Ahh the big V. The chasm, come Feb 14, between those who love to embrace it and those who consider it an overblown show of forced sentiment is monumental. Love it or hate it, Valentines Day provides a splendid excuse for eating well a deux. And if you don’t want to sit amidst other love struck couples trying to spoon each other over cutlery or partake in the last-minute scrum for chocolates, why not put on a delightful spread at home. What’s not to love about someone taking the trouble to cook a meal from scratch? Its an absolute pleasure and a treat to be cooked for, and that much effort is both a compliment and endearing thing to do.
I've put together a menu with plenty of bits you can do ahead. You don’t want to spend the entire evening tizzing about the kitchen so prepare the soup ahead, the pasta and the chocolate tarts - making the day more about assembly than any great effort in the kitchen.
Bloody Mary Gazpacho with Candied Maple Bacon
Squid ink pasta with chilli, basil, lemon and Balmain bug meat
Espresso chocolate tarts with honeycomb
Bloody Mary Gazpacho with maple candied bacon
2 rashers bacon
2 tsp maple syrup
1 tsp horseradish
500ml tomato juice
2 tblsp Worcestershire sauce
Pinch celery salt*
½ tsp lemon zest
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp chili sauce
A small handful of chopped celery leaves and flat leaf parsley
Salt and pepper to season
Preheat the oven to 200C.
Line a tray with baking paper. Place the bacon on the paper, drizzle over the maple syrup and bake for 8-10 minutes or until crisp. Allow to cool.
Add the remaining ingredients to a food processor and blitz until combined. Season with salt and pepper and top with Pour into serving glasses, top with celery and parsley leaves and place bacon on top of the glasses.
* Celery salt is from specialty grocers or from Herbies Spices
Squid Ink Pasta with bug meat, lemon, chili and basil
You can buy squid ink pasta at specialty food stores if you’re not inclined to make it yourself. If you do this, skip the pasta making and just follow packet instructions for preparing the pasta.
Squid ink pasta
300g 00 pasta flour
2 tsp squid ink*
1 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 small red chili, finely chopped
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
6 cooked Balmain bug tails, peeled
100ml white wine
Basil leaves to scatter
Shaved parmesan to serve
To make the pasta add the flour to a bowl. Add the eggs and squid ink and knead until the ingredients have incorporated (about 3 minutes). Cover in cling film and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. Roll out the dough and pass through a pasta machine.
Place a saucepan of water over high heat and bring to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook for 2 minutes or until al dente. Strain, reserving a few tablespoons of cooking water.
Place a large fry pan over medium heat. Add the butter and allow to brown slightly. Add the garlic and chilli and cook until fragrant. Add the flat leaf parsley and bug meat and cook until just warmed through. Add the white wine, swirling to combine the ingredients. Remove from heat. Add basil leaves, parmesan and pasta and toss to combine. Season generously with salt and pepper and serve.
*Squid ink comes in 4g sachets and can be purchased from specialty grocers
Espresso and Milk Chocolate Ganache Tarts with Honeycomb
Don’t forget to sift. Poison by bicarb is not the message you want to give on such a ubiquitous occasion. This recipe makes for left over honeycomb – a necessity when it comes to honeycomb.
1/2 sheet good quality sweet short crust pastry
75ml pouring cream
80g dark chocolate
100g caster sugar
30g liquid glucose
5g bicarbonate soda, sifted
Grease and line 2 x 10cm diameter individual loose-bottomed tart tins.
Preheat oven to 180C.
Roll out the pastry to 5mm thick on a lightly floured surface, cut out two 15cm-diameter rounds and line the two tins. Blind bake for 15 minutes, remove pastry weights and paper, continue baking until golden (5-10 minutes). Set aside.
For the ganache bring the cream and espresso to the simmer in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the chocolate, remove from the heat and stir until smooth. Refrigerate until thickened (about 30 minutes).
For honeycomb, combine, sugar, glucose, honey and 1/2 tbsp water in a saucepan over low heat, stir until sugar dissolves, then bring to the boil, brush down sides of pan with a clean wet pastry brush and cook until light caramel (5-7 minutes). Add the bicarbonate of soda, stir quickly (be careful as mixture will puff), then quickly pour onto a heatproof tray lined with baking paper and cool completely (15-20 minutes).
Pour the ganache into the moulds and return to the fridge to set. Just before serving, break the honeycomb into bite-sized pieces and push a few pieces into the centre of each tart. Serve cold.