I may be half Puerto Rican, but when it comes to food, I’m half Italian.
My dad was born in Chicago, but grew up in Rome, Italy. The food he ate growing up was fresh and full of flavor, without being overly complicated. When I was growing up, he insisted that foods be prepared and consumed unadulterated and instead focused on the quality and preparation of ingredients. Steaks were cooked medium-rare with only a bit salt, pepper and butter, and God forbid we ever used tomato sauce from a jar. My mother taught me how to cook and encouraged my creativity in the kitchen, but it was my father who reigned me in and taught me that I didn’t need two-dozen ingredients for a dish to taste good. He taught me the elegance of simplicity and the importance of letting star ingredients shine through. Key flavors should be enhanced rather than embellished, and some of the best recipes I’ve encountered set their foundation on a handful of high-quality ingredients. If you have something great to start with, you don’t bog it down in cacophony of flavors. Case in point, this next recipe:
Fichi con Formaggio- Roasted Figs with Cheese
Italians have anywhere from four to ten courses per meal. The formaggi e fruta, or fruit and cheese course, comes after the main meal and before dessert. It’s a great transition between the savory and the sweet, and the combination together is still one of my favorite flavor profiles. The naturally sweet figs pair best with tart cheeses such as gorgonzola, goat cheese, or quark. I’ve made this a couple of times now and my favorite combination is gorgonzola with honey.
12 figs, stems removed
1/4 cup gorgonzola crumbles, or other tart cheese
1 tbsp honey, plus extra for serving
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
Pre-heat the oven to 375.
Cut the figs into quarters, but only halfway down.
Tease out the cut pieces so the fig looks like a flower, then place each one into a muffin tray.
With your thumb over the mouth of the bottle to control the flow, drizzle a bit of olive oil over each of the figs. In a small bowl, mix together the honey and cheese, then spoon a little into each cut fig. If you want an extra bit of texture, the walnuts really round out the flavor with a sweet nuttiness. Add a small piece just before roasting for 15 minutes.
We’ve tried these with bread, with crackers, and on their own, and Dad’s wisdom holds true: less is more. I could easily eat one of these whole and without anything else, but if you’re looking for a carbohydrate vehicle, simple crackers work best. Drizzle with a bit more honey to serve.