It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow. And if like me, you are a master of all things last minute, it might have escaped your mind until now. The bad news is that anywhere decent to eat will have long been booked, and besides, how romantic is a dinner for two with a room full of other diners with exactly the same agenda? Far better and indeed more romantic to keep the action, as it were, closer to home with this fool-proof menu that delivers on taste and some tactile moments: Finger food that’s perfect for feeding your partner? Check. A main that’s as tasty as its pretty? Check. Melted Chocolate that will hopefully melt their heart for pudding? Check. And all simple enough to prepare and cook with someone else around who might be distracting you in the most delicious of ways!
For the Starter: A Pleasure Filled Platter for Two (Difficulty Rating: Non-Existent)
Charcuterie Board (four slices of each cut of choice Gastrotastic picked Finochiona, Milano, Ventricina Salamis and Prociutto Di Parma)
Cheeses (pick one from Feta, Mozzarella, Pecorino Piccante and Manchego)
Cherry Tomatoes (cut in half, as many as you need)
For the Main: Seared Salmon with Sesame Coated Broccoli (Difficulty Rating: Easy Peasy)
Two Salmon Fillets
8 Broccoli Florets
20 Grams of Sesame Seeds
Juice of 2 Lemons
3 Tablespoons of Honey
2 Tablespoon of Soy Sauce
1 Teaspoon of Garlic
1 Teaspoon of Ginger
A quarter of a dried chilli cut in shreds
For the Pudding: Poached Pears With Chocolate (Difficulty Rating: Easy Peasy)
2 Conference Pears
50 grams of High Grade (minimum 70%) Dark Chocolate
2 Tablespoons of Golden Sugar
A dash of brandy (optional)
A nob of Butter
The Joys of Charcuterie:
I am an unreconstructed carnivore. Beasts, be they flying, walking or swimming in the sea are not discriminated against in my palate. I also think there is something rather carnal about a plate of cold cuts shared with someone you fancy. A nibble here, a little slither rolled up with a cherry tomato in its centre and gobbled whole there, and with absolutely nil preparation required. What better way to kick off this Valentine Menu than with a platter of treats.
Some rules on charcuterie – it really is a case of you get what you pay for, so try to avoid pre=packed offerings in the supermarkets and head to the deli counter. In my quest to keep things keen in these straightened times I have found that the charcuterie counter at Carluccio’s offers surprisingly good value, as does Waitrose. You can go wild in the aisles with a tenner. Yes, really. Secondly, take the cold cuts out for at least fifteen minutes before serving. Too cold and there will be a loss of flavour, however, too warm and your cold cuts will have a sweaty sheen – never a good look.
When picking your cold cuts go for variety, just the one salami can feel a little less festive, plus your beloved might not be a fan, so make sure you have a play on flavour and texture on the plate. On this platter we have some Finochiona – a Tuscan salami that is spiked with fennel seeds, Milano – the classic that you’ve probably all had before that is studded with peppercorns, the Grand-Daddy of them all, Prociutto Di Parma, in this instance 24 months old for extra flavour and my current favourite salami (it changes all the time), Ventricina, which has a spicy kick from mixed chilli peppers. A couple of cherry tomatoes for the aforementioned wrap and go mouthfuls and some Feta (you can substitute with whatever cheese you like – I hop between Mozzarella, Pecorino Piccante and Manchego) and this is ready to be shared.
A Match Made In Heaven
There are some pairs that always work brilliantly together, one such taste pair is salmon and broccoli. Whether in a quiche, a pasta dish or a salad this is a couple that just works. Today’s recipe has an Asian influence (it was Chinese New Year last week after all) and much of the prep can be done before hand, allowing for beautification, candle lighting, iPod playlist arranging and the rest.
First take the salmon fillets and place in a bowl and coat in the marinade of soy sauce, ginger, honey and garlic and lemon. Make sure your salmon fillets are equally coated with the mixture and place in the fridge for a minimum of an hour, if you are super organised and are reading this today and not tomorrow, overnight.
Next start on prepping the broccoli: Remove just the florets and put in a steamer or colander over a saucepan of boiling water. Bring the saucepan to the boil and steam for no longer than 6 minutes or until the stalks have begun to colour, put aside.
Onto the sesame seeds; toast in a little oil until they begin to colour and remove from heat. Combine with the broccoli and the juices from salmon marinade and they are ready to plate up.
To sear the salmon heat a frying ban with a little olive oil, to as high a temperature as you can handle. Now place the salmon, skin down and sear at the same high heat. As the marinade will have semi cooked the salmon 2 minutes should suffice or when the fillet has taken on an entirely opaque colour whichever is first.
For the scorched ‘cheffy’look flip over the salmon flesh side for 10 seconds and then sprinkle the chilli on top, put on the same plate as the broccoli, arranged however you fancy and serve to your beloved. Are they bowled over? Thought so…
Art for Afters
I love pears, I love chocolate even more and I also love the artist Jackson Pollock. This pudding gets all three onto a plate, well not quite Pollock, but it features a plating method that is more than a nod to his oeuvre. If everything else on the menu has yet to get the desired effect, this most certainly will!
First slice two Conference pears and remove the cores and pips. Heat a nob of unsalted butter and place the pears in the pan for 2 minutes, turning over once half way through. Next add the golden sugar and gently fry for a further 2 minutes. If you are adding brandy, now is the time to do so as the alcohol needs to burn off. You will know this is done because the sharp smell of alcohol will not be present.
Using a similar method to the broccoli of a saucepan full of boiling water put a ceramic bowl and the chocolate above it. Allow the saucepan to simmer and the chocolate should begin to melt fairly quickly. When the chocolate is melted it is ready to use. Do not allow the chocolate to bubble.
Now for the art bit: place your pear slices on a plate – they should have a slight caramel-esque coating which adds to the yum factor. Next with a small spoon take some of the chocolate and paint the plate and the pears with as little or as much chocolate as you wish. And serve
What to do with the remaining chocolate I hear you ask? Well, it’s Valentine’s Day, so use your imagination!