GISELE PEREZ (this article was first published in October 2012)
“Where I grew up, grown men did not eat grilled figs with baby greens and artisanal goat’s milk cheese,” writes John Besh in his book My New Orleans: The Cookbook, When I had the chance to sit down and talk with John Besh last summer, I asked him about that statement. “My grandfather, and your grandfather would have never eaten a grilled fig salad, but you eat figs- everybody in New Orleans loved figs… in a jam on toast… in cookies and cakes.”
It’s true, I’ve heard older relatives of mine in California speak lovingly of the Celeste figs they grew up eating in New Orleans. Fortunately, we have our own varieties of figs here in California, too.
Chef Besh went on to make the point, that this passion for food which surrounded him growing up, laid the foundation for him to become a chef. Figs hold “a special place in my heart and cupboard” he writes, because his Granddaddy was a connoisseur of figs. “And I love to merge down home with my uppity French style,” he told me.
The versatile and sensuous fig has now found its way into many applications in Besh’s and many other chefs’ kitchens, and the grilled fig, so perfectly carrying us from summer into fall, has become a favorite in salads.
Grilled Figs with Baby Greens, Blue Cheese and Spiced Pecans
- Approximately 8 ounces mixed baby greens
- 1 cup spiced pecans (recipe follows)
- 1 pint grilled figs (recipe follows)
- Approximately 3 tablespoons fig balsamic vinaigrette (recipe follows)
- 4-5 ounces excellent quality blue cheese, crumbled (I use Point Reyes Blue Cheese- Maytag would be great, too)
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Mix baby greens and grilled figs gently with fig balsamic in a large mixing bowl. Add spiced pecans.
Heap one large fistful of salad onto a serving plate. Garnish with crumbled blue cheese. Finish with a sprinkling of coarse salt and freshly ground pepper.
For the Spiced Pecans:
- 1 cup pecan halves
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
Toast the pecans in a dry sauté pan over medium high heat about 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally until lightly toasted.
Sprinkle 1/4 cup of sugar/spice mixture over the pecans stirring until melted. Caution – this happens very quickly. Be careful that the sugar doesn’t burn.
Stir the butter into the pecans until melted. Sprinkle the powdered sugar over the nuts, and stir until melted.
Quickly pour the nuts onto a parchment lined baking sheet, separating them. Sprinkle 1/2-1 teaspoon full more of the sugar spice mixture over the nuts while the nuts are still not, then allow nuts to cool.For the Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette:
- 1/4 cup fig balsamic vinegar (available at www.
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Whisk in olive oil slowly until an emulsion forms. Add salt and pepper to taste.For the Grilled Figs:
Lightly brush the fig halves with @ 2 tablespoons of the Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette. PLace cut side down on a clean grill or ridged cast iron grill pan. Grill about 1 minute on the cut side, then turn over and grill on the skin side, @ 1 minute more, until slightly soft, but not so soft that they cannot be easily lifted from the grill.
Bonus suggestion- enjoy with a couple of slices of thinly sliced Prosciutto on crostini