
This jam is absolutely perfect with some good bread, pecorino romano cheese, and prosciutto. These ingredients are simply meant to be.
Homemade Fig Jam (adapted from Giada's Kitchen*)
12 dried figs**
3/4 cup simple syrup*** (recipe to follow, but WARNING! the recipe that follows makes more that you need, be sure to remeasure the right amount after you have made the simple syrup)
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts (see note)

Combine the figs, simple syrup, and brandy in a small sauce pan. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, then turn off the heat and set aside for 10 minutes to plump the figs and cool slightly. Transfer the mixture to a food processor. Add the hazelnuts and blend, pulsing until pureed.

Serve alongside pecorino romano cheese and prosciutto.

Note: To toast the nuts, heat them in a small dry skillet over medium heat until they are fragrant and lightly toasted, 8 to 10 minutes. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet to cool completely before using.

*The recipe I include is doubled from the original. It makes a ton of jam, which is delicious on toast.
**The Bicoastal chefs were torn between whether Black Mission figs or Turkish figs are better, but you can't go wrong either way.
***While the recipe would have you put in 1 cup, I thought 1 cup was a bit too sweet, so I reduced it. You could probably reduce the simple syrup more if you wanted.

For the simple syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

In a saucepan, combine the water and sugar over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved.

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