valentine's dayValentine’s Day is often problematical. Restaurants are busy (and often expensive) and we are encouraged to spend maybe too much on chocolates, flowers or whatever. Why not make a simple meal for your beloved. Here’s one that anyone can do.


Serves 2 to 4

Invented at Antoine’s in New Orleans in 1899, the dish was named after John D. Rockefeller, the richest American at the time, for the richness of the sauce. Antoine’s has kept the original recipe secret but all kinds of interpretations exist. Basically it includes a rich cream sauce with spinach and other greens and flavored with Pernod or anisette. This version omits the rich sauce but is still full of flavor.

24 small oysters
2 cups gently packed young spinach leaves
1-1/2 cups gently packed watercress, large stems removed or more spinach
1/3 cup gently packed celery leaves
5 tablespoons butter
1/2 ounce Pernod or other licorice flavored liqueur
Salt to taste
Drops of lemon juice and your favorite hot sauce to taste
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Shuck the oysters discarding the flat top shells. Drain the oysters and strain their liquor and refrigerate both until ready to cook. Wash deep shell inside and out and set aside.

Blanch the spinach, watercress and celery leaves in lightly salted, boiling water for 30 seconds until wilted. Strain and rinse thoroughly in cold water to stop the cooking and set the bright green color. Add the greens to a food processor along with the green onions and pulse to chop very finely (or can be done by hand).

Melt butter in a skillet over moderate heat and add chopped greens and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add the strained liquor, Pernod and season to your taste with salt, drops of lemon juice and pepper sauce and cook until the liquid is mostly absorbed. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a shallow baking pan or cookie sheet with 1/3 inch or so rock or coarse salt and press reserved oyster shells into the salt to keep them upright. Place an oyster in each and divide the green sauce among them. Top with parmesan and bake until sauce is bubbly and cheese is lightly browned, about 8 minutes.

Serves 2

This is a very simple approach which can be used for any of the sturdy greens such as radicchios, romaine lettuce, etc. If you don’t want to fire up the grill, a ridged grill pan works nicely on the stove top. Add anything to the salad that you like. Any kale can be used here but the preference is for Lacinato which is also known as dinosaur or black kale and is widely available around Valentine’s Day.

3/4 pound kale
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or to taste
1/3 cup pomegranate seeds or arils

Remove tough center stem from kale and discard. Lightly brush kale leaves with 2 tablespoons olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Place on hot grill directly over coals and grill until kale softens and edges are lightly browned. Chop coarsely and set aside in a bowl and toss with remaining olive oil and vinegar to taste. Stir in pomegranate seeds and season to your taste.

Serves 2

Literally “cheese and pepper” this is one of the iconic recipes of Rome. It’s a stripped down macaroni and cheese that relies on good simple ingredients. I like to serve this with a side of grilled asparagus.

Sea Salt
10 ounces spaghetti or bucatini
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper or to taste
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
1 egg yolk

Bring a pot of water to a boil and add some salt to the water. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water, then drain.

In the same pot the pasta was boiled in, add butter and pepper and cook for a minute or so until pepper is fragrant. Add 1/3 cup of the pasta water and return the cooked pasta to the pot and toss to coat.

Add the cheese and egg yolk and, using tongs, toss the ingredients together until combined. If the pasta seems a little sticky, add the remaining pasta water. If it’s a little wet, add more cheese. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.

Serves 2

Pots de crème are usually baked in a water bath but this simpler method I think is just as good. A good 60 % chocolate is all important here. You could also replace (or augment) the espresso powder with vanilla, almond or even mint extract. You could make mud pie pots de crème by adding 1-3 teaspoons of bourbon along with the espresso. Cointreau, orange rind and/or chipotle powder (in moderation) would also work well.

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder (or instant coffee)
2 ounces chopped 60% chocolate
3 egg yolks
1-1/2 tablespoon sugar
Big pinch sea salt
Sweetened whipped cream for serving

Heat the cream, espresso powder and chocolate in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, beat together the egg yolks, sugar and salt in a medium-large bowl.

When the cream mixture is almost at a simmer, gradually pour it into the bowl with the egg yolks, whisking to combine as you do so. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and heat, stirring constantly, on medium-low until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon (or reaches 175-180 degrees, if you have an instant read thermometer), about four minutes.
Do not let the mixture simmer or eggs will curdle. Quickly pour the custard into 2 clean bowls and chill until cold. Serve with whipped cream.

John Ash © 2017