Ellie Krieger loves figs and knows how to treat them right

NO FOOD feels more like manna from the heavens to me than fresh figs. Plump and sweet with a sensuous meatiness, they are the epitome of food’s ability to both nourish and delight. The window to take advantage of them is fairly short, from late summer to early fall, so snap them up while you can. And when you do, be sure to devote some to making these scrumptious tarts, which harness the fruit’s essence for a fresher, healthier take on baklava.

The tart’s base is like the traditional dessert with layers of phyllo dough. But here, rather than being coated in lots of butter, they are brushed with good-for-you olive oil spiked with just a touch of butter.

The phyllo is then cut into squares and pressed into the wells of a mini-muffin tin to form a dozen mini-tarts. (You could use pre-made phyllo tart shells instead, if you prefer to skip this step.) The cups are filled with finely chopped walnuts tossed with cinnamon, cloves and brown sugar, then baked until crisp and golden.

The figs are what make this dessert, in truth. They are poached with honey, water, lemon and cinnamon until just softened, then they are removed from the pot so that the liquid can be reduced further. The resulting syrup captures the fresh flavour and inherent sweetness of the fruit, ultimately making for a pastry that is pleasantly sweet, but much less intensely so than regular baklava, which is made with a sugar and honey syrup.

The cooled fig syrup gets poured over the still-hot pastry so that you hear it sizzle and settle, locking in the crispness of the phyllo shell. Then each is topped with the gently poached figs for a sweet-tooth satisfier that is both healthful and alluring. – Text and Photo by The Washington Post

Flex your mussels

A reservation for Erin French’s 40-seat restaurant in Maine is harder to snag than the attention of a waiter in the weeds, but you can make the chef’s simple and sexy mussels at home.

Yeah, they’re sexy. Just five ingredients, two of which combine forces to release a seductive and heady aroma. The high heat of an uncovered pan opens the bivalves’ shells, and a toss of sizzling butter and lime juice coats the juicy, almost roasty-tasting mussel meat. French suggests sharing them straight out of the pan. – Text and Photo by The Washington Post

Skillet Mussels with Rosemary, Lavender and Lime (two servings)

CHOOSE a variety of culinary lavender that has complex floral notes, such as Hidcote, Buena Vista or Betty’s Blue. Find fresh at farmers markets or plant nurseries, or order dried lavender (on the stem, for easy removal) online.

Make sure you have some crusty bread for sopping up the pan juices.

Directions

Heat a large, dry cast-iron skillet over high heat. Once it’s quite hot, add the mussels, spreading them in a single layer. Scatter the rosemary and lavender over the mussels. Cook, undisturbed and uncovered, for one-1/2 to two minutes, until the mussels’ shells begin to open.

Toss the cubes of the butter around the pan; as soon as you hear them sizzling and see them foaming, shake the pan to distribute the melted butter. Continue to cook for one to two minutes, moving the pan, until the mussels have fully opened. Remove from the heat.

Squeeze the juice from the lime halves over the mussels. Serve right away, in the skillet, discarding any that have not opened.

Fig Baklava Tartlets (six to 12 servings)

THESE mini-tarts harness the luscious sweetness of fresh figs for a fruity, more healthful take on baklava.

To make these even easier to assemble, you can skip the layering and cutting of phyllo dough and use small, store-bought phyllo shells instead.

MAKE AHEAD: The figs can be cooked, cooled and refrigerated, separate from the reduced syrup, a day in advance. The baked phyllo cups can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days. Top with the figs just before serving.

Steps

COMBINE the water, honey, lemon peel, lemon juice and cinnamon stick in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.

Once the mixture begins bubbling, reduce the heat to medium-low and add the figs. Cook for four to five minutes, until they are until tender but still retain their shape.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the figs to a bowl.

Remove the cinnamon stick and lemon peel from the saucepan and discard.

Increase the heat to medium-high; cook the remaining liquid for about two minutes, or until it has reduced to a syrupy 1/2 cup.

Let cool.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and cloves, if using, in a small bowl. Combine the oil and melted butter in a separate bowl.

Set the stack of phyllo dough on a clean work surface and cover with damp paper towels, keeping the stack covered as much as possible as you work.

Transfer one sheet of the phyllo to a large cutting board, and brush the top with the oil-butter mixture.

Lay another sheet directly on top of that one and brush it with the oil mixture. Repeat with the remaining sheets of phyllo.

Use a sharp knife to cut the phyllo stack into twelve three-inch squares.

Press one stack of the squares into each well of a 12-well mini-muffin pan, folding or fluting the edges slightly to make an attractive cup.

Fill each cup with equal amounts of the walnut mixture, then bake (middle rack) for 13 to 15 minutes, until the phyllo is crisped and golden.

While the phyllo is still hot, drizzle the cooled syrup into each of the phyllo-walnut cups (in the muffin pan). Top each with two pieces of fig; cool to room temperature before serving.

Nutrition | Per piece: 170 calories, 2g protein, 18g carbohydrates, 11g fat, 2g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 45mg sodium, 1g dietary fibre, 12g sugar

Ingredients

1/2 cup water

1/3 cup honey

One three-inch-long-by-1/2-inch-wide strip of lemon peel (no pith), plus one tablespoon fresh lemon juice

One three-inch cinnamon stick

Six fresh black mission figs, quartered lengthwise

3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

Two tablespoons light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves (optional)

1/4 cup olive oil

One tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

Six sheets phyllo dough