Amuse Bouche: Ricotta Crostini with Truffle Honey and Lemon Zest
Time: 10 minutes
Find the best ricotta you can at a local market or Italian specialty store (or make your own!) then scoop it onto lightly toasted bread. Topping the amuses bouches with truffle oil, honey and lemon zest fills your mouth with all kinds of sexy sensations, perfect for kissing between bites.
1 ficelle (a loaf of bread like a baguette but much thinner), thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves
¼ cup honey
1 teaspoon white truffle oil
1 ½ cups ricotta
zest of 1 lemon
Lemon slices for garnish
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Arrange the bread on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 3-5 minutes, until lightly browned on the top, but not hard.
In the meantime, place the honey in a small mixing bowl and heat in the microwave for 5-10 seconds, until slightly warmer than room temperature. Mix in the truffle oil until well combined.
Rub the tops of the crostini pieces with the garlic cloves. Top each round of bread with a smear of ricotta, a drizzle of truffle honey and a sprinkle of zest.
To serve, arrange on a platter and place the lemon slices on the side.
Appetizer: Grilled Radicchio With Thyme-Honey Drizzle
Time: 12 minutes
Continuing the theme of sweetness, this purpley-pink veggie is seared to perfection, then dressed with a slightly tangy but deliciously sweet dressing. The dish is best eaten right when you make it, so you get bonus romance points for working together in the kitchen.
1 small head radicchio
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
¼ teaspoon thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
about ¼ cup shaved pecorino
Trim the radicchio, removing its outer layer. Cut it in half through the root, then cut each half into 3 wedges. If the root is very big, trim it down on each wedge with a paring knife.
In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, mustard, honey, a pinch of salt, a good grind of fresh pepper and the thyme. Stir well with a fork and set aside.
Heat a cast iron pan over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of oil, then arrange the wedges in the pan, one of their flat sides down.
Cook for about 2 minutes, until quite brown, then flip and cook each wedge on its second flat side for another 1-2 minutes. Remove the radicchio to a plate and sprinkle with salt. Turn the heat down to low and add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic is just golden, about 20 seconds.
Add the vinegar mixture, stir to distribute, and let it bubble down for about 20 seconds—it will reduce and become syrupy almost immediately. Remove the pan from the heat and drizzle the dressing over the radicchio. Top with the shaved pecorino and more fresh pepper.
Main Course: Penne alla Vodka
Time: 35 minutes
On Valentine's Day, nothing is as big a downer as floppy penne. But when made al dente, this luscious pasta dish practically screams romance; be sure to savor every last, insanely rich bite.
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon red chili flakes
1 quart marinara sauce
½ cup vodka
½ cup cream
½ cup Parmesan cheese (plus more for serving)
8 basil leaves, julienned (optional)
1 pound penne pasta
In a large saucepan, heat the oil over a medium flame. Add the chili flakes and cook until just sizzling, about 2 minutes.
Carefully pour in the marinara and the vodka. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium low. Cook, stirring consistently, for 10-15 minutes, until reduced.
Stir in the cream, Parmesan and half the basil (if using), and cook until the cheese has melted and the whole sauce is luscious and pink.
In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta according to package instructions until al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander, or transfer to the sauce using a slotted spoon.
Toss with the sauce until combined. Cook for another minute. Then garnish with the remaining basil, and few shreds of Parmesan, and serve alongside the extra block of cheese for grating.
NOTE: The sauce can be made in advance. If it is too thick, add 1/4 cup of pasta water to thin it slightly when you toss it with the pasta.
Dessert: Rich Lemon Tart
Time: 1 hour
To end the meal, cut thin slices of this flaky, creamy tart that won’t weigh you down after pasta. It’s baking fit for a novice: Make it early in the day so it’s waiting whenever you’re ready for a sweet finish.
For the crust:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
For the filling:
2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cups granulated sugar
Zest of 1 lemon (about 1 ½ teaspoons)
5 tablespoons lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients for the crust and stir to distribute evenly. It will be quite a soft dough. Press into a 9 ½″ fluted tart pan. Make sure to distribute evenly, thickening the crust a bit up the sides.
Place in the fridge for 15 minutes.
Bake for 20 minutes until firm and a deep golden brown. Cool completely.
When the tart is completely cool, make the filling: In a small saucepan, place the cream and the sugar and heat it over medium heat until boiling, stirring to make sure the sugar dissolves. Add the lemon zest and let the mixture boil for 5 minutes, watching very carefully, as the cream has a tendency to boil over.
Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Let cool about 15 minutes. Clear a space in the fridge where a baking sheet can sit perfectly flat. Place the cooled tart crust on a baking sheet and pour the filling in, leaving about 1/3 inch of crust above the filling (you may have a bit leftover; pour it into a small bowl and save in the fridge to indulge in later).
Keeping the baking sheet even, carefully place it in the spot you cleared in the fridge. Refrigerate about 2 hours, or until set. Serve cold or warm slightly for 30 minutes to an hour before serving. Cut into 10 wedges.