Unlikely Partners

It sure has been a busy week here at home. We are trying to get the back yard cleaned up and the pond drained. I am seeing that we are going to be doing a lot of painting in my Italian Garden this summer. I am sure that a lot of my gardening readers are out there, raking the leaves, those that we did not get up in the fall, from under the evergreens, pruning off dead branches on roses and other flowering shrubs. In a couple of weeks, it will be time to give the whole place, lawns, flower beds and shrubbery an early dose of fertilizer. Be sure to pick the right one for each area. Personally, I like one of the Scott’s weed and feed for the early application on my lawn. But, with all the work today, there was a great reward, one of my Forsythia bushes had thrown a couple of large branches, full of buds ready to burst, that needed severe pruning. My living room will be brightened with a lot of yellow blossoms in a day or two.

Unlikely partners? Last week Jessica and I had some dinner guests and I make two of my favorite appetizers, one with Belgian Endive and the other with dates. Let’s talk about that endive first. This endive that looks like a thin cylinder of very tight, has very pale green leaves. The process of growing it is rather labor intensive. First, chicory seeds are sown and begin to grow. After they have grown and been harvested, the roots are taken from the ground. This endive is forced to grow from the roots and must be kept under the soil or some straw to preserve the whiteness. It is available nearly year-round in our supermarkets. For this recipe pick larger heads.

Belgian Endive with Gorgonzola and pecans. Set a package of crumbled Gorgonzola cheese on the counter for at least an hour, to soften it.  Begin by cutting about a quarter inch from the base of the first one and gently remove the leaves that have become loose. Then cut another quarter or third of an inch and tear off loose leaves. Continue until you come to a core that yields leaves that are too small to do anything with. Repeat with other Belgian Endives you are going to use. Wipe the leaves with a towel. Now spoon a half teaspoon of the softened cheese into the base of each leaf, gently pressing it in place. I like to press a lightly toasted pecan in the center of each piece of cheese. Now arrange on a dish and refrigerate until serving. I like to arrange mine on a 12-inch platter and then place Chrysanthemum in the center. But then –  I always have a Chrysanthemum laying around. I am a florist.

My second appetizer is just as easy. Dates are the basis of it. I think that when most of us think of dates we remember our geography lessons in grade and middle school. This conjures up visions of Middle-Eastern deserts, oases in the desert and Arabs and camels with a date palm tree here or there.  To be sure, that is still quite true. The date is pretty much native to the very arid areas of Egypt, throughout the Arabian Peninsula and much of the Middle East. But ours certainly do not travel that far. There is an area in our own Southern California where dates are successfully farmed. Dates have been cultivated in the Coachella Valley for nearly 125 years. An, I believe that they are the best looking, sweetest and tastiest of all.

Here is my recipe. Get a package of fresh dates from the supermarket, split them lengthwise, tuck in a half teaspoon of crunchy peanut butter and wrap with a third of a slice of bacon. Secure with a toothpick. Place the dates on a broiling pan and broil until the bacon reaches the stage that you want having turned it once. Delicious. Serve at once but be careful, they will be hot.

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