Most of us in long-term relationships sometimes take food for granted. We eat because we’re hungry and it fills a need so that we can accomplish other tasks, but special occasions call for special food and often reminds us of a time when eating was a sensual experience.
I’ve written all sorts of scenes that have included some sort of dining experience and it occurred to me the reason might be because eating engages all of the senses. We can all remember being told not to play with our food but preparation is just that; we wash and cut vegetables, blend spices, lazily stir a sauce until it glistens and tightens to the proper consistency. It’s a hands-on experience. There is also something very romantic about cooking with another person.
There is a scene in one of my novellas where a young artist is trying to impress an older woman into giving their relationship a chance. He’s cooking for her and while making Carbonara, a simple, elegant dish that’s as much fun to eat as it is to prepare, the atmosphere is relaxed but they are learning about one another as the dish comes together.
While the pasta is cooking, he’s dicing the pancetta (Italian bacon that isn’t smoked), and slicing the garlic, setting them to sizzle in a large pan; all the while trying not to slice his thumb because he’s distracted by the sound of her voice. While they’re eating she teaches him how to twirl spaghetti on his fork by laying it against his spoon and ends up licking some off of his chin. Needless to say, their senses are engaged by the time the meal has ended...with a Chocolate Torte. What, you thought I wouldn't sneak chocolate into this?
Valentine’s Day is a wonderful day to celebrate love and romance but special meals don’t need to be elaborate and take hours in the kitchen. Special meals are little celebrations of life, taking the time to enjoy each others company whether it’s a holiday or a Monday night when it’s too cold to go out. Whether or not you have a reason, celebrate a meal as if you do. I’m going to leave you with a recipe for Spaghetti alla Carbonara, just in case you’d like to try. This recipe is the closest to what I make (I'm one of those cooks who seldom measure and would probably take three pages to explain what Tyler Florence of the Food Network does in one) With only the two of us, I halve the recipe…
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
1 lb. dry spaghetti
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
4 oz. pancetta or bacon (cubed or cut into small strips)
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 large fresh eggs
1 C freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Black pepper to taste
1 handful of fresh parsley (I use about 1T dried)
It’s important that you prepare the sauce while the pasta is cooking. The spaghetti has to be hot and ready when the sauce is finished so that the heat of the pasta cooks the raw eggs.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, add pasta and cook until tender, yet firm. Drain well; reserving ½ cup of starchy cooking water in case the sauce needs to be thinned. Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over a medium flame and sauté the pancetta/bacon until crisp. Add the garlic and sauté less than a minute to soften (don’t brown). Add the hot, drained pasta to the pan and toss for a couple of minutes to coat the pasta with the bacon fat.
Beat eggs and Parmesan together. Take the pan containing the pasta off the heat, pour the egg and cheese mixture into the pasta, whisking quickly until the egg mixture thickens but doesn’t scramble (If using dried parsley, add it here). Thin out the sauce with reserved pasta water until it reaches the desired consistency, then season with salt and pepper to taste. You can sprinkle more cheese (and your fresh parsley if that’s what you’re using).
If you'd like a printable version of this recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/tyler-florence/spaghetti-alla-carbonara
The beauty of this dish is that you can have it for breakfast with orange juice and fresh strawberries or for supper with wine, salad and garlic toast. I’ve even made it for lunch.
How about you? What’s your favorite romantic meal?
Happy Valentine’s Day!