Sauteeing figs caramelizes and intensifies the sugars. These little toasts combine that luscious sweetness with the sharp saltiness of feta cheese. Finishing them off with balsamic syrup, topped with a peppery fresh mint leaf, will leave you craving more. They make a great hors d’oeuvre or first course.
For 24 hors d’oeuvres
24 slices baguette, ¼ to ½ inch thick, toasted
2 T unsalted butter
12 fresh figs, halved lengthwise
6 oz sheep’s milk feta cheese
Balsamic vinegar syrup, store-bought or make your own (recipe below)
coarse sea salt
24 mint leaves, washed
In a large non-stick pan, melt butter over medium heat. When butter foams, add fresh fig halves cut-side down. Do not crowd, you may have to do this in two batches. Saute figs until they release their juices and turn golden, about five minutes. Flip and continue sauteing until butter and figs begin to caramelize, five minutes more. Remove to a bowl and repeat with second batch as needed, or just turn off the heat and let the figs sit in the caramelized juices while you assemble the toasts.
Slice feta cheese into thin slices, don’t worry if it crumbles somewhat. You should have enough to cover each of the 24 toasts. Place cheese on toast. When the figs are ready, using a spatula or fork, carefully place one half fig on top of each cheese-topped toast. Drizzle about ½ t of balsamic syrup on each fig toast; add a small sprinkle of coarse sea salt; top with mint leaf. Serve warm or room temperature.
1½ C balsamic vinegar
2 T sugar
In a small saucepan over medium heat, simmer ingredients until reduced to ½ cup. Cool and store until ready to use.
Figs, like bananas, pack a punch of potassium, which is especially important for people on the go. In addition, they are one of the richest sources of phytosterols, a plant nutrient that can reduce cholesterol.
Fig trees can get to 15 feet in height by about 10 feet in diameter. In the mid-Atlantic region, they do best if grown against a wall to protect them from north winds. The first harvest of figs grows on old wood — limbs that are more than a year old. The second and heavier harvest — in August and September — is borne on new wood. New branches and limbs are produced each year as the tree fills out. Once a fig tree matures, it will need heavy pruning to keep it civilized. Figs trees also root easily — a branch or limb that grows horizontally close to the ground will send out roots and start a whole new tree.