An exceptional dinner for two
WHAT would the ``foodies'' serve, or like to have served to them, on St. Valentine's Day? What would they consider the perfect romantic dinner for two? A meal that would be warm and memorable, most likely, yet simple enough to be prepared a bit ahead of time, so that no unnecessary amount of time is spent with one person in the kitchen while the other twiddles his or her thumbs on the living room couch.
We asked Franco and Margaret Romagnoli, restaurateurs, authors of several cookbooks on Italian cooking, and former hosts of the PBS series, ``The Romagnolis' Table,'' the above questions. They have been married for 34 ``delicious'' years. My only complaint,'' says Mrs.Romagnoli, ``is that the years are going faster and faster.''
For a special Valentine's Day dinner for two, they suggested (``after changing our minds several hundred times'') something they call Pasta a la Sarah Caldwell.
It's a heavenly dish they invented and actually cooked and served on stage during an Opera Company of Boston's production of, ironically enough, ``Orpheus in the Underworld.''
It was named in honor of Sarah Caldwell, artistic director and conductor of the Opera Company of Boston. During the last act of Offenbach's opera buffo, Franco and Margaret donned Roman togas, slipped onstage amid clouds of theatrical dry ice ``smoke,'' and cooked and passed around this wonderful creamy lobster and pasta dish to the dancers as they swirled around Hades.
It's a dinner Mrs. Romagnoli says that's ``filled with warmth and kindness and goes equally well with or without opera.''
The recipe appears, with a bit of history, in their third cookbook, ``The New Italian Cooking'' (Atlantic/Little, Brown, $17.95).
The Romagnolis suggest a simple but elegant salad with this divine dish, one of just Belgian endive and radicchio, dressed with fine olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper. Pasta a la Sarah Caldwell 1 cup canned, peeled imported Italian plum tomatoes 1 dried red, hot pepper, seeded, or several drops Tabasco sauce 2 tablespoons virgin olive oil 4 small fresh basil leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil 1/2 teaspoon salt Freshly ground black pepper 1/4 cup Italian (flat) parsley 1 tablespoon butter, preferably sweet Meat from 11/4 to 11/2 pound cooked lobster (about 6 ounces of fresh lobster meat) 1/4 cup heavy cream
Put tomato through a food mill using finest disk to remove seeds. (Or process about 15 seconds in food processor and push through a sieve.) In a medium saucepan, saut'e seeded hot pepper pod in olive oil until dark in color, then discard pod. Let oil cool slightly before adding tomato, basil, salt, and pepper. (If using Tabasco, add with tomatoes.)
Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer about 15 minutes until thickened a bit. Stir in parsley, remove from heat.
In another saucepan, melt butter and add lobster meat cut in bite-sized pieces. Cook about two minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in heavy cream and simmer about 10 minutes to reduce cream by about one half. Add lobster and cream mixture to tomato sauce. Heat thoroughly. Divide over two servings of fresh fettucini or linguini. Serves 2.
Who knows more about putting the frosting on a romantic dinner than America's first lady of desserts, Maida Heatter? Ms. Heatter turns out cookbooks faster than most of us can whip up a batch of chocolate-chip cookies.
``Naturally, one thinks of chocolate on Valentine's Day,'' she says. ``There's something in chocolate that makes you feel like you're in love even when you're not.'' ``Fortunately, chocolate mousse is one of my all-time favorite desserts and this is a very easy dessert to make.''
This recipe appears in one of Heatter's early cookbooks, the ``Book of Great Desserts'' (Knopf, $13.95). It is for six servings, but she suggests that you divide it in half and serve two generous portions. For a larger get-together, it may also be easily doubled. Chocolate Mousse Heatter 1/2 pound bittersweet chocolate (Ms. Heatter suggests Tobler Tradition or Lindt Excellence) 1 tablespoon instant coffee 1/3 cup boiling water 5 eggs, separated (use 3 eggs, if dividing in half) Pinch of salt
Break up chocolate and put into small, heavy saucepan. Dissolve coffee in boiling water and pour over chocolate. Place over low heat and stir occasionally with small whisk until smooth. Remove from heat and set aside 5 minutes.
With an electric mixer, beat egg yolks in a small bowl for 3 to 4 minutes at high speed. Reduce speed and gradually add slightly warm chocolate mixture. Beat until smooth and remove from mixer.
Beat egg whites and salt until they form soft peaks. Gently fold one-quarter of whites into chocolate mixture, then second quarter, and finally fold chocolate into remaining whites, folding very gently only until no egg-white shows.
Pour mousse into 6 large dessert dishes (or 2 or 3 if dividing in half), saving plenty of room for Mocha Cream. (Recipe for 6 follows,which may be cut in half). Cover and refrigerate 3 to 6 hours. Mocha Cream 1 cup heavy cream 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar 1 tablespoon instant coffee
In a chilled bowl, beat cream with chilled beaters only until it begins to thicken. Add sugar and coffee and beat until consistency of heavy cream custard sauce - not stiff! Pour on tops of mousse just before serving.