While perusing the produce section of my local Whole Foods yesterday, I had a temporary moment of stupidity as I walked up to two precariously balanced pyramids of fresh figs and suddenly just had to have some. I know very well that figs are one of the most perishable fruits out there and that they need to be eaten soon after harvesting, and that there is nary a fig tree anywhere here in the greater Chicago area, so therefore these figs would probably, well, stink. Yet somehow, my brain completely short circuited and I happily skipped out of the store with two pints of fresh figs and delusions of some sort of blue cheese/fig/prosciutto hors d'oeuvre that I could nibble on over the course of a languid summer afternoon while reading a book on my front porch overlooking Napa Valley (yes, the whole valley. Hey, I said "delusional," didn't I?). Fifteen minutes later, as I stood in my cramped town home kitchen with an adorable babbling two month old on my hip, I tasted a fig and realized that my prosciutto-wrapped daydream was not meant to be, and that I needed to find a plan B.
Plan B came in the form of Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home. If you have never perused this book, get thee to thy local bookstore and take a gander. Thomas Keller (he of The French Laundry *insert choir of angels*) is the man. I can't think of one recipe of his that I've tried that didn't rock my face off, and this one is no exception. Some of his recipes can be a bit fussy, but this one is simple: Cut up fruit, add balsamic and spice, simmer, finish with lemon juice, and cool. If you're wary of the ingredients (vinegar and peppercorns in jam?), don't be. The balsamic vinegar simmers down enough to lose most of the vinegary punch and adds sweetness, and the peppercorns add just enough of an earthy undertone to keep it from getting too sweet. If you've ever had mulled wine with peppercorns, it's very similar. The resulting jam is just sweet enough to still fall in the category of jams eligible for smearing on toast for breakfast, but savory enough to be well-utilized as an ingredient in tomorrow night's dinner. I'm eying a pork roast recipe in Ad Hoc at Home that calls for a cup of the jam. If you don't have access to fresh figs, dried figs will work perfectly fine, too.
Fig and Balsamic Jam Ad Hoc at Home, Thomas Keller
Ingredients: 2 lbs. Black Mission figs, stems removed and coarsely chopped 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (use a good-quality sweet balsamic) 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, tied into a sachet (I ran out of cheesecloth and ended up using a tea ball) Fresh lemon juice
Directions: Combine the figs, sugar, balsamic vinegar, and a sachet in a large saucepan and attach a candy thermometer to the pan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, stirring to break up the large pieces of fig, keeping a chunky consistency, until the jam reaches 215 to 220 degrees F. Remove from the heat.
Remove the sachet and stir in the lemon juice to taste. Spoon the jam into a canning jar or other storage container, cover, and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for up to 1 month.