Create a Perfect Autumn Dinner with All the Sophisticated Flavors of Fall

mismatched linens and plates
Photo: Peter Krumhardt

The sweet filling of an iconic cookie moves to the starring role in this sophisticated fall dinner.

01 of 17

Autumn Flavors

dining room with covered chairs
Peter Krumhardt

Think fall and its rich, fiery colors that give the illusion of trees ablaze. Those rust, yellow, and orange hues, however, aren't the only ones that nature bestows each autumn. The culinary world delivers figs—aptly described as gems—in a color range that spans amethyst to citrine to garnet. These edible jewels star in a fall dinner party where the fruit infuses each course with sweetness and informs the deep palette of the table's visual show.

02 of 17

Gold and Vintage Details

dinner table set with orange glasses
Peter Krumhardt

In a neutral room flooded with natural light, a black-and-cream paisley tablecloth drapes visual weight over the table. Scalloped placemats in gold highlight the banding and geometric details in the dinner and salad plates. Stems of vintage glassware and shiny gold flatware balance the scheme.

Silver candlesticks from Replacements Ltd. cast a glow across a tablescape anchored by a tablecloth made of paisley fabric from Duralee. Vintage stemware mixes with "Bicos" amber tumblers from Vista Alegre. Dinner and salad plates are from the "Trianna" collection for Lenox.

03 of 17

Golden Glow

mismatched linens and plates
Peter Krumhardt

Instead of matching linens and plates, the tablescape takes a departure that is less serious yet still polished. Dinnerware and napkins are mixed at each setting, providing variety while supporting the look.

Juliska's "Isadora" placemats weave gold onto the table.

04 of 17

Stunning Silver Centerpiece

silver candlesticks on a metal tray
Peter Krumhardt

Another mix—this time of old and new—provides eye-catching appeal as it forms the table's centerpiece. Corralled in a sleek, low metal tray, a dozen vintage silver candlesticks in various patterns and heights glow among rust-color alstroemeria clustered in simple glass vases.

Candlesticks don't have to come in pairs. Buy mismatched patterns in varying heights, like these from Replacements Ltd., to guarantee a glowing report for your centerpiece.

05 of 17

All in the Details

lenox flatware on vista alegre plates
Peter Krumhardt

Vista Alegre's "Calçada Portuguesa" plates complement Lenox's "Colebrook" flatware.

06 of 17

Autumnal Colors

sferra linen napkins
Peter Krumhardt

Sferra linen napkins emphasize the menu's seasonal colors.

07 of 17

A Seasonal Meal

pasta with figs and morels
Peter Krumhardt

While figs bring stylish inspiration to the table, their voluptuous texture, soft flesh, and plentiful tiny edible seeds offer a different spark to the menu. A bright, red wine-based spritzer starts the dinner, paired with sweet Black Mission fig and earthy Gorgonzola and Havarti toasts. A velvety pasta with figs and morels follows. A nuanced sauce of port-braised figs complements the hearty main course, roasted rib eye. An airy honey cake with cream cheese frosting and a seductive garnish of whole fresh figs finishes the feast.

08 of 17

Mouthwatering Dessert

cake with figs and pistachios
Peter Krumhardt

This moist, honey-laced layer cake is slathered with cream cheese frosting and fig jam, then topped with pistachios and a variety of fresh figs. The luscious cake delivers on the fruit's decadent mythology—figs represent both seduction and satiety.

09 of 17

Menu and Shopping List

gold stemmed glasses
Peter Krumhardt

One of the fruits most associated with the mysteries of the ancient Middle Eastern civilizations, figs have a certain romance attached to them. Voluptuous and fulsome, delicate and sweet, figs have many applications in the culinary world. We've created a menu that uses figs from start to finish, but don't forget they can be wonderful by themselves drizzled with a bit of honey. Recipes by Chef Mary Payne Moran. Jardesca Harvest Spritz recipe courtesy of Jardesca Aperitiva.

