A Sicilian-Inspired Valentine's Day Menu
Oh Valentine's Day. It's funny how the mention of this one day can make some people giddy and other people groan. Though I'm a huge proponent of showing friends and family love every day, it is kind of nice to have a special day set apart to show some extra love. From the time I was a kid, I loved the tradition of making little heart-shaped cards to give to classmates, and as I got older, I loved the excuse to bake (and eat!) chocolate goodies. However, once college hit, and I had my first serious boyfriend, Valentine's Day took on a whole other level of pressure. There had to be cards, gifts, elaborate dates. It was both fun and exhausting.
Now that I'm married to Brandon – this will be our 7th Valentine's Day together! – our celebrating tends to be far less elaborate, but much more fun. B's an amazing gift-giver, and he loves surprising me with thoughtful gifts that show just how well he knows me. Like, the year he ordered me a collection of beautifully packaged dried heirloom legumes from Italy (Borlotti beans, tiny chickpeas, lentils, etc.) – which, for me was as exciting as a piece of jewelry. Another year, he gave me the most perfect collection of handmade, red, origami rose buds to represent the roses he had given me on our engagement scavenger hunt, since I couldn't keep the real ones.
Feeling lucky to get to spend Valentine's Day with this handsome guy!
We had to spend last Valentine's Day apart – he was down in Florida receiving hyperbaric oxygen treatment for his Lyme, and I was in NYC shooting the cookbook – so we mailed each other gifts. I overnighted him homemade chocolate chip cookies (his favorite!) and he sent me the most gorgeous bouquet of tulips and a case of bubbly (my favorites!). We spent the evening watching House of Cards on speaker phone so we could feel like we were in the same room.
But this year, we're in the same city (yay!), and I'm planning a romantic dinner at home. I have zero desire to sit in a restaurant with a bunch of other couples eating an obligatory pre-fixe menu. It's way more fun to light the candles at home, put on some jazz, pour some bubbly, and make a delicious meal together. (Or in my case, I'll make the meal, and he can talk to me while I cook! Ha.) Speaking of date nights at home, my friend Ashley Rodriguez (author of the blog Not Without Salt) just came out with an amazing new book, Date Night In, full of menus, recipes, and ideas for fun nights at home with your spouse. I highly recommend buying the book – either for a gift for your love, or just for yourself!
For this year's V-day menu, I'm taking flavor inspiration from our recent trip to Sicily: olives, pistachios, lots of citrus, seafood, and – just because it's Valentine's Day – chocolate! So many V-day menus tend to be super-heavy, but let's be honest – who wants to be in a food coma on Valentine's Day? Not at all romantic! That's why I love doing a lighter menu, like fish and salad, but with a decadent dessert.
Pistachio-crusted tuna with Balsamic-glazed red onions from Monaci delle Terre Nere; photo by Brandon Carl.
I learned to make this pistachio-crusted tuna with "agro dolce" (sweet and sour) red onions during a cooking class at Monaci dell Terre, my favorite place we stayed in Sicily. Of course, it was hard to go wrong, given the tuna was caught just hours before we prepared it, and the pistachios were grown nearby, the onions came from the garden, and the olive oil was made on the property. So yeah, it was pretty exceptional. I've already made the dish twice since we've been home, and have adapted it slightly. I love to serve it with my winter citrus salad with arugula and ricotta salata – the flavors just complement each other so well. For a pre-dinner snack, I'm going to serve citrus-marinated olives, and then for dessert, bittersweet chocolate puddings cakes with Grand Marnier whipped cream (from the cookbook!). As an added bonus, this menu happens to be gluten-free!
I love pairing the meal with a dry, sparkling rosé (Taltarni, from Tasmania, is really good for around $18), but a minerally, white wine would be great. And actually, if you can find a Mt. Etna white wine from Sicily, even better! I hope you all enjoy your Valentine's Day in – and hey, if you don't have a significant other, invite a group of friends over for a fun dinner party! Who said you have to spend Valentine's Day with just one person?!
The day before: make the chocolate pudding cakes, marinate the olives, and make the Balsamic-glazed onions. The morning of: prep the salad ingredients, chop the pistachios, and chill the bubbly. 30 minutes before: set the table, light the candles, and turn on some music (Diana Krall, Ella Fitzgerald, or a little Frank Ocean are all good bets). Time for dinner: Roast the tuna, assemble the salad, make the Grand Marnier whipped cream and chill. Then just reheat the chocolate cakes slightly after dinner.
Buon appetito and Happy Valentine's Day!
Photo credits (collage, clockwise L-R): 2,3,4 Eric Ryan Anderson; 5,6,8, Signe Birck; 7 Brandon Carl.[recipe:best-pistachio-crusted-tuna-balsamic-glazed-red-onions-recipe]