I have been privileged enough to have a career that has allowed my wife and I to move all around this fine country. We have lived in places we would have never dreamed and it has become a significant factor in shaping us into the people that we are today. It has made us friends everywhere, it has deepened our own relationship, and it has also allowed us both to expand our constantly growing love of food. Nowhere can single handedly be more responsible for this growth than our short year living in Chicago. During that time, my wife worked as a hostess at Blackbird Restaurant in the West Loop, and we became friends with some of the people in the culinary scene. We ate at amazing restaurants, had memorable meals, and we learned a fucking ton about food through eating and through our new friends. Throughout that whole time, one restaurant still stands at the top as our most reminisced about: Avec. Owned by the same owners as Blackbird, Avec is the casual next door neighbor. No reservations, no fancy dress code, simple food done incredibly well, a small staff, it fit so well with our interests and we enjoyed going there so much that we still think and talk about it regularly 3 years later. Hands down, one of the most talked about dishes at Avec is the chorizo stuffed dates. To quickly summarize, they are large Medjool dates stuffed with fresh chorizo, wrapped in bacon, and baked until the bacon is crispy. They are topped with a smoky sweet tomato and piquillo pepper sauce. Piquillo peppers are somewhat similar to roasted red peppers, with slightly more peppery bitter flavor, but maintaining the same sweetness as roasted red peppers. If you can't find piquillo peppers, you could easily sub roasted red peppers for them.
When our Memorial Day rolled around and our plans included a visit to a friend's house in a "bring anything" fashion, these guys were the first thing that popped to mind. They are pretty easy to make and they don't take long to cook. Just hide the roasting pan after they are done baking. The amount of fat rendered between the chorizo and the bacon is a secret that might be better kept to yourself.
Bacon Wrapped Chorizo Dates with Piquillo Pepper Sauce
(inspired by Avec Restaurant)
1 lb large Medjool dates (roughly 24)
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 oz can piquillo peppers (or roasted red peppers)
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 lb hickory smoked bacon (or # of dates divided by 2)
1 lb fresh chorizo
For the sauce:
Begin by sauteeing the onion in a pan with olive oil. Drain the peppers and chop roughly. Saute until onions are translucent but not caramelized.
Add the garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes. Dump the peppers and tomatoes into a blender and add the onion mixture. Blend until smooth in consistency, like a tomato sauce. Add the mixture back to the pan that you cooked the onions in and set heat to med-low. Add smoked paprika. I don't think Avec uses smoked paprika, but they also do their final firing of the dates in a wood fired oven, so they get a really nice hint of smoke on them. Smoked paprika is just my attempt to get some of that subtle smoke flavor in. Let sauce simmer for 30 minutes or longer, until sauce is thick and a large amount of water is evaporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper - the sauce should be seasoned pretty aggressively. Set aside.
For the dates:
Preheat the oven to 375º. Start by pitting the dates. Lay them flat and use a sharp paring knife to make a slit on the top from one long end to the other. Dig out the pit with the tip of the knife and discard. Cut each slice of bacon in two. Fill the date with about 1 tbsp of chorizo. It should be filled to the top. Make sure that you use fresh chorizo too - the dried salumi style chorizo won't work. After the date is stuffed, wrap one of the half bacon slices over the date, laying the seam side down on the roasting pan / baking sheet. The seams will kind of "glue" together on the bottom, if they are on top, the bacon will cook and unravel itself a bit.
When the dates are all stuffed, bake them for approximately 30 minutes in the oven. Check the bacon for doneness - if it is not well browned, continue baking until it is. When the dates are done, remove from the oven. To plate, take them off the baking sheet and rest them on a paper towel to absorb some of the fat. Place in a dish, cover with pepper tomato sauce, and sprinkle with some parsley.
|avec i luv uuuuu|