Labor Of Love

I confess, when my husband told me he was cooking me a five-course meal for Valentine’s Day, I was convinced he’d hired a chef to do the cooking for us. That was until I walked through the door from work yesterday and saw him in the kitchen, sleeves rolled up, cracked beer in hand, and recipes neatly placed in sequential order, ready for execution. I was impressed! And I hadn’t even tasted the food yet. I offered to help several times, but the assistance was repeatedly declined. As the apartment gradually filled with an array of intoxicating aromas, I couldn’t wait to taste what he’d prepared.
We started with a cheese and meat plate consisting of Bellavitano cheese, hard salami, and crunchy cucumber slices. The Bellavitano cheese merges the creamy texture and taste of a young Cheddar with the full flavored Parmesan cheese. The cheese stacked on top of a piece of salami and cucumber was an amazing way to start the big meal.
Our salad course featured a crisp and refreshing homemade non-creamy Cesar dressing, recipe courtesy of my aunt. I’ve made the mixture on countless occasions, but it turns out slightly different each time. I was amazed when I tasted my husband’s first shot at this dressing – he nailed it!
For the Primi, or pasta course, we indulged in not one, but TWO different kinds of pasta. He consulted my go-to Ina Garten for the pasta recipes. The first pasta was Penne with Five Cheese, which actually turned into Four Cheese due to my dislike for Gorgonzola. Crushed tomatoes, heavy cream and the most delectable cheese mix, melt and bake to create the perfect, rich sauce.

Penne with Five Cheese

What You Need

  • Kosher Salt
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes in thick tomato puree
  • ½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano (1½ ounces)
  • ½ cup shredded imported Italian fontina (1½ ounces)
  • ¼ cup crumbled Italian Gorgonzola (1½ ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
  • ¼ pound fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • 6 fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 pound imported penne rigate pasta

What To Do

  1. - Preheat oven to 500°.
  2. Bring 5 quarts of salted water to a boil in a stockpot.
  3. Combine all the ingredients except the penne in a large mixing bowl. Mix well.
  4. Drop the penne into the boiling water and parboil for 4 minutes. Drain well in a colander and add to the ingredients in the mixing bowl, tossing to combine.
  5. Divide pasta mixture among 6 shallow ceramic gratin dishes (1½ to 2-cup capacity). If you do not have individual dishes, use a larger gratin dish.
  6. Bake until bubbly and brown, 7 to 10 minutes.

The second pasta was one that has been on my list to make for quite some time – Lemon Fusilli with Arugula. The pasta was insanely zesty, creamy and loaded with great greens (and reminded me of a more decadent version of this). Add chicken to this recipe for a complete meal.

While two pastas was over-the-top and unnecessary, they played off each other magnificently!

Lemon Fusilli with Arugula

What You Need

  • 1 tablespoon good olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (2 cloves)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 lemons
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bunch broccoli
  • 1 pound dried fusilli pasta
  • ½ pound baby arugula (or 2 bunches of regular arugula, stems removed and leaves cut into thirds)
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

What To Do

  1. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, and cook for 60 second, then add the cream, the zest and juice of 2 of the lemons, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until it starts to thicken.
  2. Meanwhile, cut the broccoli in florets and discard the stem. Cook the florets in a pot of boiling salted water for 3 to 5 minutes, until tender but still firm. Drain the broccoli and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside.
  3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and 1-tablespoon salt and the pasta, and cook al dente according to the directions on the package, about 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot.
  4. Immediately add the cream mixture and cook over medium-low heat for 3 minutes, until the pasta absorbed most of the sauce.
  5. Pour the hot pasta into a large bowl and add the broccoli, arugula, Parmesan, and tomatoes.
  6. Cut the last lemon in half lengthwise, slice it 1/4 –inch thick crosswise, and add a few slices to the pasta. Toss well, season to taste, and serve hot.

For the Secondi course we enjoyed Filet with a red wine and balsamic reduction with roasted asparagus. The meat was cooked to perfection – so tender on the inside and nicely pan seared on the outside. The juicy meat might have been the highlight of the meal!
As if we hadn’t already eaten enough, the meal concluded with a heavenly cookie skillet with Tahitian vanilla gelato.

It was a memorable Valentine’s Day with an unforgettable meal. Now that I’ve seen my husband’s culinary skills, I can see the possibility for great future help in the kitchen.

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