I remember a time not too long ago when the idea of eating dried figs- or worse, dried dates would've sent shivers down my spine. For most of my life, I've associated the wrinkly brown Mediterranean fruits to old people with digestive problems. But then one day, it was as if some culinary king scrolled through a food dictionary, played eenie meenie, miney mo, landed on dates and figs, and deemed the dried fruits trendy. Funny how certain (often unsuspecting) ingredients become "hot items" in the food world overnight, huh? You now see figs on every restaurant menu- as a pizza topping, pork filling, sandwich spread, etc. And while dates may not be quite as prevalent, they're earning a name for themselves too.
I promise...my recent love affair with figs and dates has nothing to do with their oh so hip...and yet, quite ridicuous, "reputation." For I've been granted with extra special tasting experiences that have quickly swayed my once dreadful opinion of both fruits.
It has been almost two years since I had my first ever, bacon-wrapped date. A thing of glory, I'll never forget the feeling I had when I sunk my teeth into that little bundle of decadence. I was dining at Vizcaya, my favorite Spanish tapas restaurant in Tampa, and Chris insisted we order their meat-wrapped, meat and cheese filled fruit as our first sharing plate of the night. I recall the two of us staring at one another for a solid 10 seconds after we devoured the deep fried goodies. The chewy and perfectly sweet dates made for super scrumptious vessels of sharp manchego cheese and salty serrano ham. And that crispy, meaty bacon exterior...well, that just took this dinnertime treat to a whole new level of lucious. Friends, if you reside in Tampa and have yet to feast on these nuggets of heaven, I urge you...go to Vizcaya, like now...and get you some. I may just become your new best friend after this life-changing recommendation.
Because I can't go to Vizcaya whenever I wish, and because the holiday season is upon us, I decided to generously offer you my recipe for Bacon-wrapped dates. Similar to Vizcaya's version, I stuff mine with manchego cheese and serrano ham and wrap 'em up with bacon. But unlike Vizcaya, I throw mine in the oven rather than a fryer to scorch 'em from the inside out. Crazy simple, this recipe will also score you compliments all around. That's a promise.
Bacon Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Manchego and Serrano
1 package pitted dates (the bigger the dates, the better)
1 small package Manchego cheese
1/8 pound Serrano ham, thinly sliced
1 package bacon (you'll have leftovers)
1/2 cup Honey Dijon aioli (recipe below)
1) Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.
2) Begin assembling the dates. Cut manchego cheese in matchstick pieces and stuff in the opening of the date. Tear off a very small piece of ham and stuff it in the date, too. Then, slice a piece of uncooked bacon in half horizontally and wrap the date. Using a toothpick, secure the bacon, forcing the toothpick through the entire date.
3) Repeat until all dates are stuffed and wrapped. Spray non-stick EVOO spray on a baking sheet and place dates about an inch apart. Bake for 30 minutes or until bacon is crispy.
4) Serve with Honey Dijon Aioli (recipe below)
Honey Djion Aioli
3 tbs mayo
3 tbs Dijon mustard
3 tablespoon honey
1 garlic clove, through garlic press
Combine all ingredients and whisk vigorously until mixed well. Refrigerate for 1/2 hour.