The most successful of a number of experiments purposed to rescue the great wines of Sauternes from the dessert quarantine; the association is of the happiest, but the Sauternes’ rich caress increases the difficulty of choosing a succeeding wine. If you prefer not to begin a meal with a Sauternes, a white wine with a certain roundness and depth of fruit is, nonetheless, indicated—one of the Côte de Beaune growths or perhaps the usually impossible-to-place Gewürztraminer (above all, oyster wines of the “bone-dry, flinty” category should be avoided).
French friends find the recipe bizarre, but all who have tasted it have been delighted by the clean, clear, surprising combination of flavors and fragrance. It is a refreshing summer day hors d’oeuvre. The only pity is that figs, even more than most fruit, suffer from being picked unripe; the fragility of the tree-ripened product precludes its commercialization.
Peel the figs and cut halfway down from the stem end, making two incisions in the form of a cross. Press gently from the sides to open them slightly (as one does with a baked potato). Arrange them closely on a serving dish and chill for about one hour in the coldest part of the refrigerator (not the freezer).
Cut the ham into fine juliènne strips (about 1-inch lengths, matchstick width).
Crush about half of the mint leaves in the lemon juice and leave to macerate for 20 or 30 minutes, then discard them. Dissolve the salt into the lemon juice and slowly stir in the cream—the acid of the lemon will thicken it somewhat and its addition in small quantities at a time with continued stirring encourages the thickening. Taste for salt.
Sprinkle the figs with half the ham juliènne, spoon over the cream sauce, distribute the remaining ham on the surface, and decorate with the remaining mint leaves.
Copyright © 1974 by Richard Olney. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.