Yeah, I know what YOU were thinking, but no, this is all about dates. Phoenix dactylifera. The date palm, and these rather unattractive beasts bear a fruit that has been a favorite of Egyptian Kings, peasants living on the plains, on the rivers and deserts of arid lands for thousands and thousands of years. Not so much any more, they are not that big a deal for most Americans, in fact most have never heard of them, let alone tasted one. But then when possible, I cook with them and non-believers become big fans.
My friend Roberta who by the way is moving away from Austin soon, once told me that I was a magician. I made simple things into miracles of flavor. And it was just dates. I took some big whole fresh dates (FRESH is very important, they can't be at all dry) slit them on one side and removed the pit. Then I took a pack of cream cheese, mixed in the zest of a lemon with the juice, and a teaspoon of cumin. Took a big tablespoon of the mix and placed between the two halves of the date. Then place it in the middle of a big rectangle of puff pastry, pull the corners together and pinch together. Bake in hot oven for 15 minutes or until golden. Yumm.
My next cool thing to do with dates is pretty simple. Take a few fresh dates and slit the side, and remove the it. In a hot skillet, add a teaspoon of olive oil. Take the dates and dust with some cayenne, paprika and a bit of clove and nutmeg. Cook in the olive oil and few moments on the cut side. Turn over and dust with a bit more of the spices. Serve with some slices of good spanish chorizo and roasted garlic cloves along with some good hard cheese such as Manchego, Parmesan or Mimolette. Maybe even Mizithra, although it is pretty salty. Another recipe that I love, or at least to eat when I had guests, not so much anymore, but take some good blue cheese and cut into long chunks. Stuff into dates and then wrap with prosciutto. Then broil until crispy turning every few minutes. You can also wrap in American bacon, just cook longer, or precook the bacon halfway to cut down on cooking time and having the cheese melt out.
If you find some of those fresh honey dates, those are spectacular for this appetizer. Get those really big jalapenos and cut the top of them. With a apple corer or small paring knife, cut out the membranes and seed cores. Cut some sticks from Grana Padano or maybe some Jarlsberg. Stuff the peppers with the cheese and the dates. Stand them up in a high sided bowl or cake pan. Bake in the oven until softened, about 20 to 25 minutes. These are very yummy, the rich cheese and the spiciness of the jalapeno go very well with the sweetness of the dates.
For dessert, just buy a tube of Marzipan and squirt some into pitted dates and serve with chopped almonds or pistachios.