Fig and Walnut Salami? You’re joking, right?
Of course we’re joking, we’re always joking.
Just not about the salami. When Jody and I make edible gifts we like to prepare something a little offbeat. For most of the year Italians, like Americans, equate salami with oblongs of cured meat, but come the holidays Americans and Italians part ways. While a salami is cured meat year round from San Francisco to Boston, in Italy Christmas sees the arrival of salami dolce, sweet salami-shaped confections made with chocolate or figs.
Salame di fichi is made from dried figs. Salame di cioccolato is made from… guess what? Despite its dolce-ness, fig salami is no sweeter than figs–and actually has a little more punch from the red wine reduction. It makes a dynamite combination with blue cheese, and it looks great.
Chocolate salami, as you might expect, is quite sweet. It’s usually just sliced and offered like cookies (rich cookies).
While I love a Christmas tree or a Rudolph with a red-hot nose as much as anyone, for some occasions it’s worth leaving the lid on the cookie cutter tin and searching a bit farther afield for inspiration. In this season of parties with everyone trotting out their snickerdoodle Santas, Donders and Blixens, a Fig and Walnut Salami is a welcome alternative, especially if everyone’s knocked back a pint of glüwein before you walk through the door.
If you want to serve this “sliced on butcher’s paper,” like in the lead photo, be sure to let the salami chill overnight. You can even throw it in the freezer for ten minutes before slicing, as long as you don’t let it freeze. Freezing won’t hurt it, but it will make for one of those hilarious stories that get told again and again at holidays: Hey, everybody! Ha-ha! Remember when Dad broke the band saw slicing the frozen salami and lost the tip of his finger!
Joy to the world.
Fig and Walnut Salami
- ½ pound dried yellow Turkish or Kalamata figs
- 2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar
- ½ cup red wine
- 1 teaspoon Garam Masala
- Zest of 1 lemon
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
- Remove the stem from the figs. Cut into quarters and combine in a small saucepan with 2 tablespoons vinegar, the red wine, and Garam Masala over medium-low heat. Cover and simmer 10 minutes or until the liquid has evaporated and the figs are just starting to stick to the pan. Lift the cover every few minutes and stir. Cool for at least 10 minutes.
- Combine the figs in a food processor with the lemon zest and salt. Pulse until smooth. Taste at this point. If you think it needs more punch, add more of whatever it needs, balsamic vinegar, salt, lemon zest, Garam Masala. If it needs some sweet, add a little honey.
- Add the walnuts and sesame seeds and pulse to just combine.
- Form into a log on parchment paper. Mold into rough log shape, then fold one side of the parchment paper over the other. Pull the lower edge of the paper toward you while using a firm flat edge to press against the upper layer of paper, tightening the fig and nut mixture into a tight cylinder. Twist the ends like a party favor.
- Chill overnight to allow the salami to firm up and the flavors to blend.
This is my holiday wrinkle on the Mediterranean tradition of cooked fig logs, primarily served with cheese. Italy has its Fig “Salami” or Salame di Fichi; Spain prefers comparing its own version to a loaf of bread–Pan de Higo.
I started by steeping my figs in water, but found they needed a kick in the butt so I steeped a second batch in red wine. MUCH better. Additional tinkering led to the addition of balsamic vinegar for a sweet-sour element.
Many recipes call for ground fennel or anise. I would have definitely used one of them but I’m trying to kick the habit of putting fennel and ginger into everything I make. Garam Masala (not to be confused with garum, the fermented fish sauce that inspired our blog) is an Indian spice blend used throughout the Indian subcontinent. Although there are literally thousands of variations, most recipes seem to include a common core of cardamon, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, fennel, black pepper, cloves and mace. Some have bay leaves, some have fenugreek, some have ground ginger. You can make your own–we do at Rialto–but at home it’s fun and easy to try different brands and you can always tweak one with a little extra pepper or ground ginger according to your taste or a particular recipe.