Love figs? Then treat them right

The Denver Post - - FEATURES - By El­lie Krieger Deb Lind­sey, Spe­cial to The Wash­ing­ton Post

Spe­cial to The Wash­ing­ton Post

No food feels more like manna from the heav­ens to me than fresh figs. Plump and sweet with a sen­su­ous meati­ness, they are the epit­ome of food’s abil­ity to both nour­ish and de­light. The win­dow to take ad­van­tage of them is fairly short, from late sum­mer to early fall, so snap them up while you can. And when you do, be sure to de­vote some to mak­ing th­ese scrump­tious tarts, which har­ness the fruit’s essence for a fresher, health­ier take on baklava.

The tart’s base is like the tra­di­tional dessert with lay­ers of phyllo dough. But here, rather than be­ing coated in lots of but­ter, they are brushed with good-foryou olive oil spiked with just a touch of but­ter. The phyllo is then cut into squares and pressed into the wells of a mini-muf­fin tin to form a dozen mini­tarts. (You could use pre­made phyllo tart shells in­stead, if you pre­fer to skip this step.) The cups are filled with finely chopped wal­nuts tossed with cin­na­mon, cloves and brown sugar, then baked un­til crisp and golden.

The figs are what make this dessert, in truth. They are poached with honey, water, lemon and cin­na­mon un­til just soft­ened, then they are re­moved from the pot so that the liq­uid can be re­duced fur­ther. The re­sult­ing syrup cap­tures the fresh fla­vor and in­her­ent sweet­ness of the fruit, ul­ti­mately mak­ing for a pas­try that is pleas­antly sweet, but much less in­tensely so than reg­u­lar baklava, which is made with a sugar and honey syrup.

The cooled fig syrup gets poured over the still-hot pas­try so that you hear it siz­zle and set­tle, lock­ing in the crisp­ness of the phyllo shell. Then each is topped with the gen­tly poached figs for a sweet-tooth sat­is­fier that is both health­ful and al­lur­ing. 6 to 12 serv­ings

Th­ese mini-tarts har­ness the lus­cious sweet­ness of fresh figs for a fruity, more health­ful take on baklava. To make th­ese even eas­ier to as­sem­ble, you can skip the lay­er­ing and cut­ting of phyllo dough and use small, store-bought phyllo shells in­stead.

Make ahead: The figs can be cooked, cooled and re­frig­er­ated, sep­a­rate from the re­duced syrup, a day in ad­vance. The baked phyllo cups can be stored in an air­tight con­tainer at room tem­per­a­ture for up to 3 days. Top with the figs just be­fore serv­ing.

From nu­tri­tion­ist and cook­book au­thor El­lie Krieger. In­gre­di­ents

½ cup water

L cup honey

One 3-inch-long-by-½-inch-wide strip of lemon peel (no pith), plus 1 ta­ble­spoon fresh lemon

juice

One 3-inch cin­na­mon stick 6 fresh black mis­sion figs, quar­tered length­wise (about 5 ounces)

¾ cup finely chopped wal­nuts 2 ta­ble­spoons light brown sugar ½ tea­spoon ground cin­na­mon k tea­spoon ground cloves

(op­tional)

¼ cup olive oil

1 ta­ble­spoon un­salted but­ter,

melted

6 sheets phyllo dough (see

head­note) Di­rec­tions

Com­bine the water, honey, lemon peel, lemon juice and cin­na­mon stick in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Once the mix­ture be­gins bub­bling, re­duce the heat to medium-low and add the figs. Cook for 4 to 5 min­utes, un­til they are un­til ten­der but still re­tain their shape. Use a slot­ted spoon to trans­fer the figs to a bowl.

Re­move the cin­na­mon stick and lemon peel from the saucepan and dis­card. In­crease the heat to medium-high; cook the re­main­ing liq­uid for about 2 min­utes, or un­til it has re­duced to a syrupy ½ cup. Let cool.

Pre­heat the oven to 350 de­grees.

Com­bine the wal­nuts, sugar, cin­na­mon and cloves, if us­ing, in a small bowl. Com­bine the oil and melted but­ter in a sep­a­rate bowl.

Set the stack of phyllo dough on a clean work sur­face and cover with damp pa­per tow­els, keep­ing the stack cov­ered as much as pos­si­ble as you work. Trans­fer one sheet of the phyllo to a large cut­ting board, and brush the top with the oil-but­ter mix­ture. Lay an­other sheet di­rectly on top of that one and brush it with the oil mix­ture. Re­peat with the re­main­ing sheets of phyllo.

Use a sharp knife to cut the phyllo stack into twelve 3-inch squares. Press one stack of the squares into each well of a 12well mini-muf­fin pan, fold­ing or flut­ing the edges slightly to make an at­trac­tive cup. Fill each cup with equal amounts of the wal­nut mix­ture, then bake (mid­dle rack) for 13 to 15 min­utes, un­til the phyllo is crisped and golden.

While the phyllo is still hot, driz­zle the cooled syrup into each of the phyllo-wal­nut cups (in the muf­fin pan). Top each with 2 pieces of fig; cool to room tem­per­a­ture be­fore serv­ing.

Nu­tri­tion | Per piece: 170 calo­ries, 2 g pro­tein, 18 g car­bo­hy­drates, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg choles­terol, 45 mg sodium, 1 g di­etary fiber, 12 g sugar

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