y husband and I were married on February 14th because we are both incurable romantics, and because that way, we would never forget our anniversary (not bloody likely!) I love the trappings of Valentine’s Day — smoochy cards, perfume, boxes of candy, and bunches of flowers. But everyone knows that the way to anyone’s heart is through an adjacent organ (and others), which is why I have been known to make my February baking look pink or ensure it fits into a heart-shaped pan.
The following is a memorable little dinner for two that will make your heart pound and get your seratonin levels up for the night.
It also tastes really, really good.
Chilled glasses of pink Champagne or rosé to start. Sip while cooking or waiting for:
— Malfatti di barbabietola con burro e salvia.
— Scampi alla griglia con limone.
— Insalata di radicchio, rughetta, e ravinelli rossi.
— Cuore (o salame) di cioccolato con crème anglaise.
1 kilo of beet tops, steamed and drained well (or 1 cup cooked beets)
300 grams fresh ricotta
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano plus 2/3 cup to accompany malfatti
Pinch of nutmeg
A few drops of lemon juice
Salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons softened butter
A handful of sage leaves, sautéed in olive oil or butter until just crisp, about 2 minutes.
Bring a large, shallow pot of salted water to a simmer. Heat the oven to 200 C. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a food processor, mix the beet tops (or cooked beets), ricotta, egg yolks, Parmigiano-Reggiano, nutmeg, lemon juice, salt and pepper until they are a smooth but manageable paste. Do not liquify.
Add a spoon or two of the flour and mix well. Sprinkle the rest of the flour on a large board or baking sheet. Drop teaspoons of the beet mixture onto the floured board. With your hands and a light touch, toss the little balls of the beet mixture in the flour, coating the outside, until you can handle them easily. Set to one side of the baking sheet. When all are made, put each one into the simmering water, and let them simmer (never boil!) for about 3-5 minutes.
As they rise to the top of the water, lift them out with a slotted spoon and place them in a buttered baking dish. When the dish is full, dot the malfatti with the butter and sprinkle them with the sautéed sage leaves and the rest of the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake for 10 minutes at 350.
1 kilo fresh scampi
Extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
HEAT THE BROILER. With scissors or a sharp knife, split the scampi down their backs and flatten with the palm of your hand. Arrange on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, the minced garlic, and parsley. Broil about 2 to 3 minutes or just until shells are pink and the scampi meat is firm. Serve with lemon wedges.
CUORI DI CIOCCOLATO or SALAME DI CIOCOLLATO
200 grams bitter chocolate. (Incredible Italian chocolates are now on the market and comparable to any others.)
4 tablespoons butter
4 eggs, separated
1/2 cup plus a little more superfine granulated sugar
1 cup biscotti or vanilla cookie crumbs
1 teaspoon vanilla
BEAT EGG YOLKS with sugar and vanilla, add melted chocolate, then add softened butter, bit by bit, and beat well with a mixer or wire whisk. Beat egg whites and gently fold into egg mixture along with the cookie crumbs. Oil a 6-8 inch square or round cake pan, using apricot or walnut oil. It is important that the oil not taste of, for example, olives or safflower seeds! A fruit oil or nut oil solves this problem.
Spread the mixture evenly in the pan, smoothing off the top with a spatula. Cover with foil or plastic wrap and freeze for at least 4 hours. To unmold, dip the bottom of the pan quickly in very hot water or put it on a gas burner for just a few seconds, place a plate over the top and invert the marquise. It should drop onto the plate. You can then smooth the surface with a spatula or dust it with nuts ground very fine.
To make into a “salame”: on a sheet of plastic wrap, put the mixture down the long side in a kind of cylinder. Carefully roll the mixture into a salame shape, and refrigerate until firm. Unroll from the paper and dust with powdered sugar to simulate a salame. Cut as you would a salame into thin slices and serve with the following:
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup cream or half-and-half, or half-milk, half cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
SCALD CREAM. Beat yolks with sugar and stir briskly into hot cream. Cook on low heat until the mixture coats a spoon, about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla, and strain into a bowl. Let cool, whisk again to take the “skin” off the top, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. This is also a lovely base for any flavored ice cream. Or simply freeze and serve as vanilla ice cream. n