When you’re invited to a potluck, do you suddenly forget every recipe you’ve ever cooked in your life? When the RSVP asks you to list what you will bring, do you feel anxious and confused? Then, on the day of the party, do you go to the store and grab the first thing you find? I’m saying this like I’m building up to a solution, which I totally don’t have. I'll give you a recipe today, but that doesn't guarantee much. Potluck Amnesia is serious, and it’s hard to escape it once it hits. Last week it hit again when I was wracking my brain for something—anything—to make for an upcoming get-together (what do you mean, “Look in a cookbook?!”). I ventured out to the store, the obvious solution. After hefting little Rosalie into the shopping cart at Ballard Market, I quickly fell into that deadly trance. You know, the grocery trance. I pushed the cart around the store in a meandering vortex pattern, finding myself back at the produce, back at the cheese, back at the bread. What was I doing? Rosalie’s legs dangled wildly; she was getting bored of the scenery and her clock was ticking.
As I passed by the bulk foods and saw the dried fruits, my memory finally zapped! I could make my friend Kristen’s wildly popular appetizer: dates stuffed with chorizo and wrapped in crispy prosciutto. Aha! Thank you, thank you, thank you, Kristen. It was only after the gathering of the ingredients and the start of the whining that I remembered that the potluck hosts don’t eat pork--which would be two-thirds of my appetizer ingredients. I opened a package of unpurchased crackers and administered them while I thought fast.
What could I stuff into these dates and wrap around them that could remotely compare to the rich and harmonious flavors of Kristen’s delicious appetizer? I decided on Parrano cheese, with its caramel notes that tasted so lovely with figs last summer. Cool, I thought. But what to wrap with? I booked back over to the produce, but fell back into a wander. What kind of vegetable wraps around stuff? Roasted eggplant? But won’t it be gushy? At that moment in my reverie, Rosalie got tired of my silly crackers and shopping cart tricks, and she started to yell. Eggplant it was. I grabbed one and took my daughter back out into the sunshine.
Both appetizers were met with great enthusiasm at the event, but the spur-of-the moment solution didn’t quite do it for me. I wanted crunch (yes, the eggplant was mushy), and I wanted more flavor from the cheese. Since I still had some dates left over, the experiments began this weekend.
After much tinkering, reshaping and four kinds of cheese, the final result was a treat I would love to eat at a potluck: Crispy crostini act as bite-sized bases to delicate shavings of sharp Pecorino Romano cheese and a rich caramelized jam of eggplant, dates, and onion. Oregano, thyme and marsala wine complete the harmonic chord created by these intense flavors and textures. It’s also something I would love to bring to a potluck because it doesn’t need to be served hot and is not too liquidy to spill. Because you can make the components in advance, it would also make a splendid addition to your own dinner party or holiday open house.
Yes, I said holiday open house. The thing is, I can see this recipe at a party in the fall or even winter. If I had had my wits about me in the first place, I would have loaded my potluck dish with a juicy bounty of seasonal fruits. If you’ve ever experienced Potluck Amnesia, though, you understand how that didn’t happen. Anyway, here’s a delicious recipe to either serve alongside fresh summer fruits, chilled soups, and crisp salads, or you might tuck it away in your mind for a future potluck this October. Maybe one of us will remember it.
Crostini with Eggplant-Date Confit
This dish does not need to be served immediately; in fact, the flavors are augmented when served closer to room temperature. You can wait for the caramelized mixture to cool to assemble crostini.
- 4 -5 cups diced eggplant
- 1 medium onion, diced
- ¼ cup and 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing on baguettes
- 1 tsp. dried thyme, divided
- 1 tsp. dried oregano, divided
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- ½ cup chopped dates
- ½ cup Marsala wine
- Handful of thyme sprigs or thyme blossoms
- 1 baguette
- Pecorino Romano, about ¼ lb
- Preheat oven to 450˚.
- Warm 2 T of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onions, and sauté for 10 minutes. Then bring heat to low and continue to cook onions for another half an hour, stirring every few minutes.
- While the onions are heating on low, blend ¼ cup of the oil with ½ tsp. each of oregano, thyme, and salt. With clean hands, mix oil together with the eggplant until evenly coated. Spread on a cookie sheet and roast for a total of 10-15 minutes, taking cookie sheet out to scrape and stir eggplant every 2 or 3 minutes, until browned but not completely dried or charred.
- Transfer eggplant to a bowl with the dates and stir. Set aside until onions have finished their half-hour of low-heat cooking. Then add eggplants and dates to the onions, along with the Masala wine and remaining thyme and oregano. Turn heat up to medium-high and bring to a lively bubble. Cook for 10 more minutes, stirring frequently, to marry flavors and reduce the liquid. The final consistency should be thick, with no visible liquid.
- While caramelized mixture is cooking, change oven mode to broil.
- Make crostini: Slice baguette into ½ inch medallions, and brush the top of each with olive oil. Spread on a cookie sheet and brown the tops for 2 or 3 minutes, checking frequently to avoid burning.
- With a vegetable peeler, shave 60 to 80 long slices of the pecorino romano.
- To assemble: Arrange 3 or 4 shaved slices of the cheese on each of the cooled crostini. Spoon on a generous teaspoon’s worth of the caramelized mixture, then press a small thyme sprig (with blossoms or not) into the top.
Makes about 20 – 25 crostini; you probably will have some of the baguette left over.