Recipes

  • Jardesca Harvest Spritz
  • Two-Cheese and Fig Toasts
  • Fig and Morel Mushroom Fettuccine
  • Roasted Rib Eye with Port-Braised Figs, Brussels Sprouts, and Polenta
  • Fig and Honey Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
  • Homemade Fig Bars
  • A Taste of Honey

Shopping List

We've organized a shopping list to make shopping for this party menu easier for you. Package sizes are included so you have enough for duplicated recipe ingredients.

Check your pantry for these necessary items before shopping:

Note: Unless specified, when we call for "butter" we mean the unsalted variety. When we call for "olive oil" we are suggesting good-quality extra virgin. When we call for "eggs" we are suggesting large eggs. Unless specified, when we call for "milk" we mean whole-fat milk.

Amounts for cocktail recipe are increased to make eight cocktails.

  • Olive oil (need 3 tablespoons + 1/4 cup)
  • Butter (need 5-1/2 sticks total)
  • Vegetable oil (need 1/4 cup)
  • 5 eggs
  • Kosher salt (need 1-3/4 teaspoons + more to taste)
  • Freshly ground black pepper (need 1/4 teaspoon + more to taste)
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • All-purpose flour (need 3-1/4 cups total)
  • Baking powder (need 2-1/4 teaspoons total) (check expiration date)
  • Granulated sugar (need 1-1/3 cups total)
  • Powdered sugar (need 2-1/2 cups)
  • Honey (need 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon)
  • Vanilla (need 2 teaspoons total)

Specialty grocery

  • 2 (8.5-ounce) jars fig jam, preserves, or spread (need 1/4 cup + 1 cup)
  • 1 (1/2-ounce) package dried morel mushrooms

Produce

  • Figs: (Note: any varietal will work with these recipes. The following are suggestions.)
    • Cocktail: 2 Brown Turkey or Mission
    • Fig Toasts: 3 Brown Turkey or Mission
    • Fettuccine: 12 Sierra and/or Brown Turkey
    • Rib eye: 4 Brown Turkey
    • Cake: 6 to 8 Striped Tiger and/or Mission
    • Fig Bars: 6 of any variety, Mission suggested
  • 3 medium oranges (2 for cocktail garnish, 1 for Fig Bars)
  • 2 lemons (for 3 tablespoons juice)
  • 1 bunch fresh rosemary
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley
  • 1 large onion
  • 1/2-pound Brussels sprouts
  • Cocktail: 2 Brown Turkey or Mission
  • Fig Toasts: 3 Brown Turkey or Mission
  • Fettuccine: 12 Sierra and/or Brown Turkey
  • Rib eye: 4 Brown Turkey
  • Cake: 6 to 8 Striped Tiger and/or Mission
  • Fig Bars: 6 of any variety, Mission suggested

Grocery

  • 1 (13-ounce) package dried fettuccine
  • 1 (32-ounce) container reduced-sodium chicken broth (optional for water in polenta recipe)
  • 1 (24-ounce) package polenta (corn grits)
  • 1 (6-ounce) bottle apple juice
  • 1 (5- or 6-ounce) package dried Mission figs

Baking aisle

  • 1 (10-ounce) package pecan halves
  • 1 (20-ounce) package dry-roasted pistachios
  • 1 (1-ounce) bottle almond extract

Butcher/Meat department

  • 1 package bacon (need 4 slices)
  • 4 (2-inch-thick, 20-ounce each) beef rib eye steaks

Dairy section

  • 1 (half-pint) container whipping cream
  • 1 (pint) container buttermilk
  • 1 (8-ounce) container whipped cream cheese spread

Bakery

  • 4 brioche dinner rolls

Cheese department

  • 3 ounces Havarti
  • 2 ounces Gorgonzola
  • 1 (10-ounce) wedge Parmesan-Reggiano (need 1 cup + 2 tablespoons)

Alcohol

  • 1 (750-milliliter) bottle Jardesca Red Aperitiva
  • 1 (750-milliliter) prosecco
  • 1 (325-milliliter) tawny port (You might consider getting a larger bottle to have on hand when you dive into that Fig and Honey Cake!)
10 of 17

Jardesca Harvest Spritz

jardesca harvest spritzer
Peter Krumhardt

This refreshing version of a red-wine spritzer (yes, we've gone retro here!) is made with Jardesca Red Aperitiva. Produced in Sonoma, California, the aperitiva is a blend of three red wines and a variety of spices. Find it at jardesca.com.

