Grilled sweet figs paired with creamy, simple Mascarpone Ice Cream oozing with honey flavor, rippled with a balsamic reduction and topped with chopped walnuts. Are you hungry now?
I’d love to say I am highly educated about Figs. I’m not. My main experience with figs is through their marriage with the ‘Newton’. Loved them as a kid and frankly never considered the gooey, sweet cookie center may have originated in nature.
It’s only been in the past years as I’ve overtly sought out produce to master that figs have surfaced on my radar. But I avoid them. Nestled amidst friendly, familiar summer fruits, the box of figs sits, like big fat brown-and-purple teardrops, foreign and intimidating.
I have not been able to bridge the what-do-I-do with-this feeling to envisage a reason to invite figs home with me. This is not my first trip at this rodeo. I’ve picked up indigenous produce around the world wondering how it might transform from its natural seemingly inedible form into something delicious and alluring. My natural instinct when experiencing this sheer lack of inspiration is to start basic; prepare the produce as naturally as possible to explore its characteristics, texture, and flavors in its most natural form; kind of like getting to know a new friend in their element.
This week boxes of Brown Turkey Figs sat primly amidst Donut Peaches, ripe Raspberries, and apricots and instead of walking by hoping they did not spot me I went in. I chatted with the produce guy about what Brown Turkey Figs were (a popular variety of fig) and learned people really like them; they’d just arrived and were flying off the shelf. Somehow bolstered by feeling in sync with the fig’s produce vogue, I grabbed two boxes knowing immediate what I’d do with them. Grill them. Maybe not the most obvious choice but many fruits are fantastic when gently grilled. Their natural sweetness blossoms and is contrasted by the smoky grill notes.
Of course when you have a new guest visiting you want them to feel comfortable. Grilled figs certainly called for a surrounding dish. The idea of making Mascarpone Ice Cream came to mind, with Honey (a wonderful sweetener with figs), Walnuts (another classic escort) with a Balsamic Vinegar reduction rippling through the ice cream. As soon as it was all planned out I quickly forget this was the fig debut in my kitchen and it felt like a comfortable gang of upscale friends were coming together for a perfect get together!
The Mascarpone Ice Cream is simple and quick. I decided not to toil over a custard process but rather combined some simple mascarpone, honey, half and half, lemon juice and salt, blending it up and pouring it into the ice cream maker. It turned out creamy and light with a clear flavor of mascarpone and honey. When lightly rippling the balsamic reduction together with the figs and walnuts it was nothing short of perfection. Certainly worth the wait for the figs!
This ice cream recipe is straight forward and certainly not fussy. Everything is added to a blender then frozen in an ice cream maker. To ensure proper freezing I suggest the ice cream be made the night before planning to eat it and frozen in a separate container overnight for the best effect; I personally do that with all homemade ice cream. The flavors for this dish are sophisticated without being pretentious. It's a flavorful comforting summer dessert.
- ½ cup aged Balsamic Vinegar
- 1 1/2 cup Half and Half
- 8 ounces Mascarpone Cheese
- ½ cup Honey
- 1 tablespoon Lemon Juice
- 1/8 teaspoon Kosher Salt
- Figs (1 per planned serving), ripe but firm
- Olive Oil for basting figs before grilling
- Walnuts, chopped (1-2 tablespoons per serving)
- Place the balsamic vinegar in a small sauce pan over medium-low heat. Bring to a high simmer, stirring constantly, until reduced to 3 tablespoons (check frequently so the vinegar does reduce more than desired). Place balsamic reduction in a small container in the refrigerator to cool.
- In a blender combine the half and half, mascarpone cheese, honey, lemon juice and salt. Blend to combine.
- Pour mixture into a prepared ice cream maker and process to manufacturer’s directions.
- Select a freezer-safe container to store the ice cream. Note: the balsamic reduction is strong and very little is needed. You will drizzle approximately two tablespoons throughout the ice cream (method following) which is ample and leaves around a tablespoon to drizzle on finished servings. Very slowly drizzle a very small stream of the balsamic reduction into the bottom of the container.
- Spoon finished ice cream onto the balsamic reduction and drizzle more on top of the ice cream. Continue until all the ice cream is in the container and the balsamic reduction is interwoven through the ice cream. Cover and place ice cream in the freezer overnight. Refrigerate the remaining balsamic reduction in a sealed container.
- To grill the figs (should be done just before serving) : heat gas grill to 350 degrees. Clean grill. Cut figs in half lengthwise and paste the inside with olive oil.
- Place figs on heated grill face down just until grill marks form (approximately 2 minutes; less time for small sized figs). Turn over and grill on the outside for 1 minute. Figs should be seared but not overly soft.
- Remove and allow to sit five minutes. While figs compose themselves, scoop out ice cream portions into serving dishes. Sprinkle with 1-2 tablespoons of chopped walnuts. Place two fig halves on each portion and drizzle with a very small amount of the balsamic reduction.