Our Concert in the Park season is winding down for the summer, with only four concerts, and culinary challenges, remaining. This past Sunday, I acquiesced to John's plea for Challenge Bacon. He threatened to make bacon ice cream, or chocolate truffles stuffed with lardons, but then decided to create his version of the Steamed Mussels in Bacon Broth we enjoyed at Triple Creek Ranch in June. He added cannellini beans and incorporated Aji Amarillo peppers in the broth. The mussels were perfectly cooked and the sauce was incredible!
I must have gone through every cookbook in the house, but eventually came across a recipe I've always wanted to try - Tyler Florence's Dates Wrapped in Bacon with Green Olive Sauce. Sweet and chewy dates, stuffed with crunchy Marcona almonds, wrapped in salty bacon, and served warm with spicy and salty green olive sauce. For our park version, I baked the dates just before leaving and then threw them on the grill for a quick reheating. Another excellent recipe, Tyler. You're the man!
Dates Wrapped in Bacon with Green Olive Sauce
Slightly adapted from Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen: An Indispensable Guide for Anybody Who Likes to Cook
Makes 30 pieces and 1 2/3 cups olive sauce
30 whole almonds (I used Marcona almonds)
30 Medjool dates, pitted
15 bacon slices, halved (I was able to cut the bacon slices into thirds)
Green Olive Sauce:
2 tablespoons, plus 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, sliced
1 dried red chile, minced
1/2 pound green Spanish Olives, pitted (I used a Basque mix from Bristol Farms)
1/4 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
In a small skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil. Sauté the shallots and chili over low heat for 8 minutes until caramelized. Let them cool a bit, then scrape them into a food processor. Add the olives, parsley, vinegar, and 1/2 cup of olive oil. Puree a good 3 minutes until totally smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lay the almonds on a cookie sheet in a single layer and bake for 10 minutes or until the nuts are lightly toasted. Remove from oven. (I skipped this step because my Marcona almonds were already toasted). When cool enough to handle, stuff an almond inside each date.
Wrap a piece of bacon around the date so the ends stick together and secure with wooden toothpick. Put them on cookie sheets and bake until the bacon is crisp, about 20 to 25 minutes. Serve the dates with the olive sauce for dipping.
Bring on the bacon!
John's Steamed Mussels, with Cannellini Beans and Bacon (recipe at bottom of post)
Carmen's Bacon and Eggs Crespéou
Carmen wowed us with her first Crespéou, for Challenge Zucchini, back in July 2008 (photo here). Crespéou is pronounced cress-PAY-oo, and sometimes called gateau d'omelettes. “It is a gorgeous, layered omelet cake from Provence. Like ratatouille, crespéou can be made myriad ways. The easiest is just to cook up a stack of open-face omelets, of varying colors and with contrasting ingredients, piling them on a plate as they firm up and brown slightly, then cut the assemblage into wedges to serve right away. But it is much more common to stack the omelets and then weight them overnight so that they compress and cling together even more. The contrast among flavors in every layer is more pronounced.” Read The Los Angeles Times' article, Crespéou, an Edible Ticket to Provence, here. Carmen’s Bacon and Eggs Crespéou incorporated Summer Salad and Zesty Olive Spread, adapted from this recipe; Potato Salad, adapted from this recipe; Roasted Red Pepper and Bacon Salad, adapted from this recipe, and a spicy mango and corn chutney. Another masterpiece!
Mom's BLT Salad with Buttermilk Dressing (Martha Stewart's recipe, here)
Sandra's Brown Sugar, Bacon-Wrapped Lil' Smokies
Carmen's Swedish Ginger Cookies - the key ingredient is bacon fat!
(Recipe published in The New York Times, here)
Bradley's Pig Lickers - Bacon dipped in white and dark chocolate
John's Steamed Mussels with Cannellini Beans and Bacon
in a White wine, Aji Amarillo, Saffron and Mustard Sauce
Serves 8-10 as an appetizer
3 pounds fresh, black Mussels (cleaned and debearded, method here)
12 ounces dry Cannellini beans
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces applewood-smoked slab bacon
2 large shallots
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup flour
5 large garlic cloves, minced
2 Aji Amarillo peppers, minced (we found them in a jar at an Ethnic market)
1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons Stone Ground mustard
¼ teaspoon saffron threads
1 teaspoon celery salt
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 cups fish stock
1 cup reserved cooking liquid from beans
1 baguette, sliced, drizzled with olive oil, and lightly toasted
For the beans:
Soak the beans in a large bowl of cold water overnight. Drain, place the beans in a large saucepan, fill with fresh water (at least one inch above the beans), and add 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and cook for 30-45 minutes, or until tender. Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid, and let beans cool.
For the lardons:
Thomas Keller’s method for lardons produces wonderfully textured, chewy lardons. Cut the bacon into lardons about 1 inch long and ½ inch thick. Pour 2 tablespoons water into a medium saucepan and set over medium heat (the water will keep the bacon from crisping as the fat begins to render). Add the bacon, reduce the heat to medium-low, and let the bacon render its fat for 30 minutes. The bacon will color but not become completely crisp. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
For the sauce:
In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add shallots and Aji Amarillo peppers, and sauté 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add butter. When butter has melted, ,add flour and stir continuously until a light roux forms. Deglaze with white wine. Add saffron, mustard, celery salt, and white wine vinegar. Simmer until a light gravy forms. Add fish stock and 1 cup reserved cooking liquid from the beans and allow to reduce by half.
Add mussels to the simmering sauce. Cover the pot and cook until all of the shells have opened, about 6 to 8 minutes. Discard any that do not open. Add reserved white beans and simmer uncovered until beans have warmed. Transfer mussels to a large serving dish and pour the sauce and beans over the top. Garnish with lardons and crostini, and serve family-style.
Everyone is looking forward to Sunday's concert, Diamond is Forever! The Neil Diamond Experience. The show starts at 5:00, and our culinary challenge is Jewish cuisine.