Ina Garten Pairs Warm Dates With Blue Cheese For A Savory Starter

Celebrity chef and hostess extraordinaire Ina Garten is no stranger to show-stopping recipes. On her Food Network show, "The Barefoot Contessa," Garten demonstrates how delicious and refined a simple starter can be when she makes a three-ingredient recipe featuring warm dates, blue cheese, and prosciutto.

She simply cuts a slit along the length of each date to make an opening, and removes the pits while keeping the fruit intact. Then she adds a spoonful of blue cheese to each date and wraps them in a thin strip of prosciutto. She spreads the prosciutto-wrapped, blue cheese-stuffed dates on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and places it into the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for eight minutes. The result is a bite-sized burst of sweet and savory flavors that's sure to impress.

Dates bring a perfect contrast to blue cheese in both texture and flavor; their chewy, meaty consistency and rich sweetness complement the soft, crumbly consistency and sharp funk of the cheese. Warming the appetizers in the oven tenderizes the dates and enhances their sweetness while also partially melting the blue cheese stuffing. Both ingredients are equally robust, so you get a well-balanced flavor profile. While the prosciutto adds another layer of umami, there are plenty of other ways to customize blue cheese-stuffed dates.

Ingredient and flavor pairings for blue cheese-stuffed dates

Tangy blue cheese offers a unique savoriness and sophisticated complement to the date's almost molasses-like sweetness. But, if you're not a fan of stinky cheese, you can swap blue cheese with goat cheese. Goat cheese is just as creamy and intense as blue cheese but with a more gamey savoriness. Feta is another good option for a creamy and salty bite.

You can substitute bacon for the prosciutto for a crispier outer shell. For a vegetarian option, skip the meat wrapping and top each date with a toasted pecan, walnut, or salted cashew. Gently push the nut of your choice into the cheesy stuffing to anchor it, then reduce the baking time by half so the nuts won't burn. For an extra burst of sweetness, use stovetop candied pecans. Another way to add crunch is by serving blue or goat cheese-stuffed dates over salty, peppery crostini with a drizzle of honey.

Blending ingredients into the cheese stuffing is a clever way to increase the depth of the flavors. Roasted red peppers, diced jalapeños, or a blend of parmesan cheese and dried herbs would all make tasty additions to pair with funky, creamy blue cheese. If you'd rather keep things simple, stick with the two core ingredients, serving them as part of a larger spread with complementary starter pairings like toasted nuts, charcuterie, and pickles.