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Stuffed dates

Time 10 minutes
Yields Serves 4
Stuffed dates
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
Print RecipePrint Recipe

ANY meal can be the ideal Hollywood Bowl meal. It’s just that some suppers are more ideal for certain evenings than others. A tuna sandwich and a beer work for a night when you’ve made a last-minute decision to grab some cheap seats up in the bleachers. A box dinner from your favorite restaurant is a convenient choice when you’ve made a park-and-ride bus reservation.

But a wonderfully cool, easily packed, tres civilized three-course meal is just the ticket when you’re hosting a Bowl evening. Conjure up a menu for four with the kind of pacing the orchestra director aims for in an evening’s classical program: Begin with an attention-getting flourish, move on to something substantial but suited for the season and setting as the main event, and finish impressively (fireworks aren’t necessary).

This is not the occasion for a potluck -- you’ll end up with too many bags to carry up the hill and too many plates to fit onto either your portion of a shared picnic table or onto one of the little tables supplied for box seats. But hosting the party doesn’t mean hassling -- it’s a matter of making smart choices and planning.

Although the air cools after dark, it’s almost always sultry during dining hour at the Bowl. So plan a cold meal. With today’s insulated carriers and picnic baskets, it’s easy to pack the dishes and keep them chilled.

A menu of cold zucchini soup to start, duck terrine with a tomato and frisee salad for a main course, and a selection of exotic, homemade date sweetmeats for dessert is more substantial than it might sound, but not so heavy as to induce preconcert torpor. It’s a quietly elegant meal that can be enjoyed course by course in the head-swiveling environment of this enormous outdoor amphitheater.

Everyone arrives early, the better to score a picnic table or avoid traffic. So in the giddy, party atmosphere of the preconcert hours, you’ll want a first course that is easy to serve and provides an immediate sense of celebration. Transport the chilled puree soup, which is wonderfully garden-y and herbal, in a stylish insulated carafe; pour individual servings at the table and add a crisp pinch of chopped basil to each. Serve it with a bubbly, dry Prosecco.

As the sun sinks and the Bowl’s thousands of seats fall into shadow, while stagehands wheel out the grand piano or adjust the conductor’s platform, serve the main course. Though compact and easy to pack, duck terrine is a rich and satisfying entree -- and it’s a delightfully unexpected choice.

A sophisticated loaf of duck, Serrano ham, mushrooms and Swiss chard, the terrine takes some advance preparation; it should be made the day before and chilled overnight.

A single slice will probably suffice for each guest, served with a salad of frisee and tomatoes (no soggy greens; the frisee holds its crunch through packing) with a mustardy vinaigrette that pairs well with the duck.

You’ll want to linger over the light red wine you’ve served with the duck terrine (a Cotes du Rhone or a Dolcetto would be perfect), so wait until intermission to bring out dessert. Again, leave the elaborate pastries or messy mousses to less Bowl-savvy diners and create a finger-food finish that’s great fun in the casual but art-loving atmosphere.

Medjool dates are large and meltingly sweet. It’s so easy to turn them into an elegant dessert that it’s almost cheating. Use three contrasting mixtures to stuff the dates -- blue cheese-almond, goat cheese-Grand Marnier-chocolate, and marzipan-pistachio -- and you’ll experience a pleasant panoply of flavor combinations along the savory-to-sweet spectrum.

Serve with chilled Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise and coffee to continue to sip as the lights dim and the music begins again.

1

Make a cut along the side but not through the ends of the date, just large enough to remove the pit. Open up the pocket in the dates so they are ready to fill.

2

For dates stuffed with blue cheese, below, spoon about 1 teaspoon of the blue cheese into each of four dates. Press an almond into the tops of each of four dates and set aside.

3

For goat cheese dates, blend the goat cheese with the Grand Marnier until smooth. Stir in one-fourth teaspoon powdered sugar and the chopped chocolate. Divide the mixture into each of four dates. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

4

For marzipan dates, blend together the marzipan and toasted pistachio nuts. Divide the filling into each of four dates. Dip the top of the dates in chopped pistachio nuts then roll dates in sugar.