This is such a versatile, sexy recipe, because it can be served as a starter, a snack or right at the end of a meal as a combination dessert and cheese course. I found these gorgeous purple figs at my local Woolies, and, as I don't like eating figs whole, I melted some lovely ripe Camembert over their middles. But the final result was too evenly voluptuous, so for texture and crunch I added walnuts, which I coated in caramel and then tossed in paprika, cayenne pepper and salt.
You could use any sort of nut here - macadamias and cashews, for example - but I like the slightly bitter taste of walnuts.
If you're serving this as a savoury course, dress the rocket leaves with a little olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice before you arrange them on the platter. If this is a sweet course, omit the salad leaves and the salt and pour a little warmed honey over the figs.
Ripe Figs with Baked Camembert and Spicy Caramel Walnuts
6 ripe figs
a round of ripe, but not oozing, Camembert or brie
4 Tbsp (60 ml) white sugar
1 tsp (5 ml) fresh paprika
½ tsp (2.5 ml) cayenne pepper or chilli powder (or more, to taste)
flaky sea salt
fresh rocket or salad leaves
Preheat your oven's grill to its hottest setting.
First prepare the walnuts. Put the nuts into a dry frying pan and toast, tossing frequently, for a minute or two, or until just beginning to turn golden on the edges. Set aside. Sprinkle the sugar evenly into the saucepan, set it over a medium heat, and watch it like a hawk. The sugar will begin to liquefy and then turn golden in patches. At this point, give the pan a sharp swirl, or stir gently to redistribute the melted bits. (Here are some great tips for making caramel). The moment the sugar is melted and turning a light copper colour, remove the pan from the heat (it will continue to darken after you've removed it). Toss the walnuts into the hot pan and shake to coat. Fish them out with a fork, put them on a plate or sheet of greaseproof paper and sprinkle with paprika, cayenne pepper and plenty of salt. Leave to harden.
Put the figs on a baking sheet. Cut a cross in the top of each fig, stopping a little short of its bottom. Squeeze the base of the figs so that the four 'petals' open up. Lightly press a little wedge of cheese (how much is up to you) into each fig. Place under a very hot grill - on a rack in the middle of the oven - and grill until the cheese is just melted. Watch the figs closely as they grill, making sure that they don't burn. Serve on a bed of dressed greens, sprinkled with the whole, or chopped, caramelised walnuts.