Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Originally uploaded by starchmouse.
My cousin recently came to San Francisco with her family and my aunt and uncle so we all had dinner at Gourmet Carousel on Friday. My aunt and uncle live in Minnesota but have recently decided to spend the cold harsh winter months in Palm Springs. Apparently Palm Springs is the Medjool date capital of the world (I had no idea) and my cousin gave me a container. I've never really eaten dates before (other than boiling those big dried red ones in korean chicken soup when I'm sick, or throwing them at various people in hopes they will have many girl children, but that's a different story) so I didn't know what they tasted like or what to do with them. But my cousin's cute baby daughter ate one with relish so I knew it must be good.

I remembered a recipe from Amanda Hesser's "Cooking for Mr. Latte" that involved dates stuffed with almonds and served with a wine sauce. So I went to Trader Joe's, picked up a bottle of beaujolais, and set to work. First you simmer the wine, add the dates, then after the skins blister, take them out and peel off the skins. You cut open the dates, remove the pit, and add two almonds to the center. Then you pinch the date closed, and it stays closed because it is so damn sticky. Meanwhile, you add some honey, orange zest, and various spices to the wine, simmer, and reduce by half. The book says it takes 20 minutes but it takes more like 40. At least the house smelled yummy. Then you strain the wine, put the dates back in to warm up, and serve them with a little sauce spooned over.

I initially thought it was weird, but then grew to like it. Maybe because I was expecting the wine sauce to taste different? But you boil it with a whole bunch of peppercorns and it becomes really spicy. And yes, the date is really sweet, but the crunchy almonds and wine sauce really cut through it. So I think it's a great thing to make with dates. Thanks cousin!

Apician Spiced Dates
I'm posting the original recipe printed in Amanda Hesser's "Cooking for Mr. Latte" but I didn't follow it directly. I didn't have allspice berries so I grated in some nutmeg. I used a bottle of beaujolais as suggested, but I think I would have preferred to use the bottle of lighter and sweeter merlot that I was also eyeing. And I didn't have mascarpone, but I think that would be key for further cutting through the sticky sweetness of the dates and adding a little richness to the dessert. Also, you've got a whole bottle of wine. You could probably double the number of dates you make. I've got a whole jar of wine sauce left over.

8 medjool dates
16 whole almonds, lightly toasted
1 bottle light-bodied wine, like beaujolais
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 tablespoon fresh or dried orange zest
2 2-inch cinnamon sticks
1 dried bay leaf
4 allspice berries
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup mascarpone

1. Pour the wine into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add dates and simmer until skins blister, about 5 minutes. Take out with a slotted spoon and while still warm, remove the skins. Cut each date down the long side and remove the seed. Put in two almonds and pinch back closed.

2. Add the spices, zest and honey to the wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 20 (or in my case 40) minutes. Strain the wine and add to another saucepan. Put the dates in the sauce and warm them until medium hot.

3. To serve, put a dollop of mascarpone on a plate, place two dates on top and spoon a little wine sauce on the whole thing. Serves 4.

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