April 3, 2005

unexpected winner

A few days later, I am still thrilled with this. It's red wine-poached dates with spiced red wine reduction, served with mascarpone cheese. This was, arguably, the best thing I have tasted for a long time. And I don't even like dates.

The recipe is from Amanda Hesser's Cooking for Mr. Latte: a food lover's courtship, with recipes (2003, W.W. Norton & Co.) from which I have so far made and enjoyed quite a few stuff, but this particular recipe called Apician Spiced Dates, adopted from the author's local NY Italian restaurant named Lupa, didn't come to my attention for a while because, like I have just said, I don't normally care for dates among other dried fruits.

And just recently, it finally sort of happened; I was re-reading the book on the train and it somehow caught my notice, probably because it involves spicing wine - I love mulled (spiced) hot wine (I even made mulled wine cake !).

I was a bit tempted to substitute figs for dates, but eventually stuck to the recipe this time around, just to see how it would turn out. It was pretty easy to make - you just need a bunch of whole spices. First I poached dates in red wine and skinned them, then replaced the pits with roasted whole almonds (it was fun!).

While working on the dates, I boiled down the wine with honey and spices - whole black peppercorns, allspice, clove, cinnamon, and a bay leaf, along with grated zest of orange. It was smelling lovely.

Now I had some idea as to what this would taste like. I knew I like mulled wine, I also like mascarpone cheese, and I didn't particularly like dates but I at least knew what they taste like. There seemed nothing special about the spiced wine, except maybe for bay leaf. I knew I would - and I should - enjoy what I was about to have.

What I didn't know was how beautifully this set of ingredients would work together. The dates somehow lost their typical stickiness and chewiness and turned soft-to-bite, sweet but not overly so. The spiced wine sauce was incredibly aromatic, highly nuanced thanks to the mixture of spices, and made a great match to the soft dates and creamy mascarpone. I didn't know dates and mascarpone would be such an Italian treat.

I was blown away at the first bite, and couldn't help but wishing I had made more (I only prepared three dates!). I will most definitely make this again, and I can't wait to try black figs in this.


Anonymous said...

That sounds fabulous! I also don't really love dates, but love mulled wine (and marscarpone). I think I really need to get a copy of Cooking for Mr Latte; I've heard so much about it!  

Posted by NIki

Anonymous said...

hi chika! i love dates and mascarpone together, and with mulled wine, how can i go wrong? i missed this recipe in the book, thanks for pointing it out. it looks delicious. 

Posted by santos.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to get that book - I keep hearing about it. The dates sound wonderful - I guess the wine balances the sweetness of the dates (not that I mind the sweetness!). 

Posted by Cathy

Anonymous said...

Wow! This dessert looks and sounds delicious! Your dates almost look like quenelles of ice cream, very pretty. I am also a big big fan of "Cooking for Mr. Latte", not only do I keep reading the chapters over and over again, but I also keep cooking from it. I tried the chocolate dump-it cake last week and it was gone in 3 days. It's simple and so delicious. Another hit is the sour cream and mayonnaise chicken, I could just have eaten the sauce with a simple piece of bread. I am just amazed at how great the recipes are. I think I am going to buy dates today :-) 

Posted by Estelle

Anonymous said...

I had a happy accident with both dates and figs which I made into a crumble cake. The stickness is almost chocolate-like in its consistency and flavour. I reccomend pairing with a mule-kickin' strength strong espresso. 

Posted by Gloria Vagrant Appetite

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

Niki - I still don't really love dates, but this one was a fab. I still have a bunch of recipes I am going to try from the book, it was a good buy for me.

santos - if you like dates, mascarpone, and mulled wine, you'll love this. This was a typical example of something in which 1+1+1 makes >3!

Cathy - exactly, it was about balance I guess. This one got a perfect balance in every way!

Estelle - "quenelles of ice cream"! :D
I reduced the wine a bit too far and didn't have enough liquid left to warm up the dates in it, so mine look (and actually were) a little dry on the surface. They were still yummy!

Gloria Vagrant Appetite - strong espresso does sound good with such cakes! 

Posted by chika