Make the most of summer fruit with this sauce
Fresh ripe figs are a real treat in Ireland and this sauce does not overwhelm their flavour
Fig sabayon by Vanessa Greenwood. Photograph: Harry Weir.
If you’ve ever driven around southern France, Italy or Spain when the figs are ripening, you’ll possibly have looked in horror at figs strewn across roads and footpaths, squashed by passing cars. Fig trees are unstoppable beasts, trying very hard to grow into huge rainforest-sized giants. In many places there seems to be just too much fruit to manage.
I always feel a little hard done by when I compare that bounty with buying three small figs in a plastic punnet from a supermarket. My father-in-law grows plump figs with great success on a western wall in his Wicklow garden.
In Ireland, where fresh ripe figs are a real treat, I want to make the most of them. Figs drizzled with honey is a delicious combination that I first tasted on a stone-baked pizza during one of our barbecue classes in the cookery school. Add some good ricotta or a creamy blue cheese to fresh figs and you have a stellar summer breakfast.
Here, I’m baking the figs with honey and serving them with sabayon, a classic sauce for sweet desserts. This whisked, airy, light custard is perhaps more widely known by its Italian name, zabaglione, which is often made with marsala.
Although I love dairy-based sauces, the high fat content can swamp a dessert and dull the tastebuds. A sabayon complements fresh fruit without overwhelming it.
Once it is added to these baked figs the whole thing is flashed under a blazingly hot grill to create a special dessert. Although not difficult, making a sabayon does involve a good 10 minutes or so of whisking. An electric hand whisk isn’t essential but it will make life considerably easier, when used with due care.
HONEY ROAST FIGS WITH SABAYON
8 fresh figs
5 tbsp runny honey
Zest and juice of 1 large orange
4 egg yolks
3 tbsp white wine (or marsala/sweet sherry)
1 For the honey roast figs, preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment (or use a shallow ovenproof dish). Prepare the figs by slicing each into three slices across the equator (or cutting them into quarters or halves). Place the figs cut side facing up on the lined baking sheet. Drizzle honey over the cut surface of the figs. Drizzle with orange juice and scatter most of the orange zest over them. Roast the figs in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes (just until the figs start to wrinkle and release their juices). Keep in a warm place while you make the sauce.
2 For the sabayon sauce, in a bain marie (a heatproof metal or glass bowl set over a saucepan of gently simmering water) use a handheld whisk to whisk the egg yolks and caster sugar together, while stirring constantly over the gentle heat. When the mixture is foamy slowly add the white wine (or marsala or sherry) one spoonful at a time, while constantly whisking. Keep whisking until the sauce is thick and pale, doubles in size and is custard-like (this will take at least 10 minutes and you can raise the temperature of the water in the saucepan a little at this stage if necessary).
3 Once the sauce and fruit are ready and you have heated four dessert plates, turn the grill on high. Divide the warm figs between four individual heatproof plates (if you don’t have heatproof plates, place them in a single shallow oven proof dish) and pour the creamy sabayon sauce over the fruit. Place two heatproof dishes under the grill at a time for approximately 45 seconds. As soon as the sabayon starts to develop a golden skin, remove from beneath the grill and serve immediately. Garnish with remaining orange zest.
You can serve the warm sabayon sauce over fresh raspberries in a glass.