1.16.2012

There you have it

On December 31st, 2011, I sent my friend Molly a text:  I’m having a salad vision.

It looked like this:



(Minus the feet.)

Butter lettuce, toasted walnuts, fresh ricotta, and sautéed dates for our New Year’s Eve dinner that night. The list of ingredients is more or less the recipe today, so there you have it, but I do want to talk to you for just a moment about the dates. I can’t stop thinking about them.

The dates are where my salad vision began. Specifically, with the sautéed dates and yogurt that I ate for breakfast at Sitka and Spruce in Seattle last May. I’d been meaning to recreate the dish, but I hadn’t yet gotten around to it, and it suddenly occurred to me that sautéed dates might be equally at home at dinner, maybe with cheese instead of yogurt, and some greens on the side. It would be a plated salad. We'd toss the lettuce with a vinegary dressing, sauté the dates in olive oil, and lay them over small heaps of ricotta. Molly was in, and in typical Molly fashion, she upped the ante. With butter. We should sauté the dates in butter. Sing it, Molly.

Sautéing dates is a beautiful, beautiful thing. You roll them in a pan of hot, foaming butter and, once coated, leave them alone. The skin against the pan starts to caramelize, and after about a minute or so, you flip them, and let the other side do the same.  Just out of the pan, they gleam.  They're deep mahogany where they’ve taken the most heat, more candy in places than fruit.  Like toffee-in-the-making at the hard-ball stage.

Dress the greens, top with walnuts; spoon the ricotta, top with dates. A vision. Yep.

Sautéed Dates with Ricotta and Butter Lettuce
Inspired by breakfast at Sitka and Spruce, with help from the one and only Molly B.

I’ve called out butter lettuce in the title of this recipe since that was my original plan, but in the end I used part butter lettuce and part red leaf lettuce. Get whatever looks good. Just steer clear of the boxed and bagged lettuces and you’ll be fine. You’re welcome to use your own favorite vinaigrette for the dressing. You want something with enough of a vinegary bite to balance the sweetness on the other side of the plate. Simple is best. I went with oil and vinegar with a squirt of Dijon mustard and a few grinds of black pepper – no herbs or spices.

2 c. fresh ricotta (store bought – go for the good stuff – or make your own)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
12 Medjool dates
Maldon salt (optional)
2 medium heads of butter lettuce (or butter lettuce and red leaf lettuce, one head each)
1 c. walnuts

For the vinaigrette:
6 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (plus a little more if you decide to tone down the vinegar)
3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 squirt (about ¼ tsp.) Dijon mustard (you can add more, if you want)
A few grinds of black pepper

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast them for about 7 minutes, until fragrant. Set aside.

Remove the lettuce leaves from the heads, gently wash them in cold water, spin dry, then lay them out on towels and leave them to finish drying. (If your kitchen is very hot, it’s best to lay them out somewhere else to prevent the leaves from wilting.)

Shake up the vinaigrette in an empty jar, or whisk it together in a bowl. Start with 6 tablespoons of olive oil, then taste it. If it’s too vinegary for you, add more oil, one teaspoon at a time, until you get something you like.

Spoon about a third of a cup of ricotta onto each plate. You’ll want to put it over to one side to leave room for the lettuce.

Slice the ends off of the dates and pull out their pits. Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter foams, add the dates. Let them sit undisturbed for about a minute, until their bottoms begin to caramelize and turn deep brown. Flip them, and leave them for another minute to do the same. Remove the dates to a plate when they’re done.

Toss the lettuce with the vinaigrette (less is more; you will most likely have extra dressing), and place a pile of leaves next to each heap of ricotta. Top the lettuce with the toasted walnuts and the cheese with the sautéed dates, two per plate. If you think of it, sprinkle a few flakes of Maldon salt on the dates. I meant to, but I forgot. Next time.

Serves 6.

26 comments:

Molly said...

Mouth currently watering over here...
xo

P.S. A couple of New Year's Eves ago, we made a butter lettuce salad with a vinegary dressing, sauteed dates, and toasted pistachios! True story.

Jess said...

Really? Funny! (Love the thought of pistachios here.) xo.

Lauren @ Healthy Food For Living said...

