Foodie Tuesday: Figs and Fika

Despite the present day craze for all things piggy when it comes to meats, bacon inserted into every imaginable recipe—and some not even possible to get my brain wrapped around at all—and the undeniable fabulousness of a grand Black Forest classic, a clove-studded Virginia ham, a spiral-cut, home glazed ham, or the umami-loaded and thus much-lauded and wildly expensive jamón ibérico, what I grew up with at home, as I recall, was that differently seasoned and prepared, smooth textured, Danish ham (as my family knew it then, whether that characterization was entirely accurate or not), and I loved it. It’s on the sweet side, generally, and usually subtler than the more intensely flavored aforementioned hams. Truthfully, I love them all, as long as they’re not those tinny, watery, pallid objects of pseudo-meat that have been processed to the point of looking and tasting like cartoon food.

I also, as you well know, am fond to an obsessive degree of salty-and-sweet combination treats, and hams are very compatible with sweet foods, whether in the form of a glorious, uncomplicated afternoon bite of perfect prosciutto wrapped around a melon slice or as a bone-in beauty bathed in fruit compote for the spring table.

Danish ham isn’t my only foodly fanaticism derived from Scandinavian roots. Here’s another thing I’ve learned from that region to love when it comes to food: the Swedish tradition of fika. Not so different in origins, perhaps, from the Italian treat Tiramisu, wherein a tradition of stopping for coffee and a sweet was the perfect pick-me-up in an afternoon or way to meet with a friend for a bit of refreshment, and eventually the practice became the name of the treat itself—the Italian Tiramisu translating roughly as, yes, “pick-me-up” and the Swedish fika deriving, ostensibly, from a syllabic reversal of “kaffe” (coffee). Not that it matters hugely to me, but I do always love an excuse to sit down at the table not only for a full meal but for the more relaxed atmosphere of a break for, say, a bite and a drink, some appetizers and a cocktail, or tea and dessert.

For a recent casual evening with friends, I got the urge for a ham-and-sweetness starter that would be extremely quick and easy to fix but bring out the simple flavors of the ingredients pretty smartly. I think I did well enough with it, because between the five of us we polished off all but a couple of small corner pieces from a whole cookie sheet’s worth, along with the actual roast beef dinner and dessert; but you can be the judge, if you like. It couldn’t be simpler to make, so there’s no excuse not to join in the testing.

Four ingredients: puff pastry dough, ham, fig jam, and Parmesan cheese. One pan. One swift browning in the oven. Slice. Eat.

I wanted to make this with fresh figs, but couldn’t find any at the moment that were in nice enough shape, so I used a small jar of store-bought fig jam that worked quite nicely. Had I used fresh figs, I would have chopped them roughly and mixed them with some honey, maple syrup, or ginger syrup as the delicious glue for the hors-d’oeuvre topping, but jam had that binder handily built right in, so if you’re unable to find fresh fruit, jam is clearly a convenient and equally tasty alternative. I did buy one package of frozen, pre-made puff pastry dough (lazy me) and about a half pound of thinly sliced ham (I chose the deli’s maple glazed version on this occasion). I had shredded Parmesan cheese in the refrigerator. The process was easy-peasy.Photo: Ham & Cheese with Figs

Ham & Cheese Bites with Fig Jam

Set the oven to heat at 400°F. Lay out all of the puff pastry dough needed to cover it (with a single layer) on a large cookie sheet pan with edges. This could get sticky if you don’t contain the food! You should have a little dough left over: I had about an eighth of the dough remaining and set it aside.

Mix equal amounts of chopped sliced ham—mine, when the thin slices were cut into about 1/2 inch (1 cm) squares, amounted to around a cupful of loose ham pieces—and shredded cheese with gently heated and liquefied jam (the jam I used took between a quarter and a half cup to blend the ham and cheese. Glued together like this, the ham, cheese, and jam mixture was probably about a scant two cups’ worth of topping and was easily distributed and spread evenly by spoonfuls over the whole pastry base. I cut the remaining pastry dough into 1/2 inch by 1-1/2 inch rectangles and I twisted each once to make a little bow and stuck those around on top of the jammy mixture. The whole sticky delight went into the oven for perhaps 14 minutes or so, and once it was golden, was ready to be cut into small rectangles that could be easily handled for eating.

Then, of course, we ate them. Whenever I make them again, I will try pre-baking the puff pastry and simply adding the jam blend for a final, melting warm-up just before serving. Crispier results, I should think. But even with a slightly chewier texture…we ate them all.

14 thoughts on “Foodie Tuesday: Figs and Fika

  1. Oh, the torture! I’ll be making this very soon and have made a grilled sandwich version of this that I tried to copy from a lunch at a charming little cafe in D.C. with my sister. Another brilliant Foodie Tuesday!

    • I’d tell you to hurry on down here, Beth, but of course we ate that batch up almost too quickly to get a photo of it! Then again, if I know you’re headed this way it’s the perfect excuse for a fresh batch… 😀

  2. Where was this recipe last year when I had jars of freshly made fig preserves? I was far too busy to repeat the process this year but now I sure wish I had. This sounds delicious, Kathryn, so does the idea of an afternoon snack, like so much of Europe enjoys. Some tasty tidbit, a splash of coffee, and a little conversation would brighten any afternoon.

    • Dang! Had I thunk of it sooner, I should have rushed up with the other ingredients and we could’ve whipped these things right up for a little afternoon snack. Well, if you happen to be wandering down this way anytime, you can just give me a heads-up and I’ll see that I have all of the requirements on hand, even if I don’t have fabulous homemade fig jam. Then, of course, you will be conscripted to teach me a bit of Italian cookery for dinner…. 😀

        • 😀

          I know some of my friends north of the CA border have seen significant snow already; how’s it shaping up in Chicago? Hope it’s a *good* winter for you, John, whatever it is. Some of my cohorts here say they’re expecting ours to be a ‘hard’ winter, and by DFW standards it might well be, since the last couple have been quite mild and we might be about due, cyclically speaking. In any case, if it gets wildly wintry in true Chi style, you’ll be making lots of use of the heartiest of Zia’s recipes, no doubt! 🙂

  3. sounds scrumptious … I’ve taken to adding a bit of orange marmalade to anything I eat with mustard (such as a sausage and spinach quesadilla), and love the mix of salty-sweet as well

    • Now I’m thinking it would be delicious as heck to mix mustard and orange marmalade as a sauce; I’d never thought of doing that before. Bet I will, soon enough! Thank you for that “recipe”!! 😀

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