Ari's Five Foods

Sautéed Dates for Dinner

A delightful and delicious appetizer

So easy! As with all the cooking I write about, this dish requires really good raw materials. I feel fortunate to have stumbled onto the delicious dates from the marvelous Rancho Meladuco, located in the Coachella Valley in California. They’re ripened carefully on the tree to maximize their natural sweetness. Joan Smith and her team then dry them very gently, leaving them with higher moisture to enhance the dates’ natural flavor. (It also makes them much more difficult to pack and ship, but I’m happy to pay for that. The dates are incredibly tasty!)

To make this easy appetizer, start by gently heating some extra virgin olive oil in a sauté pan. Add some of the dates to the pan—about 2-3 per person is probably about right. Stir gently so the dates get coated with oil and begin to warm a bit. After a couple of minutes, add a handful of raw hazelnuts. I’m a big fan of the Piemontese hazelnuts we have here—they’re really quite exceptional. (If you want, high quality walnuts or almonds would be good too.) Stir once or twice to coat the nuts with oil and make sure they’re toasting evenly, browning lightly in the pan. Add some coarsely chopped Piquillo red peppers from the Basque Country. Stir again. The dates don’t need much cooking, so the whole thing will take about 5 to 7 minutes from start to serving.

If you like you can include a bit of chopped bacon—cook the bacon in the oil before you add the dates, and then proceed apace. Alternatively, you could add some of that great Roadhouse pit-smoked chicken to the pan—the smokiness of both the bacon and the chicken makes a great contrast to the sweetness of the dates.

When the dates are ready, add in some crumbled feta or crumbled goat cheese. You’ll only need one or two stirs in the pan before the dish is done—the cheese should be warmed, but not melted. When you’re ready, take everything out of the pan with the tongs, and place on a warm platter. Sprinkle with some fleur de sel and some ground Tellicherry pepper. Serve warm, somewhere between “hot” and “room temperature.” This dish is wonderful for breakfast or brunch too! And if you’re about to begin entertaining again, it’s an easy item for a buffet (just remind folks that the dates have pits!).

Get some dates from the Deli to sauté