Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fig-Walnut Tapenade with Ricotta and Asian Pears

The holiday season lends itself perfectly to appetizers, doesn’t it? I think eating a small, individual creation feels extra special and quite festive. They also look so pretty on platters and are easy to balance on a cocktail napkin.

Here is a tasty bite that is quick to make and combines some lovely flavors and textures. The inspiration comes from a cooking class I took a number of years ago with my friend, Julie. In the class, we prepared an appetizer of sliced Asian pears topped with goat cheese, a drizzle of honey and a sprig of thyme. Simple and delicious.

Replacing crackers with slices of crisp, sweet Asian pear provides a wonderful platform for many flavors. Keeping this in mind, I decided to introduce bolder tastes and textures. A tapenade began to take form ... saltiness from olives, sweetness from figs, crunch from toasted walnuts and a dash of balsamic vinegar to round it out. I still wanted some form of creamy cheese to balance out the tapenade.

Fresh ricotta is a natural choice, given its versatility and absolute deliciousness. If you haven’t made homemade ricotta, please try it - I promise you’ll start keeping a bowl of it in your fridge all the time! Ricotta provides an instant dessert when drizzled with honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon, a filling for manicotti or a last-minute appetizer when mixed with fresh herbs and spread on grilled baguette slices. I’ve made ricotta with different types of acid such as lemon juice or vinegar and found that buttermilk is my favorite. Once I discovered this recipe for ricotta, I never looked back!

Both the tapenade and the ricotta can be made ahead of time, leaving just a quick assembly before you greet your guests. This is such a terrific time of year to get creative, try new ideas and share your discoveries with appreciative friends.

Fig-Walnut Tapenade with Ricotta and Asian Pears
Makes about 12 individual appetizers, 1 1/2 cups tapenade

1 cup dried figs, roughly chopped
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup green olives, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped (plus a few sprigs for garnish)
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
1 large Asian pear
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese, store-bought or homemade

In a small saucepan, combine the figs and water and bring to a simmer. Cook until the liquid evaporates and the figs are soft, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and when cool, puree until smooth.

In a small bowl, stir together the fig puree, olives, oil, vinegar, salt, thyme leaves and walnuts. Taste for seasoning. The tapenade can be prepared ahead of time. Cover it and set aside at room temperature.

When ready to serve, slice the Asian pear cross-wise into roughly 12 1/4 inch slices (the very middle ones will have some core that you can cup out). Arrange the slices on a serving platter. Scoop about 1 tablespoon of ricotta cheese on to each slice and spread gently. Top each with 1 tablespoon of tapenade (you will have extra tapenade leftover). Garnish with a sprig of thyme and serve.


  1. I keep meaning to try the homemade ricotta! This whole thing sounds so amazing. I'm a sucker for fruit, cheese, balsamic vinegar, all that good stuff!

  2. @LaurenThank you, Lauren! I hope you enjoy it (and that you try making ricotta soon!). :)

  3. Huh. I never ever ever ever would have thought to pair olives and figs! How interesting!

  4. @Brooke
    Hi Brooke! I hope you give it a try - the sweet and salty of the figs and olives works really well together. Hope you're enjoying a lovely holiday season!

  5. Just gorgeous! I know what you mean about the ricotta. Once you realize how simple it is you never want to buy that supermarket kind again.

  6. What a wonderful recipe! I love the idea of using pear slices instead of crackers, and the whole salty-sweet thing is right up my alley. Anything with ricotta is great in my book! I haven't made my own in a while, I should get on that.

  7. @Stephanie
    Thank you, Stephanie! So true - the first time I made ricotta I couldn't believe how easy, delicious and less expensive it was. Now it's a staple in our fridge (along with homemade sri racha - another addiction). I hope you're enjoying a lovely holiday season!

  8. @Katherine Martinelli
    Thank you so much, Katherine! The pear slices have me pondering other fruit and veggies to slice for use instead of crackers - more flavors/textures to play around with. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

  9. Homemade ricotta has been on my must-try list for too long...this looks delicious! Hope you're having a great holiday season!

  10. @rowdychowgirl.com
    Thank you, rowdychowgirl! Definitely try making ricotta - if you're a ricotta fan you'll love the homemade. Happy Holidays to you!

  11. love these flavours & yes I must make up another batch of homemade ricotta...it is just so good :)

    1. I just made another pot of ricotta today - it's become a staple!


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