It's March already and Valentine’s Day is a thing of the past, so why am I posting about this now? Well, my romantic dinners are driven by more practical considerations, such as having some time to spend in the kitchen, for starters. Which rules out busy weeknights, so I made mine during the weekend after. And while we're on the subject, why restrict romantic dinners to Valentine's day? I'd like to have one every weekend :)
My current cookbook crush is on Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. I've given him plenty of love (pun intended, ha ha) by blogging about his recipes from The Guardian website, and though the book features many of those, it's even better. Gorgeous color photos and recipes organized by main ingredient (mostly by vegetable), rather than by meal or course, make this a lovely book to cook from. This is a great dinner party cookbook too, since the dishes are familiar yet inspired.
This, belatedly, was my menu for this year's belated Valentine's Day dinner. As I write this I realize that the entire menu is also gluten-free, though I didn’t set out to plan it that way.
First course: Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce (pictured above, and on the cover of the book)
He describes this as a "rustically elegant appetizer" and I concur. The eggplant is cooked in a similar way to this, but it's even simpler to make! Simply brushed with olive oil and roasted in the oven, then topped with a buttermilk-yogurt sauce, za'atar and pomegranate seeds. Flavor, color and texture contrasts are stunning. I served it with wholewheat rolls to mop up the sauce, but you could skip the bread or choose a gluten-free version.
Main course: Mushroom and herb polenta
Polenta is flavored with Parmesan cheese and plenty of fresh herbs, then gets topped with braised mushrooms and Taleggio cheese and is finished off under a hot broiler. The Taleggio cheese is an inspired choice – it has the depth of flavor of a mature cheese, but melts beautifully like a young one. I’d never cooked polenta before for fear of creating a lumpy gluey mess, but I need not have worried! It is quite straightforward. Leftover bits of polenta can be pan-fried and served with any sauce for a different take on pasta, or cut into cubes and baked in a hot oven to make delicious croutons.
Dessert: Flourless Chocolate Cake with Hazelnut Ice Cream and Praline
For dessert, I stuck to a more traditional choice. It’s too bad Ottolenghi doesn’t tackle desserts – I’d be interested to see his flavor combinations! Chocolate and hazelnut are definitely a marriage that’s stood the test of time, though, so it is appropriate for the occasion. Plus points for introducing a heart-shaped element (hazelnut) if you're into that sort of thing :)
Oh wait, the weekend is almost here! Time to plan another one :)