Planked Figs with Pancetta and Goat Cheese
I'm creeping into the mindset that planking is b.s. Well, at least the flavor enhancement part is. Wood flavors food through smoke, and with little to no smoke created when planking, there is little to no benefit in that area, at least in my (changing) opinion. However, I do see a distinct advantage to planking in the realm of convenience—the plank can serve as a great medium for delicate or small foods that would otherwise be difficult to grill, plus it then makes an attractive serving dish (assuming you didn't scorch it to death) that adds the aura of outdoor grilling. So when approaching this recipe for figs with pancetta and goat cheese, I saw the plank as almost essential to be able to grill and serve these small delicious fruits with ease.
Fresh figs are awesome, but can sometimes be a bitch to find. In the primary seasons of late summer/early fall though, almost all of my local produce shops have a display of reasonably priced figs that I like to take advantage of when I can. I'm partial to the softer and slightly sweeter black mission figs, but I'll take whatever fig is available, and on this day it just happened to be these firmer kadota figs.
Of course what really attracted me to this recipe was meat! Pancetta, to be precise. I already knew how great a pairing the sweet flesh of figs with salty and smoky bacon is, and thought the double dose of pancetta here would be equally as delectable. To get these figs started off, I first drizzled them with a bit of Grand Marnier, seasoned them with salt and pepper, and finally wrapped each fig with a strip of pancetta that I secured in place using a toothpick.
Next I fried up the remaining pancetta until it was crispy. Then I drained it on paper towels and let sit until cooled, leaving me with a plate of addictive crunchy pancetta bits—I had to stop myself from eating them all before actually finishing this recipe.
Although I contend that there won't be much flavor benefit from planking, trying to get at least a little seemed better than settling for none. So in an attempt to get a slight smokiness out of my plank, I first set my water logged slice of wood over the hot side of a two-zone fire. Once it began smoking, I flipped it over and moved it to the cool side of the grill.
I then placed all the pancetta-wrapped figs on the smoking plank, spooned dollops of goat cheese onto each fig, and sprinkled on the pancetta bits. I covered the grill and let them roast until the uncooked pancetta browned and the figs were warm and slightly softened, which took about 15 minutes. A final drizzle of honey finished this appetizer and it was ready to serve.
The sweet, honey-enhanced figs made a fine alley with the pancetta, which added a salty substantialness to each slightly boozy piece of fruit. The goat cheese brought its own saltiness and tang to the party, while its creaminess created a pleasing contrast to the softened figs and crispy pancetta. The whole thing tasted like an appropriate seasonal bridge—the final goodbye to fresh summer fruits paired with the hello to the sweetness of fall with a heartiness that's comforting as the temperature begins is slow descent.
Planked Figs with Pancetta and Goat Cheese
- Yield 4 servings as an appetizer
- Prep 15 Minutes
- Inactive 15 Minutes
- Cook 15 Minutes
- Total 45 Minutes
- 10 fresh figs, halved
- 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 ounces pancetta, sliced thin and cut into 1/2-inch strips lengthwise
- 3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 cedar planks, soaked for 1 hour prior to use
- Place figs, cut side up, on a plate. Drizzle with Grand Marnier and season heavily with pepper and lightly with salt. Let sit for 15 minutes. Wrap each fig with one strip of pancetta; secure with toothpick
- Dice remaining pancetta. Place pancetta in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Cook pancetta until crisp, 7-10 minutes. Transfer pancetta to paper towel lined plate. Set aside.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Place planks over hot side of the grill until they start to char and smoke. Flip planks over and move to cool side of grill and arrange figs on top. Sprinkle figs with goats cheese and crisped pancetta. Cover grill and cook until figs soften and uncooked pancetta browns, about 15 minutes.
- Remove planks from grill. Drizzle figs with honey. Let cool for 5 minutes, then serve.
Adapted from 25 Essentials: Techniques for Planking by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig