When you've exhausted your nacho supply, these three alternatives feed your friends amid March Madness finals.
Two weeks in and you've made it from 64 to 32, the Sweet Sixteen to the Elite Eight and now The Final Four. By the time the championship game rolls around on April 4, you've presumably also made your way through your entire snack repertoire and sworn off chilli forever (or, at least, until next year). Whether you're hosting or you have money on the game and need something salty or sweet to quell your anxiety, consider these easy wins. And, yes, they all go with beer.
Combine equal parts mascarpone and a piquant blue cheese, like Gorgonzola (if you're making 20 stuffed dates, aim for about 4 ounces of each), in a bowl with about a tablespoon of good, runny honey. Blend with a fork until smooth. Slice each date lengthwise, though not all the way through, and remove the pit. Fill the centre of the date with a half tablespoon of the cheese mixture. Close the date and wrap with a half slice of fine prosciutto. If proving unwieldy, secure closed with a toothpick.
These dates are delicious as is—salty, sweet, chewy, sticky, creamy—but can also be served hot, in which case: pre-heat an oven to 350° F and bake for about 10 minutes on a non stick baking sheet. Serve immediately.
Variation: A heartier alternative—stuffed with chorizo sausage and wrapped in bacon, inspired by a popular dish at Chicago's Avec restaurant—can be prepared as follows: Stuff 16 medool dates with a ½ tablespoon of ground chorizo per date (about 8 ounces of uncured chorizo, cases removed, for the recipe). Cut eight uncooked bacon slices in half lengthwise and wrap each slice around each date. Place on a non-stick baking sheet and bake about 15 minutes or until chorizo is cooked through at 350° F. Then broil on high for about 2 to 4 minutes or until bacon is crisp. Serve warm with tomato sauce, crusty bread and olive oil.
Preheat oven to 450° F. Prepare your preferred vessel—a pizza stone for crispy crust, a baking sheet for crisp bottomed crust with a bit of spring, a cake pan for deep dish—with a bit of cornmeal, 00 flour or by brushing it with oil. Press a ball of prepared pizza dough, available at most good grocery stores or Italian specialty stops, though it hasn't been unheard of for us to arrange with our local pizzeria to buy a dough ball on the DL, into the pan and stretch to fit. Bake for about 15 minutes in the lower third of the oven. Remove once edges are crisp and have a bit of colour. Let cool for two minutes. Spread a thin layer of sour cream over the top of the crust (about 4 ounces). Tear 8 ounces of good smoked salmon into strips and evenly distribute. Garnish with finely cut chives, slices of red onion, preserved lemon, if available, and three tablespoons of capers. Cut into slices and serve immediately.
Butter slices of rye bread on both sides. In a non-stick pan, briefly warm ¼ slices of kielbasa on both sides until they take on a little colour. Remove from pan and lightly fry bread slices until they crisp around the edges and go a light golden brown. Mix a pungent Polish mustard or a sweeter German mustard with fresh horseradish (5:1 ratio) and spread the mixture on the bread, about 1 ½ teaspoons per slice. Top with a couple pieces of the seared kielbasa. Cut the open faced sandwiches into halves or thirds depending on the size of the bread. Serve with pickled vegetables—beets, sauerkraut, pickle spears—if inclined to eat more healthfully after two weeks of meat, carbs and the armchair athleticism of a March Madness fan.