Valentine’s Past and Present

Last year I baked a rich chocolate cake and served my wonderful girlfriends a leek soup, salmon steaks, asparagus, and wild rice with spinach. We paired sparkling wine with brie du champignons, and toasted each other with framboise whilst sampling the cake. There was lots of love, and many delicious sweets to nibble upon.

Honestly, I can take or leave Valentine’s Day. But even when I decide to leave it, I always want to do a little something special to commemorate it, and the “little something” always involves food. Years ago, I made heart-shaped sugar cookies (using a cookie cutter made from a Coke can) dusted with red sprinkles, and home-made valentine’s cards, and pushed the bags of sweet treats through my friends’ letter slots (it was a very cold February day, I remember). I’ve packed up boxes of lemon tea bread to send to my New Jersey grandparents (I omit the poppy seeds), and have sent my father, the birthday baby, wine and low-fat desserts to celebrate his day.

This year, I wanted to make something soft and simple, easy yet somehow glamorous — and delicious. Really, I mean delicious. What came to mind first was: polenta.

The New York Times had a very pretty piece last week mooning on about the wonders of polenta and fried eggs, which may have inspired the craving. Then I took my dad to Rose Pistola for an early birthday dinner (he had a seafood pasta, I had a bleu cheese salad, we both drank red wine) and ordered a side to go along with my meal. It was a drippy — though warmish — day, and the polenta’s smooth slide was the perfect winter antidote.

However, when it came time to make my own version,I balked at frying up eggs and grating a pound of cheese as the Times’ recipe suggests. I’ve made polenta with no cheese at all (Sacrilege! Though it doesn’t taste too bad, just a bit more dry) and I am not really an egg person unless I’m in the exact right mood at breakfast (exceptions are made for green garlic souffles, of course). I do love cheese, but too much of it can leave me stomach-achey and sniffly. So, how to adapt?

I still wanted a lustrous pile of what is, really, just some dressed up cornmeal, but I wanted to make it a bit more heart-healthy. Using the basic Times’ recipe, I lowered the amount of butter and cheese and used vegetable broth to give it more heft. Yum. It was still creamy, glossy, and delicious. I roasted a bunch of asparagus to be placed gently alongside, and made a delectable and simple salad with roasted beets and spinach. I finished the meal with a luscious — and also simple — chocolate tarte from Gourmet’s February issue. I could not let the holiday slip past without chocolate, of course.

Sometimes the simplest things are the most wonderful.

[Valentine cake, February 2006]

nicole spiridakis © copyright 2023