Pancetta Wrapped Dates with Manchengo


Sweet, salty, happy finger food.  Need I say more?  After years of ‘dinner and wine” (mostly wine) nights at neighborhood favorite Tapeo, I figured it was time to attempt my favorite appetizer on my own.  Quality ingredients make all the difference on this one, but I believe they lasted for all of 5 minutes on the appetizer table this Christmas.  Even my dad, who fears food that is out of the meat and potato category, had two and was looking for more after the uncles cleared the plate.


Yield: Makes 20
20 Medjool dates
20 whole fresh mint leaves
1 3-ounce piece Manchego cheese,* cut into twenty 1 1/2 x 1/4 x 1/4-inch strips
4 3-ounce packages thinly sliced pancetta (Italian bacon)

Cut small slice off 1 short end of each date and discard. Using tweezers or needle-nose pliers, carefully remove pits from dates through small opening; discard pits. Place 1 mint leaf across opening of 1 date, covering cavity. Using 1 cheese strip, push mint leaf and cheese into date cavity. Using fingers, pinch date opening closed. Repeat with remaining dates, mint leaves, and cheese strips. Wrap 3 pancetta slices securely around each date, enclosing date completely. Place pancetta-wrapped dates on baking sheet, spacing slightly apart. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Bake dates uncovered until pancetta is crisp and bottoms of dates caramelize, about 30 minutes. Using tongs, transfer dates to platter and serve warm.

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