Start to finish: 5 minutes

  • Ice
  • 1/3 cup Jardesca red aperitiva wine, chilled
  • 1/3 cup Prosecco, chilled
  • Wide orange twist
  • Sprig fresh rosemary
  • Fresh fig wedge

In ice-filled wineglass combine Jardesca and Prosecco. Garnish with orange twist, rosemary sprig, and fig wedge. Makes 1 serving.

11 of 17

Two-Cheese and Fig Toasts

brioche with cheese, figs and onions
Peter Krumhardt

Brioche topped with Havarti and Gorgonzola cheeses, figs, and caramelized onion, served on Casa Alegre's "Gold Stone" platter in bronze, is a savory introduction to dinner. These little sandwich hors d'oeuvres hit all the right taste notes: cheesy, sweet, and tangy. Consider doubling the recipe—you won't have leftovers!

Hands On: 20 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

Caramelized Onions:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup thinly sliced onion
  • Kosher salt

Fig Toasts:

  • 4 brioche dinner rolls
  • 1/4 cup purchased fig jam or preserves
  • 4 slices Havarti cheese, halved diagonally (3 ounces)
  • 3 Brown Turkey or Mission figs, sliced crosswise into circles
  • 1 recipe Caramelized Onions
  • 2 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

For Caramelized Onions, heat large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil to skillet; add onion. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender, 13 to 15 minutes. Uncover, raise heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with kosher salt. Set aside.

For Fig Toasts, preheat oven to 450°F. Halve rolls. Spread cut sides of rolls with fig jam; top 1/2-slices Havarti cheese. Place on baking sheet. Bake until cheese is melted and edges of rolls are browned, 5 to 8 minutes.

Top with figs, caramelized onions, and Gorgonzola cheese. Makes 8 servings.

12 of 17

Fig and Morel Mushroom Fettuccine

fig and morel mushroom fettuccine
Peter Krumhardt

Black Mission figs, morel mushrooms, fettuccine, and Parmesan combine sweet and savory. This unexpected combination for pasta is simple but extraordinarily decadent.

Hands On: 20 minutes

Soak: 20 minutes

Cook: 5 minutes

  • 1 (1/2-ounce) package dried morel mushrooms
  • 6 ounces dried fettuccine
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh parsley
  • 12 Sierra and/or Brown Turkey figs, stemmed and quartered

Place mushrooms in small bowl. Top with boiling water to cover. Let stand 20 minutes. Drain mushrooms and squeeze out excess liquid. Slice mushrooms.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water. Drain; keep warm.

In very large skillet, cook bacon until crisp. Drain on paper towels; crumble. Drain drippings from skillet.

In skillet melt butter over medium heat. Add mushrooms and bacon. Cook, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes. Add 1/4 cup reserved pasta water and whipping cream. Bring to simmer. Add cheese, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Simmer until slightly thickened.

Add fettuccine and parsley; return to simmer, adding additional pasta water if needed. Remove from heat. Add figs. Sprinkle with additional fresh parsley, if desired. Makes 8 servings.

13 of 17

Roasted Rib Eye with Port-Braised Figs, Brussels Sprouts, and Polenta

roasted rib eye with figs
Peter Krumhardt

Figs braised in port wine create an amazing pan sauce for this hearty rib eye. It's elegant and satisfying. Combined with Brussels sprouts and polenta (do pour a little sauce into the polenta!), the entrée becomes worthy of your favorite steakhouse.

