Valentine’s Dinner

This year I have put together a three-course meal which is both quick and easy. This can be cooked and served direct from the dishes they are cooked in, reducing dishes to be cleaned and adding to the romance and rustic approach of it all.

The seafood starter can be enjoyed as the baby hammour cooks to perfection, allowing you to both relax and enjoy each others company. The chocolate coffee granita can be made a day or two in advance and hidden away in the freezer and served at the last minute.

750g fresh mussels
25g butter
1/2 white onion, finely diced
150g fresh calamari
150g fresh scallops
6 rashers beef or turkey bacon, chopped into small pieces
2 small leeks, sliced diagonally
1 tspn thyme sprigs
250ml apple juice

• Scrub and de-beard the mussels.
• Heat the butter in a large saucepan and gently fry the finely chopped onion.
• Add the bacon pieces, frying for three-four minutes until it starts to brown.
• Add the leeks, thyme, calamari and scallops. Cover with lid and sweat everything together for four-five minutes until soft.
• Turn the heat up. Add the mussels and apple juice. Cover and cook for four-five minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until the mussels have opened.
• Discard any mussels that don’t open. Bring the saucepan straight to the table for a rustic approach and serve with crusty bread to soak up the juices.

February-2014_Food_02200g sugar
50g cocoa powder
500ml strong coffee
50g dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 tspn vanilla extract

• Bring the coffee to the boil in a medium saucepan.
• Whisk in the sugar and cocoa and simmer, uncovered, for five minutes, whisking occasionally.
• Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate and vanilla until the chocolate has melted.
• Cool the mixture, then put in the fridge overnight.
• Make the granita in a glass dish, preferably bowl-shaped, and freeze until frozen three to four entimetres from the edge.
• Whisk to break down the ice crystals, then freeze again for one hour more.
• Whisk and freeze again, then leave until completely frozen.
• Before serving, break the ice crystals into small pieces and serve into glasses or dishes.
• Serve with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream.

February-2014_Food_03400g small potatoes
40g whole black olives, pitted
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tbspns parsley, roughly chopped
2 tbspns olive oil
1 lemon zest
1 lemon, sliced thinly
1 (about 400g-500g) whole hammour, cleaned, head on
250ml apple juice
to taste salt
to taste black pepper, freshly cracked

• Heat oven to 220°C.
• Cook the potatoes in boiling water for about 10 minutes. Cut into thick slices, then cool.
• In a bowl, toss the potatoes with the olives, garlic, half the chopped parsley, half the olive oil, the lemon zest, salt and pepper. Tip this mix over the bottom of a large ceramic baking dish.
• Season the inside and outside of the hammour with salt and pepper. Place the lemon slices into the cavity of the fish. Lay the fish on top of the potatoes and drizzle with the rest of the olive oil. Bake for
25 minutes.
• Pour the apple juice over the fish and other ingredients and return to the oven for 10 minutes more until the potatoes have browned and the fish is cooked.
• Remove the dish from the oven, scatter with remaining parsley and bring the dish to the table.
• Serve hot with a salad and the sour cream as a dip.

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February 2014: Editor’s Note