I have been having a love affair with Medjool dates for a few years now... but I've never thought to saute them before. Genius! Everything about this salad sounds fantastic.

linda said...

stumbled upon a small, local shop that has dates still on the branch…we ate them rather quickly. going back for medjool's (which we enjoy so!)…this recipe sounds fabulous!

like the link to baking 911 (new to me)…so i thank you &…

i enjoy your new site design: it is elegant & very inviting!

jacqui said...

I've never thought about sauteing dates before, but sounds like a must try very soon!

olga said...

aaah, i love it! the whole thing! so good and wintry!

Jess said...

Ah yes, the date is a very fine thing. And under-celebrated, I think! I just saw the date bars on your site. They look wonderful.

Jess said...

Yep, I've learned some good stuff over at Baking 911. I'm so glad that you like the new design, Linda. It was really fun to re-envision the site and put the new look together. (Also: Dates still on the branch? Lucky you!)

Jess said...

Since this salad, I've been thinking about what else I might be able to do with them. Something tells me that you might be able to figure that out..

Jess said...

Thanks, Olga!

A Plum By Any Other Name said...

Love the idea of sauteed dates. I must admit, I'm having a "now, why didn't I think of that?!" moment. :) I made mascarpone for the first time over the weekend. I'm wondering what would happen if I stuffed these little guys with some before a quick flash in the pan?! Hmmm. I'm pretty sure including them in a salad is enough to justify this whole process ... thanks Jess!

Molly said...

Dude, you're a salad genius. Twas an honor to help execute your vision. xo

janet elsbach said...

This sounds so tasty I am not sure I can wait until dinner, and finds me in the miraculous condition of having all these things on hand right now. Destiny. I love your writing and your food--so glad to be reading them both!

Jess said...

If there's lettuce, it's a salad, right? And if it's a salad, it's good for you, uh... right? Mascarpone-stuffed dates sound wonderful. Mascarpone-stuffed sauteed dates sounds out of control! (I do wonder how the mascarpone would hold up to the heat, though. I worry that you might end up with sauteed dates swimming in, rather than stuffed with, mascarpone. Maybe saute first, then carefully split and stuff? If you try it, please do report back!) I've never made my own mascarpone before, but that sounds like a great idea given how expensive those little tubs can be. I imagine it's a similar process to making ricotta? I'll have to look into that...

Jess said...

More cooking together soon, please. xo.

Jess said...

A new recipe and everything on hand to make it? I love it when that happens! Thank you for your kind words, Janet.

Adrian J.S. Hale said...

A bag of sticky dates has been staring at me from a kitchen drawer for a few weeks now. I picked them up on impulse, but haven't really wanted to make sticky toffee pudding...

Now they have a mission. Thanks!

Jess said...

A mission, yes! And a noble one at that.

Hana said...

As a lover of dried fruit this post is most intriguing! Over the summer I was obsessed with the cookbook Persian Food from the Non-Persian Bride. The author, Reyna Simnigar writes about adding sauteed raisins (in addition to onions and pistachios) to rice. The possibilities are enless...pastas, veggie sides, ice cream! I'm looking forward to more sauteed dried fruits in 2012. Great innovation on the salad!

Jen said...

well, this sounds delectable. I'm definitely giving this one a try soon. Lettuces at the grocery seem perfectly buttery these days.

Molly said...

I want to buy a plane ticket to Seattle so I can go to Sitka and Spruce every single day for three meals a day until I order every single item on the menu. I'm one of those people that stops by every restaurant when I walk down the street to read the menu hanging in the window. S&S's menu goes down as one of the most glorious I've ever read. I'm thinking about holding off on the buttery sauteed dates until Tu B'Shvat but I honestly don't know if I can hang on that long.

Megan Gordon said...

Jess! This post called to me because I,too, can't stop thinking about dates lately after some life-changing ones at Chez Panisse recently (have you been?) There's so much there that they're known for and do incredibly well, and I always leave having my mind blown by the dates. This salad looks lovely; looking forward to trying soon. Hope all is well in bambino-land.

hannahalehandra said...

Sounds delicious! What a flavour combination. I assembled a similar salad with dates and ewes cheese from a recipe by Yotam. So good!

http://hannahalehandra.blogspot.com/

Xean said...

whatta mouth watering delicious salad! love it!

Corie said...

I don't really like dates. But I wonder how it taste like when it is sautéed. Perhaps, it would melt on my mouth. Wow.

FantabulousMommie said...

Oh that look and sounds wonderful! And easy! Will try it out.