Sometimes I get very jealous of Ina Garten.
No, I'm not saying that I long for a closet full of blue denim shirts -- nobody should even try to rock those like the Barefoot Contessa. My envy derives from her massive and beautiful gardens, which are located behind her even more massive and beautiful Hamptons home.
There she will be, mid-episode of her Food Network show, casually putting together some sort of salad for some sort of scripted impromptu get-together with her fabulous friend T.R. (don't you just love T.R.?) At some point during the process, she will realize that (gasp!) she doesn't have one of the salad's ingredients on hand, like fresh parsley or purple potatoes or some rare varietal of squash.
But that's OK! This is The Barefoot Contessa, remember? She can just run out back to her garden and pick whatever is missing straight from the vine/ground/branch. She seems to have it ALL back there.
And on the rare occasion that her garden does not come to the rescue, that's OK too! This is The Hamptons, remember? According to the show, they have an endless supply of local artisans/cheese shops/chicken farms/dairies, so that Ina can just hop into her convertible BMW and pick up her ingredients from local vendors.
My "garden" is limited to a few citrus trees: a very generous Meyer lemon tree, an orange tree with a moderate crop, and a sad and droopy Charlie Brown grapefruit tree. We also have an unlimited supply of rosemary, which really seems to thrive in the desert climate. That's about it.
Thank goodness for the new Downtown 3rd Farmer's Market, which just started operating in Las Vegas a few months ago. I'd heard some really great things about this market -- such as some of the best chefs on the Strip get their produce there -- so I decided to check it out last Friday.
Beautiful, fresh, organic and very non-Vegas-like produce (which was mostly foraged from California) and artisanal foods were everywhere, incuding bright seasonal rhubarb, freshly made porcini pasta, and several types of fruit that I had never even heard of. Just look at these tomatoes for crying out loud!
As I filled my bags with just about as much as I could carry, I started to envision myself as one of those people who dictates what she serves for dinner by what she finds at the farmer's market that day.
Why, I could be the Barefoot Contessa of Las Vegas! (Sans the denim, and I'd need to find my own T.R. Any volunteers?)
Anyhow, one of my finds at the market were some surprisingly plump dried dates from a friendly vendor who sold all-things-date: date cookies, date cake, date bread, date bars. She was like the Bubba Gump of dates. I love dates, so I purchased some and, per my new Barefoot Contessa mentality, decided that I would figure out what to do with them when I got home.
Here's what I came up with: Bacon Date Jam. I mean come on!
To go with this jam? How about some flaky blue cheese and walnut biscuits? I mean, shut the front door!
This combination of recipes offers up a little bit of sumpin' sumpin' for each and every one of your taste buds. There is a little bit of sweet, a little bit of savory, some saltiness, some buttery-ness and some tanginess too. You could probably even find a smidgen of umami if you look hard enough. This will likely require multiple tastings -- but I know that you are up to the task.
Here are some extra tips for making this duo of deliciousness:
- This biscuit recipe is actually a great blueprint for dozens of biscuit recipes, depending on your personal preference. Try combining pecans with fresh rosemary and gruyere or sage, fontina, and hazelnuts. You could even add some extra black pepper or a hit of cayenne for some spice.
- These biscuits freeze well. Seal them in zip-top bags and freeze for up to one week. Reheat by wrapping frozen biscuits in foil and baking in a 300F degree oven until warmed through.
- For a different twist on the jam, use dried figs instead of dates.
Blue Cheese and Walnut Biscuits with Bacon Date Jam
For the Bacon Date Jam:
8 ounces applewood smoked bacon, but into 1/2-inch pieces
2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup red wine
1/4 cup water
1 cup chopped pitted dates
2 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed
1/4 teaspoon allspice (optional)
For the Biscuits
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
7 tablespoons chilled butter, cubed
4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled (I used Point Reyes)
1/2 cup finely chopped toasted walnuts
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
Prepare the jam: Place the bacon in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until the fat has been rendered and the bacon is lightly crisped, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain. Carefully pour off all but one tablespoon of the bacon grease from the skillet. Add the shallots to the skillet, and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the balsamic vinegar, wine, water, dates, brown sugar, allspice, and bacon to the skillet; stir to mix. Bring the mixture to a low boil, and then reduce the heat to low. Simmer the mixture until the liquid has reduced and thickened to a syrupy consistency, stirring occasionally, 25-30 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool for 10 minutes in the skillet, and then transfer it to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse the mixture until the bacon is coarsely chopped (do not puree!) Transfer the jam to a bowl, cover, and set aside to cool completely.
Prepare the biscuits: Preheat the oven to 425°F. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, thyme, salt, and pepper in the work bowl of a food processor; pulse to blend. Scatter the butter pieces over the top and pulse several times until the butter is the size of small peas. Add the blue cheese and the walnuts to the bowl, and pulse until they are evenly incorporated. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Add 3/4 cup of the buttermilk and stir until moist clumps form. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead just until the dough holds together, about 4 to 6 turns. Flatten dough to 3/4-inch thickness. Using a 2 1/4-inch-diameter biscuit or cookie cutter, cut out rounds. Re-roll dough and cut out more rounds until all dough is used.
Transfer biscuits to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, spacing apart. Brush the biscuit tops with the remaining 2 tablespoons buttermilk. Bake until biscuits are puffed and golden, about 15 minutes. Serve warm with the bacon date jam.