There is not a more romantic holiday than Valentine's Day, but that wasn't always so.
Valentine's Day was a martyred saints day in days gone by, but in the Middle Ages, when it first became fashionable to wax poetic with romantic intentions, we started to celebrate the date in a different way. So how should we celebrate it today?
It is traditional to give flowers and romantic cards, but taking your special friend out to eat is always a good option. Many restaurants will offer special menus that can be quite tempting, but preparing something with your own hands and serving it in the cozy atmosphere of your home is even more sentimental.
It doesn't have to be elaborate. In fact, simplicity is desired. It doesn't have to be expensive, either, just use fresh ingredients and careful technique.
Here are a few other suggestions that might help: Take the time to set the table, polish the silverware, make sure the wine glasses are sparkling clean and spend a little more on a good bottle of wine. The point is to make it a special occasion and attention to every detail is very important.
Yes, yes, the money in your wallet or purse will certainly be a deciding factor on what you prepare, but you can counter your lack of wealth with the time you spend preparing food and the atmosphere you create.
Start your meal with an interesting appetizer, such as a simple Italian bruschetta. Remember, this first course is supposed to stimulate the appetite, not sate it, so make small portions. If you just can't see your way
to roasting your own tomatoes, use sun-dried tomatoes from the grocery store. If tomatoes don't turn you on, try roasted red bell peppers instead.
One final note
The best-laid meal and the finest ingredients will all fail if you do not have something romantic to say. Spend some time thinking about it, don't just blurt something out after two or three glasses of wine. When did you fall in love with your partner? How did you notice her or him? If you are slick of tongue, then bone up on a little Shakespeare.
You also might want to find a romantic movie to watch afterward; light a candle or two, find a warm and snuggly blanket to share.
ROASTED TOMATO BRUSCHETTA
1 thick slice hearty bread each
1 bunch small cherry tomatoes
1 small bunch rosemary, pulled into sprigs
2-3 cloves chopped garlic
1-2 pinches fresh ground black pepper
Best quality olive oil
Slice the tomatoes in half, toss them with the olive oil, garlic and rosemary and season with black pepper. Place on an oven-proof pan and roast for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Smear a tablespoon or so of olive oil on the bread and toast. If you are a true Italian you would want to do this over a wood fire. Top the bread with the roasted tomatoes and serve immediately. To earn extra points have a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano on the table and grate a little onto your lover's bruschetta. Serve with a good, local artisanal beer, such as Lazy Magnolia.
PASTA AND SPINACH
If you are on a serious budget serve this pasta course as your entrée and skip the more expensive crab cake recipe that follows. Just increase the quantity of pasta that you cook to 1/2 a pound.
1/4 pound linguini
1 smoked pork chop (see the meat counter in almost any grocery store)
2 large handfuls fresh spinach
2-3 cloves chopped garlic
1 pinch red pepper flakes
Prepare the pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside, keeping a 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Cube the pork chop and sauté in oil, along with the red pepper flakes and garlic, until it takes on color, but be careful not to burn the garlic, then all is lost. Add the spinach and the pasta water, turn the heat up until the spinach wilts, toss with the pasta and garnish with the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve this dish with a light red wine, such as a good Beaujolais.
VERY SPECIAL CRAB CAKES
Nothing is as enticing as a well-prepared crab cake. The secret is to make it simple and don't disguise the delicate flavor with too many seasonings or bindings. The crab should be the only star in this dish.
2 cups lump or jumbo lump crab
1/2 cup chopped red onion
2 tablespoons chopped smoked bacon
2 chopped cloves of garlic
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 farm fresh egg
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Butter as needed
Sauté the bacon until almost crisp, add the onion and sauté 5 minutes more, add the garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Allow to cool then toss with the Panko, egg and basil. Next carefully mix in the crab, but do not break up the lumps of meat. Combine into two cakes, don't compress it too much and don't worry if they fall apart, this is about flavor, not a perfectly formed and symmetrical cake. Melt the butter in a sauté pan and brown the cakes carefully on both sides. Garnish with the lemon wedges and a bit more of the basil if you like. Serve at once on a bed of greens.
The final course
If you are a baker then this will be your time to shine, but most of us are not.
Buy something sweet and chocolate filled from a pro.
You want to end this meal on a high note and brownies or fudge just won't get it.
If you can splurge, pair your sweet ending with a good bottle of champagne or Italian Prosecco.