As we sit at the table still cluttered with plates wiped clean of their contents, our bellies full of briny oysters with a piquant mignonette, toast topped with whole sardines and creamy butter and tender spring greens that bend, not crack, when you bite, we turn to dessert.
“We have to get the dates!” A friend suggests.
Now normally I like this friend but who in their right mind suggests dates for dessert over the creamy panna cotta or something, ANYTHING, chocolate? Her overwhelming excitement forces us to take her pleading seriously. We order the dates.
They arrive (along with a rhubarb pavlova in case the dates fail us) on plate bathed in olive oil. They are warm and capped with flaky salt.
One bite and I’m humbled. A hot date crisps on the outside making a caramelized coat that protects the soft, sweet and warm insides – nothing like the health food-y preconceived notions I had had just moments before. Grassy olive oil tames the sweetness and makes them fragrant and floral. And the salt, well, you all know how I feel about salt; the crunch, the nearly harsh bite of salinity that calms against the puckering sweetness of the date.
If you have my book you know that I have a thing for these hot dates. It’s the first course of my birthday date which is basically just all the things I want to eat all the time; Pecorino and fennel seed crusted lamb chops, butter lettuce salad with spring herbs, a blushed Rhubarb cocktail and Créme Fraîche Panna Cotta with Gingered Rhubarb.
Since first enjoying hot dates at Renee Erickson’s famed restaurant, The Walrus and the Carpenter I’ve served them to start meals with friends or at the end of the meal when the menu needs something simple for dessert. Every time I make hot dates people always remark on how good they are. It’s just one of those things that seems so unassuming and then it catches you off guard. I love those surprising moments.
At some point I started to want to push my hot dates a bit further which is how I came to stuff them with bittersweet chocolate. I’m the sort that doesn’t believe dessert is possible without chocolate, obviously I’ve been proven wrong on occasion but I still try and slip it in whenever possible.
These roasted dates are every bit as easy to make as the original hot date but even more delightfully satisfying. If you are making them for dessert for a few I simply warm them up in my cast iron skillet but they also work to feed a crowd – in which case I would roast them in the oven.
Roasted Salted Dates with Bittersweet Chocolate
Enough for 4 to 6 people
5 to 7 large, soft dates such as Medjool
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I’m a fan of something in the 70% range)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Remove the pit from the dates and replace it with a piece of broken chocolate.
Warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a skillet set over medium heat.
Add the chocolate stuffed dates and roast until the exterior of the date is caramelized, they are warmed through and the chocolate has started to melt, about 2 minutes. Do not walk away during this process as it happens quickly. Dates are loaded with sugar which tends to scorch the moment you look away.
Transfer the dates to a serving platter then finish with the remaining olive oil and flake salt.
Alternately, roast the dates in the oven at 350° F until warm, soft and the chocolate begins to melt, about 5 to 7 minutes. Finish in the same way.