What better warm, salty-sweet tidbit to offer guests than an almond-stuffed date that has been wildly sauteed in olive oil then seasoned with fleur de sel? There isn’t one. This very fast, very simple delight transforms a simple amuse bouche (appetizer) into a feast.
The date has a very sweet history in Europe. A spoil of the Crusades, which lasted from the 11th to the beginning of the 15th century, knights brought the date back from what is now the Middle East, and it took hold to become a vital ingredient in the cuisine of the Middle Ages, when sweet and sour dishes were so popular since it long predated sugar, the spoil of another type of crusade, to the New World, in the later fifteenth century.
Every Stage is a Good One
Today, the date can be purchased in France at every stage of its development. Golden, just-harvested dates still on the branch arrive at the market in the fall. They can be eaten like a fruit then. If left to ripen they gradually take on their familiar deep brown, shiny hue, and their sugar concentrates to make them sweeter than a bon-bon.
In France they are particularly popular for the holidays, stuffed with multi-colored almond paste and referred to as “fruits deguisés” or disguised fruit. But they are used year-round in all manner of dishes too, from tender cakes to robust sauces, to delicately addictive appetizers like the one presented here.
The Medjool is the most lush variety of date to be found here, but it is usually a bit too large and opulent for this appetizer. I prefer the deglet noor variety which is sweet yet firm, and stands up well to being sauteed, its outer layer caramelizing to perfection.
Whichever variety of date you choose, make and serve these as your guests arrive; they will be forever grateful!
DATES STUFFED WITH ALMONDS - DATTES FARCIES AUX AMANDES
- 8 ounces; 250 g about 40 dates, pitted
- 1/3 cup; 50g whole almonds about 40 almonds, lightly toasted
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- Fleur de sel
- Stuff each date with one almond.
- Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add one date to the pan and when it begins to sizzle in a lively way, reduce the heat slightly and add the remaining dates. Sauté until theybegin to caramelize on the outside and are hot through, which will take about 5 minutes. Season the dates with fleur de sel and transfer them to a serving dish. Wait a minute or two to serve because they are blistering; then serve them!