You might think St Valentine’s Day is a crass commercial festival, dripping with syrupy sentimentalism and simply manufactured by florists to make you spend. A glance at the web into St Valentine’s Day showed me that there is historical evidence for it.
It seems he was a bishop in Rome who was persecuted for performing secret marriage ceremonies for Christians by Emperor Claudius 2nd (lovingly known as Claudius the Cruel). Valentine’s Day, February 14, was also the special day of the Roman goddess Juno (marriage and women being her department) a festival like many others that showed the secret of the early church’s success as it was cleverly incorporated into the Christian calendar.
Saints’ days are traditionally feast days and though my own preference would be to celebrate St Lawrence’s Day, the patron saint of cooks (as well as librarians, archivists and the poor), on August 7, St Valentine’s Day is a good opportunity to celebrate cooking and delight your loved one at the same time with a slap-up dinner for two.
Generally I don’t even remember St Valentine’s Day, but this year I noted that it falls on a Tuesday, a work day, so if you are going to give your sweetheart the gift of your culinary skill and time, the ultimate gifts, you will need to be organised. You could just lash out on flowers and a present, but I would far rather spend my money on food (and maybe flowers as well).
Buy some big Australian prawns, peel and poach in salted boiling water until just cooked, cool. Serve as a prawn cocktail in a small bowl or stemmed glass on baby cos leaves, diced avocado, grated carrot (crunchy and sweet), a dollop of bought mayo mixed with a little chilli sauce to taste (I like Huffman’s Original Chilli Pepper Sauce), some coriander sprigs and half limes for squeezing.
Put a fresh burrata in the middle of a serving platter and surround with halved cherry tomatoes, watercress sprouts, basil leaves, capers, kalamata olives and a dressing of red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Sliced ciabatta on the side.
Beat eggs and a little milk, season, stir in snipped chives, lemon zest and a little crumbled feta. Pour into a couple of ramekins and steam over gently boiling water until set. Serve topped with flaked hot smoked salmon and more chives
Make a salad of 2cm cubed rockmelon, halved cherry tomatoes, peeled seeded cucumber, wild rocket leaves and mint and a white wine vinaigrette, Serve with free range chicken breasts that have been tossed with extra virgin olive oil, crushed garlic and dried wild oregano and roasted and sliced. Steamed jasmine rice on the side.
Cut the skin of a couple of duck breasts in a criss-cross pattern almost down to the flesh. Rub with salt, lots of freshly ground pepper and a little extra virgin olive oil. Pan-fry over moderate heat for about 8 minutes on the skin side so the fat melts, and about 4 minutes on the flesh side. Remove from the pan, rest then slice thinly. Serve drizzled with balsamic on peeled sliced ripe peaches, blanched snow peas and steamed quinoa.
Thinly slice eye fillet of beef that has been trimmed of fat and sinew. Place in a bowl with crushed garlic, salt and pepper and toss. Fry each slice for about 20 seconds on each side over very high heat. Serve on lots of parsnips that have been thinly sliced, tossed with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, spread out on a baking paper-lined oven tray and roasted at 200C until well browned, and a salad of baby spinach leaves and thin sliced red onion tossed with red wine vinegar and more oil. Top with a dollop of sour cream mixed with chopped toasted walnuts, chopped parsley and bought horseradish.
Buy some Italian potato gnocchi and cook in boiling salted water. Serve in a wide pasta bowl with fresh sage leaves fried in butter until they are crisp and the butter just beginning to brown, hot blanched halved green beans, some paper thin slices of prosciutto draped over it and freshly grated parmesan.
Buy some sweet short tartlet cases, fill with mascarpone mixed with crushed raspberries and a little brandy and place whole raspberries on top side by side. Brush cooled melted raspberry jam carefully over the raspberries and the edge of the pastry and serve with whipped cream.
Poach stoned apricot halves in rosé wine and a little sugar until tender but not collapsing. Place a few broken up savoiardi biscuits in a small bowl or stemmed glass, spoon the apricot/rosé juices over them and put the apricots on top. Sprinkle with a very little orange flower water or rose water, some toasted pistachio kernels and serve with clotted cream.
Is there anything more simple and satisfying than affogato? Place a scoop of real vanilla icecream in a small bowl or heatproof glass, pour over a cup of espresso coffee, add your favourite liqueur if desired and serve with a slice of best bought brownie.