Friday, February 11, 2011

In anticipation of Valentine's Day

When I was single, I would manage the difficulty and awkwardness of Valentine's Day by throwing a lavish dinner party for everyone I loved, coupled or not.  I recall many lovely dinners with friends and families and we all came away well-fed and feeling surrounded by love.  And we were.  Still are.

This year will be the first Valentine's Day of my marriage.  I am older and wiser.  I have adjusted my expectations to my appropriate age and stage of life!  I plan to make it a quiet, simple evening.  My husband loves pasta, so I'm thinking of serving a dish I learned while I was a chef in a small restaurant in upstate New York (recipe follows).  This pasta is lovely on the plate and heaven in the mouth with a melange of garlic and scallion-infused olive oil, anise notes from the basil, tangy astringency from the artichoke hearts and the sweet-salty, slightly mysterious flavor of proscuitto.  Pecorino Romano, a hard, salty, tangy sheep's milk cheese, is the only garnish it needs.  My wine suggestions would be a light, dry red, a minerally or off-dry white, or even a dry rose, but please, ask your wine guys at Spec's for help, because they will help you profile your tastes, they also love to cook and eat and, most importantly, they know their business!  Happily, I discovered a bottle of Becker Cabernet Franc Reserve 2005 (Texas) in my collection, so all is well.  (Sorry guys.  See you soon, though.)

This Valentine's Day, find someone you love (or want to).  Invite them to dinner.  Light some candles.  Pour a glass of wine for them and cook them a wonderful meal.  Listen to some beautiful music.  Maybe even dance a little.  I promise you, it will be memorable.  After all, love is the only pure and healing force in the universe...and when enhanced by good food and good wine, well, anything could happen...

Pasta with Artichoke Hearts and Prosciutto
   ~especially good with fresh, homemade fettucine or pappardelle~

1 lb. pasta (mafaldine, fettucine, linguine or angel hair)
3/4 cup olive oil
3 to 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 scallions, trimmed and sliced into 1/4" pieces
1 heaping Tbs. dried basil (although I would encourage you to garnish this dish with fresh basil, dried basil really lends the most intense sweetness and anise-like flavor)
1 15 oz. can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered (or use 2 9 oz. bags frozen quartered
artichoke hearts, thawed)
4 to 8 oz. proscuitto, thinly sliced and cut into 1/2" strips
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1.  Cook pasta, drain and keep warm in a large shallow bowl or platter.

2.  Gently heat olive oil in a medium-sized saute pan; add garlic, scallions and basil and saute at lowest possible temperature, being careful not to brown the garlic. 

3.  Add the artichoke hearts and prosciutto, stirring to coat with the oil mixture.  Heat through thoroughly and season to taste with kosher salt.

4.  Pour oil mixture over pasta, distributing over entire surface.  Toss pasta with oil mixture to incorporate flavors well.

5.  Serve with freshly ground black pepper and a generous amount of freshly grated cheese.  Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a first course.

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