Stuffed dates

Fresh dates (can substitute jalapeño peppers if you prefer spicy to sweet), as many as you need
Fontina, manchego (3 month aged - best with peppers) or asiago fresco (best with dates)
Pancetta, sliced to about 1/8 inch thickness, or prosciutto, as thinly sliced as possible, about 1/2 lb per 25 dates

1. Line a baking sheet with foil and preheat your oven to 375˚F.
2. Slit your dates (or peppers) along one side and remove the pits (or seeds).
3. Slice cheese into pieces that will fit inside your dates (or peppers), approximately 1/4 x 1/4 x 1 inch for dates.
4. Stuff with pieces of cheese and wrap with pancetta or prosciutto. If using pancetta, you will probably want to unwind the spiral and use about half of a slice of pancetta per date or pepper. If using prosciutto, you should fold the prosciutto slices so that the vertical height is approximately the same as each date or pepper. When wrapping, the slices will go around the date or pepper more than once.
5. Lay each on the baking sheet. Bake about 10 minutes or until prosciutto/pancetta is crisp and cheese is just beginning to bubble out.
6. Cool and serve.

The story:
I first had a bar snack similar to these at D Bar in August 2009, not long after I moved to Denver. A few weeks later, I improvised my own version for the first time at a housewarming party. The jalapeño version evolved a year or so later, when I was trying to come up with an appetizer to bring to a Halloween party that would compliment the hosts' chili. I liked the concept behind jalapeño poppers but I hate messing around with deep-frying, and I don't really like cream cheese either!

These make great party appetizers because they can be made well ahead (though ideally, kept warm or warmed up) and they also travel flawlessly. With dates, they are sweet and decadent; with jalapeños, they vary more, from just a hint of heat to fiery and flaming. The date version is ideal with a balanced red or rosé wine (not too sweet or too dry: I like Infinite Monkey Theorem's sparkling red); the jalapeño version is better suited for an ice-cold beer.

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