One of my favorite stands at the local farmer’s market sells Medjool dates. They’re enormous, plush and sticky and sweet as candy, so rich that you can’t eat more than one or two at a time. The most popular dates at the stand are the freshest ones: soft, pillowy and priced for a splurge. But I prefer the older, firmer dates–not just because they’re cheaper, but because they’re ideal for stuffing with cheese and wrapping in prosciutto.
I’m a sucker for salty-sweet things, and these scratch my itch every time. There’s nothing quite like tangy cheese, sugary fruit and fatty, salty ham all mashed into one perfectly-sized bite. They’re quick to put together–if you don’t mind a bit of assembly-line work–and make the perfect entrance at a party. Give me one or two of these morsels and a glass of dry rose wine, and I’m a happy girl.
Most stuffed dates in the world have goat cheese inside them. This is where I push away from tradition. I adore goat cheese, but it’s just not my favorite date filling–it’s too soft and malleable, no contrast at all against the gooey stickiness of the fruit. Instead, I like to use cubes of Parmesan or another firm, aged cheese: the sharpness cuts right through through the sweetness of the dates, but the cheese still has enough chew to stand up to the fruit around it. And then, of course, aged cheese is a natural partner for the thin layer of prosciutto holding everything together.
These are delicious just-assembled, at room temperature. In the sweltering height of summer, there’s no need to do anything more. But if you can stand to, try running them under the broiler until the cheese melts and the ham starts to shrink in on itself. At room temperature, the dates are subtle and layered; warmed through, they’re butter-rich and decadent. Your call.
Cheese-Stuffed Dates with Prosciutto (serves 8-10 as an appetizer)
3 dozen (about 1 lb) large dates
1/3 lb (5.5 oz) aged Gruyere, aged Manchego, or Parmesan cheese
4 oz (8 slices) thinly-sliced prosciutto
Cut a slit lengthwise down each date and remove the pit. Cut the cheese into cubes about the size of the date pits. Tuck a piece of cheese into the middle of each date, and squeeze the date gently to close the slit and wrap the flesh around the cheese. Cut or tear each slice of prosciutto into 4 long strips, and wrap a strip of prosciutto around each stuffed date, pressing gently to stick the prosciutto to itself. Serve immediately.
Optional finishing step: Turn on the broiler. Lay the wrapped dates in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet, and broil for 1-2 minutes on each side–3-4 minutes total–or until the cheese bubbles. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes, then serve warm.