Saturday, January 19, 2013

Date Night

Published in The Sanford Herald on December 5, 2012

Confidence is not inspired by a surgeon who has to ask you to read the “fuzzy small words” in your chart.  Nor does one wish for an English teacher who writes everything in texting shorthand.  (LOL)  Along the same lines, you may not wish for a food columnist who willingly admits having set her oven on fire, but I am afraid that is your lot today, friends.  I cannot share this beloved recipe of mine without sharing the story of the Christmas it went horribly wrong.  The recipe is for bacon-wrapped, ricotta-stuffed dates.  The word you are searching for here is swoon.  These can only be described as little bites of bacon-y heaven (which I realize is a redundant statement for some). 

Our flammable tale begins with two fateful mistakes: one, using a baking sheet that was not rimmed around all of the edges and two, thinking a silicone baking sheet would work as well for bacon as it does for cookies.  I was making these in a hurry for a holiday party and decided that it would save time to use a silicone mat, because perhaps it would help the bacon to crisp completely without having to be turned.  So, into the oven these little drops of delight went, sitting atop that slippery silicone, sitting atop that un-rimmed baking sheet.  If you’ve spent any time at all with bacon (and I dearly hope that you have), you know that grease is just part of it.  The silicone, rather than helping cook the bacon evenly, provided a nonstick surface for that grease to rapidly drip right off the edge of the sheet…and onto the hot element of the oven.  You guessed it, fire!  One might think that a silicone baking mat would be impervious to fire.  One would be wrong, y’all.  After putting out said fire with a huge amount of baking soda and a fair amount of flailing around, I finished those flambĂ©ed dates in a hot skillet.  People at the party raved about them anyway!  I tasted a particular smokiness I knew was not just from the bacon, but they were none the wiser.  Each time I’ve served these sweet, chewy dates, stuffed with creamy ricotta and enclosed in a crispy bacon crust, people go wild for them.  Go ahead, trust your friendly fire-starting food columnist, and make these little gems for holiday parties or as an appetizer for your Christmas dinner.  You won’t regret it.  Do keep a fire extinguisher nearby, just in case.

Bacon-Wrapped Ricotta-Stuffed Dates
Makes 2 dozen

1/3 cup ricotta cheese
24 dates, pitted by pushing a toothpick through center lengthwise and removing pit
6 strips of bacon, cut into fourths widthwise
freshly cracked black pepper
toothpicks, to serve

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Mix ricotta with black pepper, adjusting seasoning as desired.  There’s no need to add salt because of the saltiness of the bacon.  Place ricotta in a food storage bag and snip off a very small portion of a corner to make a piping bag.  Fill dates with ricotta, then wrap in bacon, placing seam-side down 1 inch apart on a rimmed baking sheet.  Bake for 8 minutes, then turn and bake for an additional 6 minutes, until bacon is crisp.  Drain on paper towels.  Serve immediately.

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