Pecorino Romano with Sliced Pears and Fig Jam (Pecorino con Pere e Confettura di Fichi)
Aged cheeses with fresh fruit and interesting, usually sweet condiments, such as artisanal honeys and fruit preserves, are popular desserts in Rome’s best restaurants. In winter, pecorino romano might be matched with pears and an easy jam made from dried figs, while in summer, the cheese might sit alongside fresh figs so ripe they’re bursting their seams. Figs have grown in and around Rome since ancient times, and today the season is split between the larger fruits of early summer and the small fruits (settembrini) of late summer.
- For the fig jam:
- 2 Tbs. hazelnuts or almonds
- 1/4 lb. moist dried figs (about 5 figs), stems trimmed and each fig cut into 4 or 5 pieces
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 Tbs. brandy
- 2 Tbs. sugar, or to taste
- Grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 wedge pecorino romano cheese, aged at least 5 months, about 6 oz.
- 2 ripe pears, such as Bosc or Anjou
To make the jam, preheat an oven to 300°F.
Spread the nuts in a single layer on a small baking sheet and toast, shaking the pan every 8 minutes or so, until the nuts darken and give off a pronounced aroma, 10 to 15 minutes. Pour onto a plate to cool. (There is no need to remove the skins.)
In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the figs and water and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes.
Put the nuts in a food processor and pulse twice. Add the figs and their liquid, the brandy, the 2 Tbs. sugar, the lemon zest and lemon juice and pulse until the figs are coarsely chopped. Taste and add more sugar if needed.
Using a short, sharp knife, stab the cheese wedge and break off a chunk; your goal is to make 4 nice chunks. Place 1 chunk on each individual plate.
If the pear skins are blemish free, there is no need to peel them. Halve 1 pear, core it and then thinly slice a pear half lengthwise, keeping the slices together. Fan the slices on a plate next to the cheese. Repeat with the remaining half and then the remaining pear. Divide the fig jam evenly among the plates. Alternatively, place the cheese and cheese knife on a board, fan the pear halves on a serving plate, put the jam in a small bowl and let guests help themselves. Serves 4.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World Series, Rome, by Maureen B. Fant (Oxmoor House, 2005).