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Stuffed Dates With Citrus Chèvre and Candied Fennel Almonds

April 21, 2011


When I was a kid, I hated dates. Maybe hate is a strong word best reserved for the likes of onions and liver, both of which initiated my gag reflex when they hit my adolescent tongue. (And both of which I now enjoy in adulthood.) My feeling about dates was more that I didn’t feel anything about them. Growing up in a small Pennsylvania town in the 80s meant that my dates were chopped and compressed into an unappetizing, crystallized block that offered no hint as to what it had been in its former life. At Christmas mom would roll the sickeningly sweet sticky goo with graham cracker crumbs and powdered sugar and pass it off as a no-bake cookie. It was always the last cookie left on the plate passed up in favor of delicate cream-filled lady locks and thumbprints laden with homemade jam.

Twenty years later, I was standing in a Middle Eastern bakery in Chicago with a pack of warm pita in my hand when I saw a big, orange, hand-written sign with the word “dates” on it. The sign was taped to the front of an open cardboard box measuring two feet on each side. I might have kept on going had it not been for the line of people holding plastic bags and waiting for their turn at what was inside the box. I got in line just to see what the fuss was about. Staring back at me from inside the cavernous box were amber colored objects the size of golf-balls but oblong in shape. Were these merely a different form of the dates I had experienced as a child? I lingered too long in amazement. A man stepped from behind the nearby cash register and walked over to me, “Would you like to try one miss?”

My inner child said, “no,” while my adult gastronaut said, “I’ll try anything.” The patient man tipped the box in my direction and motioned for me to pick one. “Bite carefully; there is a pit inside,” he said. His instructions sounded ominous, but it was too late to turn back. My teeth sank into the softest sweetness I had ever tasted. And so began a love affair that has thrived for nearly a decade.

I usually keep it simple, wrapping giant, velvety Medjool dates in paper-thin prosciutto or serving them on a plate with gorgonzola, toasted walnuts, and wheat crackers. The recipe below is one of my favorites, because it’s easy and flexible. You can use any nut you like. You can caramelize the nuts or simply toast them. The components can all be made ahead and assembled at the last minute. And if you’re making these blissful treats for a party, don’t expect to find one on the platter at the end of the night.

Stuffed Dates With Citrus Chèvre and Candied Fennel Almonds

Ingredients

2 oz. Chèvre (fresh goat cheese)
2 oz. mascarpone cheese*
2 teaspoons of Orange Peel Preserves (or the zest of 1 orange)
20-24 Medjool dates (approx. 12 oz.)
40-48 Candied Fennel Almonds (recipe below)

Preparation

  1. Combine the Chèvre, mascarpone, and orange peel preserves or zest.
  2. Slice the dates in half and remove the pit.
  3. Fill each date with a teaspoon of the cheese mixture.
  4. Place a candied almond in the center.
  5. Serve immediately. You can fill the dates with cheese ahead of time and refrigerate. The almonds will lose their crunch if you add them too soon.

note*: If you can’t find mascarpone, you can use 2 oz. cream cheese sweetened with a teaspoon of sugar.

Candied Fennel Almonds

Ingredients

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground fennel or anise
½ teaspoon ground coriander
pinch of ground cloves
1 1/3 cups marcona almonds

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Combine sugar and water in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat.
  4. When the mixture comes to a boil add remaining ingredients.
  5. Stir occasionally until it’s reduced to a thick syrup, about 7-10 minutes.
  6. Remove the nuts from the pan with a slotted spoon and spread them out on the lined baking sheet.
  7. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir. Bake for 5 more minutes.
  8. Remove from oven and let cool. Store in an airtight container.


How about another cheesy bite? Try these Gorgonzola Truffles with bacon.

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