Posted by: acooksca | 03/02/2014

Ojai and Chorizo-stuffed Dates wrapped in Prosciutto

Ojai town center

Ojai town center

From the first gold strike on, Old California’s Spanish-influenced heritage rapidly dissolved. Ancestral rancheros were dismantled and most of the missions left to disintegrate back into the fields. In the early 1900’s a romanticized version of California’s past emerged in literature, silent movies and Spanish Colonial Revival Architecture. Think Santa Barbara, rebuilt in this style after widespread destruction by an earthquake in 1925.  But there was already a fine example of idyllic Spanish architecture in nearby Ojai.

We drive inland from the coast about 20 miles to Ojai Valley, impressively circled with pine-speckled mountains.  Summer days can easily reach 100 degrees but today it is an inviting 75 and so pleasant that we see why Ojai is an oasis of spa hotels, artist studios and music festivals.  A colonnade fronting a sprawling park acts as a social gathering place and anchors the compact town center.  At the corner a tiled campanile, patterned after one in Havana, rises above the post office. On the other side of the main street we stroll in the deep shade of an arcade sheltering locally owned businesses (no corporate chains allowed.)  These Spanish Colonial Revival touches are just as romantic today as when they were adopted following a fire that consumed Ojai’s western-style downtown in 1917.

Chorizo stuffed dates

Chorizo stuffed dates

We stop to read the menu at Azu, a tapas restaurant and bar that receives a lot of great reviews. On the menu I see a classic Spanish tapa… dates stuffed with chorizo and wrapped in bacon.  It’s a rich, heavy 2-bite package of great flavors and I think “we can make a lighter version, our own Spanish revival.”

This California version has 3 ingredients, like the original. Chorizo in Spain is a dried, cured pork sausage flavored with vinegar and smoked paprika.  Chorizo in the New World retains those flavors but the sausage is fresh and you buy it raw in markets that have a Hispanic clientele. The supermarket variety is often very fatty, so I prefer to make my own chorizo and limit the fat. Use pork shoulder meat, which has enough natural marbling that you can trim away extra fat along the edge of the meat without sacrificing texture.

We have lightened the dish by substituting prosciutto for the classic bacon and using half dates rather than whole. Stuffing half a date allows the fresh chorizo to cook through and the delicate prosciutto to balance the heady sweetness of the dates. This version is more in keeping with our lighter way of eating while still guaranteeing a intensely flavored morsel.

6 Medjool dates

4  ounces lean, fresh chorizo (see recipe below for home made)

4 ounces sliced prosciutto (6 slices)

Preheat the oven to 350.

Cut dates in half lengthwise and remove the seed. Stuff lightly with a tablespoon of chorizo. Cut each slice of prosciutto lengthwise into 2 strips. Wrap each date with a strip of prosciutto and place on a sheet pan. Can be assembled ahead, covered and refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature for baking. Just before serving, bake the dates, cut side up until the chorizo is cooked, about 10 minutes. Serve warm.

Home Made Chorizo

This recipe makes more than you need but it freezes well and is great for pasta sauces, topping pizzas, to enliven vegetables such as asparagus or Brussels sprouts and to flavor soups.

1 pound fresh pork shoulder, trimmed of extra fat, cut into large cubes

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 tablespoon medium-hot red chili powder

1 tablespoon Spanish smoked paprika

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon salt

dash cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Grind the pork coarsely in a meat grinder and combine with all seasonings. OR place all ingredients in a processor and pulse until the mixture in coarsely ground. Be careful not to over process and end up with a paste as there should be a sausage-like texture to the mix. Cook a pinch of the mixture and adjust seasonings, keeping them high.

This chorizo is patterned after the recipe in Cooking with Café Pasqual’s by Katherine Kagel of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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Responses

  1. Karen, Congrats on five years of interesting and varied commentary, as well as wonderful recipes! Looking forward to making this one, as we love dates, smoked paprika and pancetta.

    • Thanks, DiAnn. Hope you enjoy them.

  2. Lovely article, Karen. Sounds like a nice road trip to take. And the dates sound very good.


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