My client told me her family loves figs. Since this is not exactly fig season and I was making the dish a couple days before Thanksgiving I decided to use dried Figs. Instead of throwing them in the Fruit Salad with the risk of the figs looking like dried up sad lil’ nuggets floating in a mass of lovely fresh fruit, I decided to soak them in Port Wine.
After their little fig-gy bath, I made the Port more syrupy with sugar and then candied the Cranberries with the Port. To balance out the robust character of the Port soaked fruit I decided to lighten the mood. I was drawn to pears as “tis their season” but felt they would brown up so fast it would be ridiculous. Unless of coarse they were poached… in something fantastic… something like
1 cup dried figs
1 ½ cups port
½ cup sugar
½ cup cranberries
½ cup sugar
2 lg pears (fairly firm, not too ripe)
1 vanilla bean (optional)
8 ounces mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup grapes
1 cup pomegranate seeds*
½ cup fresh mint, torn into pieces (optional)
½ cup lemon stilton, crumbled (optional- leave on the side to be added by guests)
½ cup walnuts, crumbled (optional- leave on the side to be added by guests)
Trim the tips of the figs. Add to a small saucepan and pour in the port. Bring up to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and simmer for 5-8 minutes, until they are just softened. Remove figs. Add in the ½ cup sugar and dissolve. Add in the cranberries and simmer for 15 minutes until the cranberries become “candy”. Remove cranberries. Halve the figs and add back into the port syrup while preparing the remaining items.
Optional Step, if you desire Candied Orange Peels: With a vegetable peeler, peel off the orange rind into thin slices. Cutting some slices into your desired shape if necessary (such as thinner long strips like I did). Place the orange peels in a small saucepan and bring up to a boil. Drain off the water and repeat boiling the peels and draining at least two more times until the peels are tender. Add in 1 cup of sugar into the sauce with about 1 cup of water. Add in the peels, bring up to a boil, reduce to a simmer for 12 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to cool in the syrup for at least 1 hour. Cut off the white membranes of the orange, halve and then cut into slices. Place in salad bowl.
Peel the pears with a vegetable peeler. Halve the pears, with a small scoop, remove the center seeds (I use a melon baller- but a teaspoon works), remove the stem and the base until the pear is “clean” with no extras. Cut each half into about 4-6 slices. Place all the slices in a tall sided skillet or saucepan and pour the champagne on top. Toss in the vanilla bean if using. Bring up to a simmer over medium-high heat. Allow to simmer about 10-15 minutes until the pear slices are tender, but not mushy. Overripe pears will actually turn brown- not pretty. Remove the pears with a slotted spoon and cool. Add the ½ cup sugar to the champagne and bring up to simmer. Reduce the syrup down to about ¾ cup. Meanwhile, remove the seeds from the vanilla bean. Slit on end of the vanilla and with the back of the knife, scrape along the bean until the sandy-fine seeds, ball up. Stir the seeds into the champagne-syrup while it comes up to a simmer. Remove the champagne syrup from the heat and melt in the mascarpone cheese, stirring until it becomes a creamy, smooth thick sauce.
Cut the pears into 3-4 1-inch pieces. Toss with the mascarpone-champagne sauce. Combine the remaining fruit in a salad bowl, the candied cranberries, grapes, mandarin slices, orange slices, pomegranates, and the drained soaked figs (the port sauce can be used for another use later). Toss altogether with the mascarpone-champagne sauce, the mint leaves, and candied orange peels. Garnish with the lemon-stilton and walnuts. Enjoy!