The first time I tried a fresh fig I was disappointed. I had been reading incredibly loving descriptions of fresh figs, plump and ripe and dripping with juice, holding their own against prosciutto, baked duck, and heavy cream. But the first time I eagerly bit into a bright slice of fig I winced at the watery non-taste — it was a pale, remote sweetness that had none of the rich succulence I expected. Now, maybe I just had bad figs. I certainly wasn't remotely near any place where figs are naturally grown. Since then I have found juicier, sweeter figs in places like San Francisco's farmers' markets. They do have a deeper richness of flavor, but still — not the meatiness I always expected. And that first time I tasted them I was left with handfuls of figs and disillusionment. Nothing like having your foodie illusions a little dashed. Bummer.
I have discovered since then that the real key to figs is to roast or grill them. This deepens and concentrates their sweetness just enough to yield that darker flavor I crave. This recipe does that in spades; just a minute or two on the grill gives figs, dipped in honey, a smoky richness and a caramelized sweetness. I serve them with a whipped mascarpone, barely sweetened with honey and flavored with rum. This dessert is a piece of cake, so to speak. You can whip it up in 10 minutes. It tastes like summer, and yet it's still quite rich. Eat it slowly, with a glass of good muscat. (And if you don't have a grill, try roasted figs with rosemary and honey, instead.)
Grilled Figs with Honeyed Mascarpone serves 4 12 ripe, plump black figs 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon dark honey, such as buckwheat or pine 1 3-inch sprig fresh rosemary, plus additional sprigs for garnish 4 ounces mascarpone cheese 1 tablespoon rum 1 lemon, zested Slice the figs in half lengthwise and arrange on a plate or platter. Heat 1/4 cup honey and the rosemary sprig in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and lower the heat. Don't walk away; watch it carefully so that it does not boil over or scorch. Let the honey simmer for about 2 minutes, then turn off the heat. Quickly but carefully, dip the fig halves in the hot honey. Use a fork, small tongs, or your fingers. Make sure to at least lightly coat their cut side. Place the dipped fig halves back on the platter. In a medium bowl, use an immersion blender or hand mixer to whip the mascarpone with the remaining tablespoon of honey, the rum, and the lemon zest. Whip until the cheese is frothy and aerated. Cover the bowl and put the cheese in the refrigerator. Heat a gas grill to medium-hot. When it is quite hot, arrange all the figs on the grill, cut side down. It is best to put them over indirect heat. As soon as you finish putting out all the figs, cut side down, flip them over, starting with the figs that have been on the grill the longest. They should have developed dark grill marks, and the honey should be getting brown and caramelized. Flip all the figs over and let them sit on the grill for a few more moments. They should have grill marks on both sides, and be just warmed through. Remove them to a platter. Note: The grilled figs can be made an hour or more ahead of serving time. Place them cut side up on a platter and, when ready to serve, microwave for one or two 30-second bursts to warm them through. When ready to serve, spread a smear of mascarpone cheese on a dessert plate. Arrange six fig halves on top of the cheese, and place an extra dollop of cheese to the side. Add a rosemary sprig for garnish and serve while the figs are still warm. Spread mascarpone on each fig half and eat with your fingers — ideally with a cool glass of Sauternes or muscat.