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 45 minutes

Roast: 8 minutes to 10 minutes at 400° F

Roasted Rib Eye with Port-Braised Figs:

  • 4 (2-inch-thick, 20-ounce each) beef rib eye steaks
  • Kosher salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup tawny port
  • 4 Brown Turkey figs, quartered

Brussels Sprouts:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup pecan halves
  • Kosher salt
  • Ground black pepper

Polenta:

  • 2-1/4 cups water or reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup polenta
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons finely shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

For Roasted Rib Eye with Port-Braised Figs, preheat oven to 400°F. Season steaks on both sides with kosher salt, pepper, and rosemary.

In 12-inch, oven-safe skillet heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat. When butter has melted add two steaks; sear 3 minutes on each side or until brown. Transfer steaks to plate. Repeat with another 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon butter, and remaining steaks.

Add all steaks to skillet and roast in oven 8 to 10 minutes or until instant-read thermometer reads medium-rare (145°F). Move steaks from skillet to plate; tent with foil and let rest.

Carefully add port to drippings in skillet; stir to scrape any browned bits from bottom of pan. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Simmer 8 minutes or until liquid is reduced to 3/4 cup. Add figs; cook 1 minute more. Remove skillet from heat; swirl in remaining 4 tablespoons cold butter until incorporated. Serve steaks with sauce, polenta, and Brussels sprouts. (Makes 8 servings [1/2 steak per person]).

For Brussels Sprouts, heat olive oil in 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add Brussels sprouts to skillet, cut sides down. Cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes or until lightly browned and nearly tender. Add pecans; cook 5 minutes or until toasted. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to serving bowl.

For Polenta, in medium saucepan bring water and salt to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, slowly whisk in polenta. Cook 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Stir in butter and cheese. Transfer to serving bowl.

14 of 17

Fig and Honey Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

fig and honey cake with cream cheese frosting
Peter Krumhardt

This scrumptious cake quickly became a staff favorite. With its tumble of fresh figs, moist golden cake, and rich frosting, it's certainly an indulgence but well worth it!

Prep: 25 minutes

Bake: 35 minutes at 350°F

Cool: 15 minutes

Fig and Honey Cake:

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup fig preserves, divided and at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 recipe Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)
  • 1/4 cup chopped pistachios
  • 6 to 8 Striped Tiger and/or Mission figs, some halved and some whole

Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 1 cup whipped cream cheese spread
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2-1/2 cups powdered sugar

For Fig and Honey Cake, preheat oven to 350°F. Coat bottoms of two 8x1-1/2-inch round cake pans with nonstick spray. Line bottoms of pans with parchment or waxed paper; coat pans with nonstick spray. In medium bowl stir together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In large bowl beat butter and oil with electric mixer on medium to high speed 30 seconds. Gradually add granulated sugar, beating until well combined. Scrape sides of bowl; beat 2 minutes more. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in 1/3 cup fig preserves, buttermilk, honey, vanilla, and almond extract. Add flour mixture; beat until combined. Beat on medium to high speed 20 seconds more. Spread batter evenly in prepared pans.

Bake 35 minutes or until wooden toothpick comes out clean. Cool cake layers on wire racks 15 minutes. Carefully loosen cake layers from edges of pans with thin spatula or butter knife. Remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack. Place one layer on serving plate. Spread with half Cream Cheese Frosting. Dollop frosting with remaining fig preserves; carefully smooth with back of a soupspoon or small offset spatula. Carefully top with second cake layer. Add Cream Cheese Frosting to top of cake; smooth with small offset spatula. Sprinkle cake with chopped pistachios; garnish with fresh figs. Makes 8 servings.

For Cream Cheese Frosting, in medium bowl place whipped cream cheese and butter. Beat with electric mixer on medium to high speed until combined. Add powdered sugar all at once; mix to combine. Keep unrefrigerated until ready to frost cake.

15 of 17

Homemade Fig Bars

homemade fig bars
Peter Krumhardt

Submitted for your approval: With a slightly richer pastry and fruitier fig filling than its iconic cookie counterpart, this bar cookie recipe makes enough treats to wrap some as gifts and still keep some for yourself.

