By Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
This year, Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday, and I’ll be celebrating it with my kids and grandkids “Roman style”. After all, St. Valentine’s origins are actually considered Roman, although many of us look for romantic dishes like lobster, oysters and chocolate covered strawberries. I say keep the holiday simple, wholesome and still full of love with one or two delicious pasta dishes that can be put on the table in literally twenty minutes. That way, there’s more time for lots of hugs following dinner!
Regardless of whether you decide to treat your spouse, loved one, or the entire family to these dishes, Valentine’s Day does need a little chocolate to top off the meal. And at my house, I’ll be serving my traditional chocolate crepes, served with a little fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Now THAT’S AMORE!
LINGUINE ALLA CARBONARA
Makes 6 servings
6 ounces slab bacon, in one piece
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large yellow onions, sliced ½-inch (about 3 cups)
1 ½ cups hot Chicken Stock or canned reduced-sodium chicken broth, or as needed
1 pound linguine
3 egg yolks
Coarsely ground black pepper
Bring 6 quarts of salted water to the boil in an 8-quart pot over high heat.
Remove the rind, if necessary from the bacon. Cut the bacon into ¼ inch slices, then cut the slices crosswise into ¼ inch strips. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring, until the bacon is lightly browned, but still soft in the center, about 6 minutes.
The amount of fat in the skillet will vary depending on the bacon. If there is more than 3 to 4 tablespoons of fat in the pan, pour off the excess. If there is less than 3 to 4 tablespoons, add enough olive oil to measure that amount. Add the onions and cook until wilted, but still crunchy, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the stock, bring to a boil and adjust the heat to a lively simmer. Cook until the liquid is reduced by about half.
Meanwhile, stir the linguine into the boiling salted water. Return to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until done, about 8 minutes.
Ladle off about a cup of the pasta cooking water. If the skillet is large enough to accommodate the sauce and pasta, fish the pasta out of the boiling water with a large wire skimmer and drop it directly into sauce in the skillet. If not, drain the pasta, return it to the pot and pour in the sauce. Bring the sauce and pasta to a boil, stirring to coat the pasta with sauce. Check the seasoning, adding salt if necessary. If necessary, add as much chicken stock or pasta cooking water as needed to make enough sauce to generously coat the pasta. Remove the pan from the heat and add the egg yolks one at a time, tossing well after each. (A salad fork and spoon work well for this.) Add the grated cheese, then the black pepper, tossing well and serve immediately in warmed bowls.
CREPES WITH CHOCOLATE AND WALNUTS
Makes a dozen palacinke, serving 6 or more
For the palacinke:
2 cups water
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
8 tablespoons melted butter or more
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
10 ounces excellent bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (12 ounces, or more, for extreme chocolate lovers)
1 ½ cups walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 cup heavy cream, chilled (plus sugar to taste)
A small ladle (1/3 cup volume or slightly larger)
A 7-inch crepe pan or a non-stick skillet, 7-inches wide on the bottom
To make the palacinke batter, whisk together the eggs, water, rum, vanilla, sugar and salt in a large bowl, until well blended. Sift the flour on top, a bit at a time, whisking each addition until smooth. Drizzle in 4 tablespoons of the melted butter, whisking until the batter has slightly thickened, with the consistency of melted ice cream. Finally, whisk in the lemon zest. Put the remaining 4 tablespoons of melted butter in a small cup and keep it warm.
Break or chop the chocolate into small pieces and put them a bowl set in a pan of hot (not boiling) water. When the chocolate begins to melt, stir until completely smooth and keep it warm, in the water, off the heat.
Set the crepe pan or skillet over moderate-high heat until quite hot. Pour in a couple tablespoons of butter, quickly swirl it all over the pan bottom, then pour excess butter back into the cup, leaving the bottom lightly coated with sizzling butter. (If the butter doesn’t sizzle, heat the pan longer before adding the batter). Immediately ladle in a scant ? cup of batter, tilt and swirl so it coats the bottom, and set the pan on the burner.
Lower the heat to medium and cook the palacinka for a little less than a minute, until the underside is lightly browned in a lacy pattern. Flip it over with a spatula and fry for a half minute or longer, until the second side is lightly browned, then remove it to a warm platter. Heat the empty pan briefly, then rapidly coat it with butter, fill it with batter and cook another palacinka. Repeat the sequence, stacking up the finished palacinke on the platter, until all the batter is used up.
Fill and serve the palacinke as soon as possible, while fresh and warm. Keep the platter in a warm spot and cover the stack with a tent of foil or a large bowl turned upside down. Whip the heavy cream, unsweetened or with sugar to taste, to soft peaks. Stir the melted chocolate and reheat it if necessary so it is smooth and warm.
Take one palacinka off the stack and place it with its lacy-patterned side down. Spoon a generous tablespoon (or more) warm chocolate in the center of the pancake and spread it over the palacinka, leaving an inch wide border uncoated. Scatter a spoonful of chopped walnuts on the chocolate layer then fold the round in half, hiding the fillings, and fold again into a plump quarter-round.
Fill and fold all the palacinke the same way. For each serving, place two rounds, overlapping, on a dessert plate, heap some cream on top, scatter some nuts on top of the cream and drizzle warm chocolate in streaks and squiggles over the palacinke and the plate.
Recipes from Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy: A Feast of 175 Regional Recipes
Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, coauthor of Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy: A Feast of 175 Regional Recipe, is the author of five previous books, four of them accompanied by nationally syndicated public television series. She is the owner of the New York City restaurant Felidia (among others), and she lectures on and demonstrates Italian cooking throughout the country. She lives on Long Island, and can be reached at her Web site, www.LidiasItaly.com