A Remembrance of Figs Past

Italian-inspired beggar's purses, a decadent fig, burrata, and prosciutto appetizer.
Gusts of memory inspire a waking dream of nouvelle cuisine.

One sunny morning sometime between Christmas and New Year's, we decided to truly indulge our senses and create a breakfast worthy of Proust.

In an instantaneous flash of inspiration enters the Beggar’s Purse, a heady combination of sweet-salty-creamy goodness, ripe and ready for savory moments untold. Oh, joy of joys! Plumped-up Mission figs, overstuffed with a generous amount of Burrata cheese, gently enrobed in a great cloak of Prosciutto di Parma, drizzled with a homemade vermouth reduction.

Fruity and sweet, the gentle fig paired beautifully with the salty prosciutto, simmered in a lovely Italian sweet vermouth to further the floral flavors. Silk-soft, buttery Burrata is the perfect foil for the crunch of fig seeds...truth be told, more than one stuffed fig was devoured undressed with unconfessed gluttony and hushed rapture.

Dried Mission figs plumped in Carpano Antica Formula, stuffed with burrata cheese, then wrapped in prosciutto crudo di Parma.
Passage and photo originally submitted March 9, 2012 to the Valley Fig Growers “Fabulous Fig Photo Contest”.

Our inspiration for this very retro appetizer was The Quilted Giraffe’s famous beggar’s purses—beluga-stuffed, gold leaf-topped crêpes—served at the trend-setting luxury restaurant from 1980 until its final seating on December 31, 1992.

The Quilted Giraffe’s iconic dish is an extravagant take on aumônières, tiny Breton-style filled crêpes shaped like a purse. Originally, aumônières referred to a small alms pouch which hung from a chaplain’s belt. Worn by both men and women in the Middle Ages, the convenient location made it easy to scatter coins for the poor. In the early part of the 20th century, this small pouch reemerged as a lady’s evening wristlet. Dubbed “beggar's purse”, it remains a popular bridal accessory today.

In the kitchen, a beggar's purse is any morsel of food bundled to resemble that money pouch. A thin foodstuff (such as a crêpe, phyllo dough, or cold cut) is used to encase a filling. The edges are cinched, then fastened together with a toothpick, kitchen twine, or something edible and flexible (like a fresh-cut chive).

Although we wanted to indulge in a bit of haute extravagance, we feel that leisure time should not be impeded by labor-intensive work.

We did away with the fuss of miniature crêpes, caviar, and crème fraîche and chose Italian delicacies instead. Dried Mission figs plumped in heady Carpano Antica Formula (an Italian vermouth with strong vanilla notes) stood in for elusive Sicilian black figs; burrata, a sumptuous fresh Italian buffalo milk cheese added mild creaminess; thinly-sliced prosciutto crudo di Parma took the place of crêpes; and a handful of fresh chives tied everything together.

Burrata-fig Beggars’ Purses

Serves 4

Burrata-fig Beggars’ Purses
These decadent little bites will have your guests feeling just like Manhattan high society indulging in the most divine haute cuisine. We used Carpano Antica Formula as our sweet vermouth, but any good quality Italian sweet vermouth can be substituted.
  • 8 ounces (1 bag) Blue Ribbon Orchard Choice Mission Figlets
  • 1/2 cup Italian sweet vermouth
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 ounces Burrata cheese
  • 12 slices thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma (about 1/2 pound)
  • Bunch of fresh chives, for tieing
Select 12 similar-sized figs (reserve the rest for another recipe); trim stems off figs. Cut an "X" in the top of each fig about a third of the way through; set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, simmer sweet vermouth, sugar, salt, and black pepper until sugar has dissolved, about 2 minutes. Add figs, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove figs from the liquid with a slotted spoon; reserve liquid.

To assemble, gently open each fig and using a spoon, place 1 rounded teaspoon burrata into the center. Place stuffed fig on a prosciutto slice, gather the edges to form a pouch, then tie with a chive (use a double knot). Repeat for remaining ingredients.

To serve, spoon some simmered vermouth on each of four plates, place 3 beggar’s purses on top, and enjoy.