Prep: 45 minutes

Chill: 3 hours

Bake: 10 minutes per batch at 375° F

  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs, divided
  • 2 tablespoons apple juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1 recipe Fig Filling

Fig Filling:

  • 6 fresh figs, such as Mission*, stems removed, chopped
  • 6 dried Mission figs, stems removed, chopped
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup apple juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Kosher salt

In small bowl, stir together flour, salt, and baking powder; set aside.

In large bowl beat butter with mixer on medium speed 30 seconds. Add sugar, beating until combined. Beat in 1 egg, apple juice, vanilla, and orange zest. Stir in flour mixture with wooden spoon. Divide dough in half. Cover; chill until easy to handle (about 3 hours).

Preheat oven to 350°F. On lightly floured pastry cloth, roll one portion of dough into 10x8-inch rectangle; cut into two 10x4-inch strips. Spread one-fourth of the Fig Filling down center of each strip. Using bottom edge of pastry cloth, lift and fold long edges of bottom strip of dough over filling; seal edges. Use top edge of pastry cloth to enclose second strip of dough. Place filled strips, seam sides down, on a parchment-lined large cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Beat together remaining egg and 1 tablespoon water. Brush bars with egg mixture.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until light brown. Immediately cut strips into 1-inch slices. Remove; cool on wire racks. Makes 36 bars.

For Fig Filling, in small saucepan combine figs, water, apple juice, and honey. Bring just to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, 28 minutes or until fruit is soft and mixture is thick, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Strain figs; reserve liquid. Cool about 15 minutes. Purée figs in food processor, adding reserved liquid as needed. Season to taste with salt. Set aside and let cool.

*Tip: If fresh figs are not available, use a total of 12 dried figs. Cook as directed, except cover for first 15 minutes of cooking to ensure figs re-hydrate.

Note: To store, layer bars between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator up to 3 days or freeze up to 3 months.

16 of 17

Fig Varietals

figs on a cutting board
Peter Krumhardt

A handsome board, like this ash plank from JK Adams, sets the stage for a pretty presentation.

1. Striped Tiger

Striped Tiger figs are a fairly new varietal. Cut into one to reveal bright red- purple fruit with a jammy raspberry and citrus flavor. Match to a wedge of Gouda. Available mid-July through November.

2. Black Mission

Black Mission figs are the most readily available. With a deep, earthy flavor similar to a Cabernet Sauvignon, they pair well with funky blue cheeses. Available mid-May through November.

3. Sierra

The light-skinned Sierra fig has a fresh, sweet flavor similar to a Riesling wine. Pair with a well-aged white cheddar. Available June through November.

4. Brown Turkey

Brown Turkey figs range from light purple to black in color. They have a robust flavor similar to a Pinot Noir. Pair with a creamy cheese such as goat or quark. Available mid-May through December.

17 of 17

A Taste of Honey

honey in bowls
Peter Krumhardt

Figs drizzled with a little honey is a simple, luxurious way to serve this delicate fruit. The flavor of honey depends much on the type of flower from which the bees gather the pollen that results in the sticky sweet treat. Here are some favorites.

1. Sweet Clover

A native to the Mediterranean region, sweet clover now grows bountifully throughout the hot and dry high plains of the midwestern United States. The honey's distinctive cinnamon aroma and flavor is recognizable immediately upon opening. The cinnamon is joined with caramel and nutmeg, followed up by a lingering spicy finish.

2. Buckwheat

Buckwheat honey is dark and full-bodied. It is typically produced in Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, as well as eastern Canada. It has been found to contain more antioxidant compounds than some lighter honeys.

3. Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus honey varies greatly in color and flavor, but in general, it tends to be a bold-flavored honey with a slightly medicinal aftertaste.

4. Black Button Sage

From coastal California's scrublands and chaparral plant communities comes black button sage honey. Its characteristics include a golden-white color, non-crystallizing quality, and delightfully light floral flavor with a hint of pear.

5. Avocado

Avocado honey is gathered from California avocado blossoms. Avocado honey is dark in color with a rich, buttery taste.

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