Three Bites: It’s a Date!

Marilyn HawkesJanuary 2020
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Photo by Angelina Aragon
Photo by Angelina Aragon

Confronted by the mystically sweet meatiness of Medjool dates, Valley chefs have but one logical course of action: Stuff them.

Olive & Ivy

7135 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale
480-751-2200, oliveandivyrestaurant.com
Farmers first cultivated date palms waaaay back in 6,000 B.C. – making them “as old as time,” Olive & Ivy executive chef Jim Kenney notes. Larger and sweeter than other cultivar dates, Medjools originated in Morocco and first showed up in the U.S. in the late 1920s, quickly becoming a favorite of desert farmers in Southern California and Arizona. At Olive & Ivy, Kenney serves five plump Medjool dates ($12, pictured) stuffed with a 50/50 ratio of Italian sausage and grated Parmesan cheese. He wraps the dates with bacon, bakes them until they ooze and then places the sticky treats on a mild piquillo pepper sauce sparked with a Malaysian chile sauce called sambal oelek, and a smidgen of honey and olive oil to lend some depth. The fat-kissed sausage offsets the sweetness of the date. “It’s the perfect balance of sweet and savory,” Kenney says.

Tuck Shop

2245 N. 12th St., Phoenix
602-354-2980, tuckinphx.com
When Grace Unger took over Tuck Shop four years ago, stuffed Medjool dates were on the menu, and she kept them because of customer demand. “We switch our menu up seasonally, and I would be boycotted if I took them off the menu,” she jokes. Tuck Shop’s stuffed Medjool dates ($12) are filled with Schreiner’s spicy Mexican chorizo and nutty Gruyère cheese and then baked until the cheese melts and the crusty dates split open. The sinful little morsels sit on a bed of spicy arugula dressed in lemon juice and olive oil, giving the dish some acidity to balance the sugary fruit and cut through the fat of the chorizo. To finish, the chefs sprinkle the dates with fresh lemon zest. “Even people who don’t like dates love these,” Unger says.

Prado at Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa Montelucia

4949 E. Lincoln Dr., Scottsdale
480-627-3004, omnihotels.com
Prado’s Medjool dates ($9) are pitted, stuffed with fried and salted Marcona almonds and then wrapped in applewood smoked bacon before they’re plunged into the deep fryer. When they emerge from the oil, the dates are toothsomely pliant, with the consistency of buttery pecan pie filling, and have a crisp, smoky bacon shell. “Deep frying caramelizes the sugar in the date,” executive sous chef Cesar Corral says. To add even more Mediterranean flair, Corral places each date (three to an order) on an earthy pool of cheese sauce made with rich and velvety Spanish Valdeón blue cheese brought to room temperature and then whipped with heavy cream. “It’s just a really wonderful combination.”

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