It’s fig season in Israel and it is glorious. I’ve never before lived somewhere with such a wealth of gorgeous fresh figs. Seeing them piled high at the shuk just makes me smile. There are few fruits as pretty as figs, and their subtly sweet flavor makes them a perfect foil to savory dishes – and in particular cheese. I love to stuff figs with goat cheese or ricotta and drizzle with balsamic or honey, baked or raw. I’ve been making crostini out the wazoo featuring figs, paired with toasted bread and brie or salty white cheese. And for a special lunch treat, panini. My favorite combination is this manchego and fig panini.
Manchego is a lovely Spanish sheep’s milk cheese that comes from the La Mancha region. It’s aged for at least 60 days, and has a mild but distinctive flavor that I just love. It is often paired with quince paste, but figs give quince paste a run for its money. If you can’t find manchego, really any cheese would be great here (in Be’er Sheva I found a decent Manchego at Tiv Tam).
You could add other things to this panini – some baby lettuce leaves, roasted onions, or aged balsamic all come to mind. But with good cheese, fresh figs, and hearty bread, you really don’t need much else. I’m calling this a panini, but you could just as easily call it a grilled cheese. Whatever you call it, it’s one special sandwich.
- 1 tablespoon butter (optional)
- 2 even-sized slices of spectacular, hearty bakery bread
- 1¼ ounces (36 grams) manchego (can be a little more or less)
- 1 large or 2 small fresh figs, sliced
- Melt butter, if using, in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat until just bubbly.
- Add the bread and toast lightly on both sides.
- Distribute cheese evenly between both slices of bread.
- Arrange figs on one side and carefully close the sandwich. Top with a small cast iron skillet or non-electric panini press to weigh it down slightly.
- Toast for a few minutes on both sides, until cheese is fully melted. (Alternately, prepare this in an electric panini or sandwich press).