Village Hammers: Serbian Bacon-Grilled Prunes

Seoski Cekic

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If you’ve ever had an image of what an eastern European restaurant should look like, no doubt Dacho (pronounced Da-ko) will match it: It’s cavernous but cozy, with wreathes of dried red peppers and tables draped with colorful cloths. Every square inch of the walls is covered with Serbian handicrafts, painted crockery, weavings, and wall hangings. It looks, in short, like a rustic farmhouse picked up from the Serbian countryside and plunked down in a gritty working-class suburb of Belgrade. Which in a sense it is. The only way Dacho owner Damir Ashmi could get his mother to follow him to the big city, so the story goes, was to move the family cottage stick by stick and brick by brick to Belgrade. As with any Slavic restaurateur, Damir’s first order of business was to install a waist-high fireplace in the kitchen and a brick smokehouse in the courtyard.

Damir built his menu around the sort of country cooking that makes Serbs’ mouths water: marinated fire-grilled hot peppers (see recipes), for example, and cornmeal- and paprika-crusted pork kebabs (see recipe). What better way to start dinner than with “village hammers, ” supernaturally sweet prunes stuffed with salty cheese and grilled in bacon. Prunes may lack the cachet in North America that they have in, say, the Balkans or France, but their rich plummy sweetness definitely belongs at a barbecue—especially when the sweet, tart, jam-textured prune in question comes from a Serbian sljiva (plum). (That’s the same plum used to make the famous Balkan brandy slivovitz, and that’s what you should drink with these.) So where does the hammer come in? Well, with a little imagination (and a lot of slivovitz), the bacon-wrapped prune skewered crosswise at the end of a toothpick does look a little like a hammer.

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Ingredients

  • 4 ounces Gouda cheese
  • 16 pitted prunes
  • 4 lean slices of bacon, or more as needed

You’ll also Need

  • 16 short, thin bamboo skewers or wooden toothpicks, soaked for 1 hour in cold water to cover, and drained; an aluminum foil grill shield (see Note and here)

Method

Advance Preparation

None needed, although the “hammers” can be assembled several hours ahead.

  1. Cut the cheese into ¼ × ¼ × 1-inch pieces and stuff them inside the prunes.
  2. Cut each slice of bacon crosswise into 4 pieces; each piece should be just large enough to wrap around a prune. Wrap each prune in bacon and secure it through the side with a bamboo skewer or toothpick so that it resembles a hammer. The hammers can be prepared several hours ahead to this stage.
  3. Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat it to high. Leave one section of the grill fire-free for a safety zone.
  4. When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Arrange the wrapped prunes on the hot grate, with an aluminum foil shield under the exposed ends of the skewers or toothpicks to keep them from burning. Grill the hammers, turning with tongs, until the bacon is crisp and the cheese is melted, 1 to 3 minutes per side. In the event you get flare-ups, move the hammers on top of the grill shield or to the safety zone. Transfer the hammers to a platter and serve immediately.

How to Make Hammers

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