There are many reasons, I suppose, that cheese and crackers are such an evergreen entertaining staple. They’re is easy, doesn’t have to be expensive, and pretty much everyone except the lactarded (raises hand) loves it. Of course, ubiquity has its own drawbacks, boredom being chief among them. The question, then, is how to keep the combo from going stale… metaphorically, at least.

I’m not about to start making my own cheese though, and if I’m going to make crackers they’re going to be sufficiently awesome to not need cheese on top. That, then, leaves the third point of the cheese, crackers and… whatever triangle. Frankly, the “whatever” part is often the most fun to futz with. Fruit, nuts, shmears of honey, or dribbles of balsamic; these can all wake up a cheese plate with their presence.

And while baked feta and goat cheese with jalapeno jelly are both really fun, sometimes one needs something a little more deconstructed…. a little dish that friends can customize and fiddle with while I finish up dinner preparations. It’s nice to whet the appetite and give them something to do, if only to keep them from offering to help.

Enter this lightly spicy, wine-dark fig jam. Great with a variety of cheeses, from mild to sharp and soft to firm, it’s perfect for this time of year when there’s not much going on in the produce department yet but the desire for little al fresco nibbles is running high. The figs are simply simmered in wine with a little chili and shallots adds their regal oniony background. Cutting both into ribbons makes for a compulsively scoopable, tangly mess that ’s great with cheese and crackers, but could also add verve as a sandwich spread or as a pan sauce for chicken or pork.

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