Fig & Goat Cheese Tartlets

This is a difficult recipe to put together, not because of the execution but because fresh figs are v. difficult to come by. Their season is short and they spoil rather quickly. However, if you happen to stumble across them at the market, like I did, and you're a fan of the sweet/savory combo, then this recipe is a perfect way to use them.

Ingredients [makes 9 tartlets]
5 figs
1 sheet puff pastry, or 9 puff pastry shells or mini pie crusts (dough, not graham cracker)
1/2 vidalia onion, or any sweet onion like mayan sweet or texas sweet, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoons olive oil + extra for drizzling
goat cheese - small 4 oz package works great
fresh ground black pepper
*optional: Serrano ham (if you leave this out, the dish is vegetarian)
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar + 2 or 3 teaspoons additional for figs and onions

**If you don't have fresh figs available, fig preserves will work just as well - just use about 1 teaspoon per tartlet.

To prepare the figs, I give the stem a quick twist to remove it and then cut them in half. Preheat the oven to 400F and then roast them on a sheet pan (after sprinkling with a little olive oil and brown sugar) in the broiler (if you have one) for about 20 minutes. You don't want shriveled little messes but what you're looking for is a brown interior and crisp, golden edges. Now, since you'll have 10 fig halves and only 9 tartlets to fill, this is a good opportunity to have a snack.

I had some puff pastry left over in the freezer so I made my own shells. Start by defrosting the sheet on the counter for 15 minutes, like I did, (or you chould do it the proper way - in the refrigerator overnight). Cut it into 9 pieces and then use a fork to dock each piece (a.k.a. poke a bunch of holes in it). This helps the steam release so that the pastry doesn't over-puff. Then, place each piece over a flipped over cupcake tin. If your cupcake tin is not non-stick, I'd suggest giving it a quick once-over with non-stick cooking spray. Bake in the same preheated fig-roasting oven (400F) for about 8 minutes or until the edges start to brown. Cool on a baking rack for 20 minutes.

Why upside down? Because puff pastry is so aggressive when it comes to puffing up, if you tried to make the tartlets inside the cupcake molds, the pastry would just puff up and there would be no vessel to hold the fillings. It would just be a ball of puffiness.
While the figs and puff pastry are baking, slice up the onions and garlic into thin strips. If you're not big on garlic, you can omit it or mince it so you're not getting a bite of it. But I love it so I like slicing it thinly and tossing it with the onions. I used a cast iron skillet, just because it holds the heat better, but a nonstick skillet will work as well. Heat up a bit of olive oil and add in the onions and garlic. Stir to coat in oil and let them cook over a medium heat until they get a bit of color. Reduce the heat and continue cooking until the onions are soft. Then sprinkle in a little bit of brown sugar for added color and sweetness and cook until the sugar is dissolved and the onions are lovely and caramelized. Let them cool while you assemble the balsamic reduction.
Balsamic reduction is super simple and delicious. It's just 2 parts balsamic vinegar and 1 part sugar cooked until it forms a thick syrup. I used 1/2 cup, which left me with plenty of leftovers after this recipe was through so if you want to make just enough for the tartlets, I'd say use 1/4 cup vinegar and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. All I did was pour it all into a saucepan, set it over a low heat until it bubbled furiously and was thick enough to be the consistency of chocolate syrup.
Now that all of the components are ready, you can assemble the tartlet. See the nice little nook that the cupcake mold helped create? Perfect for this assembly. Start by smearing on some goat cheese - I'd say about 1 tablespoon per tartlet. Then pile on the caramelized onions. Top it with a fig and then drizzle with balsamic vinegar. That last photo frame is just a side view. These are vegetarian.
If you want a little something extra and you are not a vegetarian, then I suggest putting a little piece of thinly sliced Serrano ham between the goat cheese and the caramelized onions. It's salty and adds a nice bite.
And tada! Present these at your next dinner party for a lovely wow factor. By the way, there are only 8 pictured here because my sister decided to eat one, because look at them! Would you be able to resist? The contrast of the sweet onions and figs to the salty goat cheese and ham is really something. Plus, the tangy and sweet balsamic vinegar ties it all together.


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