Ive eaten my share of bacon-wrapped dates at cocktail parties and the like. Sometimes they are plain; sometimes they are filled with almonds or cheese. They are always tasty and never filling.
And this was exactly what I thought stuffed dates should be until I had dinner at Avec in Chicago. There, I ate bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with spicy chorizo, surrounded by a silky tomato and piquillo pepper sauce.
This dish was not dainty hors doeuvres to be nibbled out of hand. It was a brawny appetizer that demanded a fork to scoop up the sausage emerging from the sweet dates. The flavors made perfect sense together; piquant, sweet, meaty, smoky and tangy notes in every bite, zinging over your tongue in different combinations and intensities. This is a dish that will never get dull.
My adaptation keeps the compelling flavors, but it scales down the dates so they are more compact. You could make them as an appetizer over sauce, as they do at Avec. But now the dates also work as hearty finger food. Serve with the sauce for dipping.
Chorizo-Stuffed Dates With Piquillo Pepper Sauce
Adapted from Avec, Chicago
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
8 shallots, thinly sliced
8 ounces (about 1 cup) roasted piquillo peppers with any juices (or use any roasted red peppers)
2 cups whole peeled canned tomatoes
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
16 Medjool dates (pitted)
8 ounces of fresh chorizo sausage (not cured), casings removed
8 slices bacon
HEAT oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and shallots and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add peppers and tomatoes and cook on low heat for about 30 minutes to 1 hour, or until the liquid in the sauce has mostly evaporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
LET sauce cool slightly, then transfer to a blender and process until smooth. Thin with warm water to reach desired consistency if necessary. You want a thick sauce but not so thick that it mounds on the plate.
HEAT oven to 350 degrees. Stuff dates with chorizo, using about 1/2 tablespoon of chorizo per date. Cut bacon slices in half lengthwise and wrap a slice around each date.
PLACE stuffed dates on a small baking sheet and bake 15 minutes, or until chorizo is cooked through. Turn broiler to high and broil for 2 to 4 minutes, or until bacon is dark brown and crisp.
SPREAD sauce on each plate and place 3 dates on top. Serve warm.
Yield: 5 appetizer servings.