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.
I tried something new today.
With various comings and goings over the past few weeks, I haven’t had much chance to take in the local farmer’s markets. I feel like I’ve been missing a bunch of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it produce. So when I stopped by Trader Joe’s on the way home from work and noticed they were selling fiddlehead ferns–at $4 for a generous half-pound, a relative bargain–it felt like a nudge from the kitchen gods. Cook something seasonal. Try something you’ve never made before.
Fiddlehead ferns–so named because they’re shaped like the scroll of a violin–are ultra-seasonal, showing up for about three weeks in the middle of spring. They’re also ultra-expensive–at the Ferry Building, I’ve never seen them for less than $18 a pound. So I’d never bothered to give them a go before. Now that I had a bag of them, I had to figure out what to do with them. On a weeknight, ambitious and overly fussy preparations were out–I needed something simple and filling. So I decided to swap them into my favorite preparation for broccoli or brussels sprouts: sauteed with ribbons of prosciutto and finished with a sprinkling of crispy garlic. It’s the kind of foolproof saute I absolutely adore, because it’s decadent, nutritious and lightning-fast to prepare.
Having now tried fiddlehead ferns for the first time, the best way I can describe their flavor is…green. They taste exactly the way I imagine the color green to taste. I’m not entirely sold on whether that’s a good thing. The texture reminded me of asparagus, which I wasn’t thrilled about; after they were cooked, they developed a briny aftertaste and a mustardy tang, which I wasn’t expecting. Next time I’m not sure I’d use them as a starring vegetable; I might relegate them to the background, as a subtle flavor player and a pretty visual flourish. That said, I can definitely understand the fuss–fiddlehead ferns are romantic-looking, available only briefly each year, and delicately flavored in a way that screams spring.
So did I fall head over heels for fiddlehead ferns? No. Will I go out of my way to cook with them again? Probably not. Did they make a perfectly serviceable weeknight dinner, glazed with olive oil and tangled up with crisp prosciutto and golden garlic nuggets? Yes indeedy.