The fig is familiar to every child in its elemental form: Newton. Not Newton, the physicist, who figured out that fruit + gravity = bonk. Newton, as in Newton, Mass., inspiration to a nearby cookie company.
The Fig Newton's cakey housing secures a trove of jam. It tastes of fig in its dried, reduced and extruded state: good and gritty.
Many a gourmet knows the fig at the other end of its life cycle: plucked fresh from the tree. It may, delightfully, offer tender purple exterior and sticky pink interior. Or it may, disappointingly, offer underripe foam and overripe bruise. Fig perfection is fragile and fleeting.
Consider then the middle way: neither dried-fig dense nor fresh-fig dicey. Consider the balsamic-sweet, pepper-hot caramelized fig. One bite reveals a new law: Fig + butter = delicious.
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 4 minutes
Servings: 12 appetizers
4 slices sourdough (or other rustic) bread
2 ounces ripe triple-creme cheese, such as Brillat Savarin, at room temperature
4 fresh ripe figs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 pinch crushed red pepper
Pop bread in the toaster and toast golden. Spread with cheese. Cut each slice in 3. Arrange on a serving tray.
Slice away bottom of each fig. Slice each fig crosswise into 3 circles.
Heat butter in a wide skillet over medium. Add fig slices in a single layer. Sizzle, shaking pan now and then, until pink flesh turns tan, about 1 minute per side. Drizzle on balsamic vinegar. Scatter on pepper. Sizzle until deeply colored, about 1 minute more per side.
Set one fig slice on each cheese toast. Chomp.
Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor. Email her at email@example.com.