When trying to pull a cocktail hour off on a weeknight, my goal is simple: provide an array of elegant, substantive, appetizers that I can put together in the hour or so between work and the minute the first guest arrives. Ambitious? Perhaps, but very doable. Here’s my secret.
- Nuts and/or olives: Interesting is always better. Think salt and pepper pistachios from Whole Foods or lemon stuffed olives.
- Cheese: The perfect cheese plate contains a hard cheese (a sharp aged cheddar, pecorino or manchego), a soft cheese (chevre or brie), a cheese of interest like Humboldt Fog or Stilton with apricots, and a blue or gorgonzola cheese. Garnish with fresh raspberries, strawberries, grapes, honey and/or fig spread.
- Baguette from the best bakery available, preferably French.
- Something Sweet: I prefer cookies, like Chocolate-Cherry cookies, truffles, anything individual sized.
And then there’s the secret weapon:
Pancetta Wrapped, Blue Cheese Stuffed, Dates
- Pitted Dates: 4-6 per person
- Blue Cheese Crumbles
- Pancetta: 4 ounces for 24 dates
- Toothpicks, one per date
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cut dates in half and lay them on a cutting board for easy assembly.
Using a spoon, fill one half of each date with blue cheese and place the other half on top to “close” the date.
Tear the pancetta into strips.
Wrap each date with a strip of pancetta and secure with a toothpick. Place on the baking sheet.
When the baking sheet is full or you’ve wrapped as many dates as needed, put the baking sheet with dates into the oven for 20-30 minutes.
After 15 minutes, flip the wrapped dates and turn the cookie sheet around for more even baking.
These can be served warm (not hot) or at room temperature if you want to make them a few hours before serving.
When I serve these there are rarely any left. What’s your secret appetizer weapon?