The narrow window of time that bridges late Summer with early Autumn is high time for figs, and I have this season's abundance thanks to a sale at my local market. Figs taste lovely when they're poached in syrup and offered as the close to an evening meal, so perhaps I'll simmer them briefly in Sambuca and finish them with a sweet-salty topping of pine nuts and fresh ricotta. Or, if I've got the time, I'll coat them in a slow-cooked sauce of herbs and spices, then serve with vanilla-imbued mascarpone. Considering the difficult decision I'm faced with, I may prepare both! Decide which recipe suits you and get them both.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
3/4 cup Sambuca
2 tablespoons sugar
12 firm-ripe fresh purple figs
3/4 cup fresh whole-milk ricotta
Heat oil in a small skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook pine nuts, stirring, until golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer to paper towels and season with salt.
Simmer Sambuca with sugar in a saucepan (pan should be just large enough to hold figs upright), stirring until sugar is dissolved. Cut a very thin slice from bottom of each fig and stand figs in liquid in saucepan (figs will not be covered by liquid).
Poach figs at a bare simmer, covered, 5 minutes. Cool slightly in liquid.
Season ricotta with salt and pepper. Divide figs among 4 plates alongside mounds of ricotta and drizzle figs with some of poaching liquid, then sprinkle with pine nuts and serve.
2 cups sweet white wine, such as Sauternes
3/4 cup sugar
2 two-inch strips fresh lemon peel
8 whole black peppercorns
1 two-inch-long cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
2 fresh thyme
2 thin slices fresh ginger
2 whole star anise
3 green cardamom pods
8 large, whole green or purple figs
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
4 1/2 teaspoons confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 vanilla bean
Combine wine, sugar, lemon peel, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, thyme, ginger, star anise, and cardamom in a small, deep saucepan. Place pan over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer 10 minutes. Cover, and simmer 20 minutes more.
Add whole figs to the syrup; return to a simmer, cover, and poach gently until the figs are soft but not mushy, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer figs and syrup to a bowl, and let stand to cool, until no more steam rises. When cool, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
Combine mascarpone and confectioners’ sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Slit vanilla bean lengthwise, and, using a small paring knife, scrape out the seeds into the bowl with the mascarpone mixture. Stir together with a spoon or rubber spatula until well combined.
Remove chilled figs from the refrigerator, and let stand until room temperature. Transfer figs to another bowl, and strain syrup, discarding the solids.
Place 2 figs, sliced in half, in the center of each plate. Spoon some of the poaching liquid to cover plate, and place a dollop of vanilla mascarpone next to figs.