The week before Thanksgiving my husband and I hosted our annual dinner for his freshman class at Amherst College. This year along with worrying about getting food cooked for fifteen, I was also concerned about the weather. Forecasters were predicting a hearty snowfall for the night of our party. Since we live two miles from campus, we were keeping our fingers crossed that the storm would start later than expected.
Luck went our way with the students arriving around 6, and no snow in sight. For appetizers I had set out a wheel of Camembert, halved and stuffed with chopped Medjool dates, dried apricots, and toasted walnuts, all scented with orange zest. Toasted baguettes slices and apple wedges made fine canvases for the stuffed cheese. A big dish of rigatoni baked with a spicy tomato sauce, a salad of mixed greens and shaved fennel tossed with lemon and olive oil, and a basket of warm artisan breads followed. Still, no snow.
But when the desserts–pumpkin brownies served with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce, petit chocolate tarts, and fresh berries with diced pineapple—were arranged on the table, the snow at last appeared. After sampling the sweet treats, the students hurried outdoors. It turns out that five of our guests were from California, and had never experienced fluffy flakes falling on their faces! It was quite a sight!
The creamy Camembert filled with the fruit and nut mélange, made a tempting opener to enjoy on this cold blustery night. It was ideal for a crowd, took less than 30 minutes to assemble, and was prepared two days in advance. It would make a fine appetizer to offer for holiday parties in the weeks ahead, snow or no snow!
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2018
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Camembert Stuffed with Dates, Dried Apricots, and Walnuts
4 tbsp chopped pitted Medjool dates
1 1/2 tbsp chopped dried apricots
4 tsp fresh squeezed orange juice
2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
Scant 1/2 tsp grated orange zest
2 tbsp walnut halves, toasted and chopped coarsely (See cooking tip.)
One 8-inch round Camembert, chilled (See market note.)
3 walnut halves
2 to 3 sage leaves, optional
Toasted baguette slices (Recipe follows.)
One apple (such as Honey Crisp, Gala, or Granny Smith) or one pear, quartered, cored and cut into thin slices, then tossed with the juice of 1/2 lemon
1. In a medium bowl, toss the dates and apricots with the orange juice. Let stand 10 minutes.
2. Place the butter in another medium bowl; mash with a fork until it is very soft and malleable. Add the date/ apricot mixture and the orange zest, and mix well with the butter. Add the walnuts and mix again.
3. Set the Camembert on a chopping board. With a large, sharp knife held parallel to the work surface, carefully halve the cheese horizontally so that you have two equal rounds.
4. Place bottom round with cut side up on a dinner plate. Using your fingers pat the fruit mixture in an even layer on top of the cheese, pressing down so that the fruit adheres. Top with the remaining round, pressing down again with your fingers so cheese adheres to the fruit. (Camembert can be prepared 2 days ahead; cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.)
5. Bring cheese to room temperature 45 to 60 minutes before serving. Garnish top of cheese with 3 remaining walnut halves and, if desired, with some sage leaves. Transfer to a serving plate or tray and arrange baguette slices and apple or pear slices around the cheese. To serve cut a small wedge of the stuffed Camembert and spread on baguette slices or apple or pear wedges. Serves 8.
Market note: President brand of Camembert is available in many supermarkets and works well in this recipe
Cooking Tip: To toast walnuts spread on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a preheated 350° F oven until lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Watch carefully so nuts do not burn. Remove and cool. Chop coarsely.
Toasted Baguette Slices
20 baguette slices cut 3/8 inch thick
6 tbsp olive oil plus more if needed
1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat over to 350 degrees F. Brush oil on both sides of baguette slices and place in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake until bread is just crisp, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Cool toasts and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two days.)
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2018