Pecorino Romano with Fig Jam

Our friends Brooke and Mike hosted a fabulous Italian dinner party on NYE before we all hit the town. Eight or nine couples attended, and each (lady) was in charge of a dinner component. I was excited to hear that I'd be in charge of appetizers. That's one course that allows for some creativity; when making a main course for a large group, I tend to stick with something safe that everyone will be bound to love.
I scoured my many Italian cookbooks until I found this recipe in Giada's Kitchen. This variation of bruschetta presents beautifully. It will fit in perfect for any cocktail party or casual dinner party, and I definitely plan on making it again. I received several compliments, even from men, so I know it was a success as men don't typically go for such frou-frou food!
My only complaint is that it is quite rich. There are lovely layers of flavor and scent, but you really can only eat just one or two because of the rich cheese and sweet brandy. Next time I will not top the bread with cheese and bake, I will simply drizzle with olive oil and toast the bread in the oven before adding the jam and shaved cheese (I have made this single modification to the recipe below).
The best thing about this appetizer is that it can honestly be made in less than 30 minutes, even if buy a loaf of bread that is not pre-sliced and a hunk of cheese that you have to grate and shave yourself. Anything this simple to make with such a high impact presentation and taste is a keeper in our house!
Pecorino Romano with Fig Jam
12 dried figs, halved
1 cup simple syrup*
4 tbsp brandy
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts
1 baguette, sliced into 1/2 inch toasts
olive oil
approximately 8 oz. Pecorino Romano - go for the good stuff, a great imported artisan cheese
Preheat oven to 375.
Toast the hazelnuts lightly in a dry heavy skillet over medium heat. Spread on plate to cool before adding to the jam.
Combine figs, simple syrup and brandy in saucepan. Bring to a simmer then remove from heat and set aside 10 minutes to cool and allow the figs to soak up some of the liquid.
Transfer fig mixture to a food processor and blend. Add the hazelnuts and pulse a few times until pureed to a jam-like consistency.
Place baguette slices on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Bake until golden, 8-10 minutes.
Meanwhile, use the edge of a knife to shave the cheese into large but thin chunks. (I tried several methods, including a fancy-pants cheese shaver and found my handy old knife worked best). You may want to put the shavings into a small metal bowl and refrigerate while the rest of your ingredients cook.
Top each baguette slice with 2 teaspoons of the jam and a piece of shaved Pecorino Romano.
*Just throw equal parts water and white granulated sugar on to simmer for five minutes, then allow it to cool to room temperature.