A WEEKNIGHT VALENTINE'S FEAST


Honestly in all the relationship's I've been in I don't remember Valentine's Day being a big deal. I've never disliked it but its just never seemed that important, especially as its actually my little sister's birthday too. Now my husband and I exchange cards (usually something silly - last year's to me was just a red card with 'I F**KING LOVE YOU' in block capitals, without the stars of course) and it's an excuse for me to cook us a fancier meal. This is obviously more tricks when V-day falls on a week day like this year as you have a lot less prep time after work, so this year I've put together a feast that involves more construction than cooking and even when cooking is involved the main part is pre-made up to 3 days in advance (or even longer if you freeze it).

I've also made use of some of the amazing local food artisans I'm lucky enough to have around me here in Leicestershire and you will have to wherever you are - it might just take a bit of searching online but I assure you there will be some amazing producers in your area. Doing this is also spreading that feeling of love a bit further - supporting local independents is an amazing thing to do and believe me they will appreciate your business a thousand times more than a supermarket will, plus you'll be getting something of a higher quality to show your loved one how much you care!

I'm calling this a Valetine's Feast and I do mean just that - we're talking bountiful platters and seductive creamy pasta. It is more than two people can eat but the point here is luxury and abundance. You can also just wrap up the leftovers and pop them in the fridge so nothing will go to waste and you can get a few more days of delicious bites out of it, but of course feel free to scale down if you wish.

So here we go into course number one!



STARTER

Although I'm not a big cheese board person I love a deli board, as does my husband. I love putting these together when we have guests over - they look so impressive but they're so easy to do, just placing piles of delicious already prepped things onto a big plate! I got most of the ingredients here from my local Italian grocer Vincenzo Pasquale and there will likely be somewhere similar near to you, but if not all of these things are available in supermarkets.

For this platter I tore two mozzarella balls up with my hands and placed them first, then took my selection of cured meats and folded or bunched them up before snuggling them around and about the mozz. I used prosciutto, fennel salami and a sopresato but use whatever you like best. Nestled amongest the meat and cheese I made little piles of mixed olives then slid in sun dried tomatoes before tucking a few different crisp breads into all the gaps - I went for large flat olive breads that I broke apart and smaller round caramelised onion bruschetta like breads. The finishing touch was some basil olive oil and balsamic vinegar pearls from Yes Please (gifted) - I love having these in the house as they're a super quick and easy way to make a salad so much more interesting!



MAIN

I know some people are going to think I'm bonkers suggesting homemade fresh pasta as the main event for a weeknight, but you must remember that pasta is the perfect example of a food that can be stored and honestly, it really is incredibly easy to make. The sauce here to is a cinch to put together and is so quick it really doesn't need to be (and shouldn't be!) made ahead of time, but you could prep your ingredients by cutting and measuring them out if you really want to.

Fresh Pasta for Two

2 large eggs
200g plain flour (I use Italian 00)

Put the eggs and flour into a bowl or directly onto you work surfaced and using a fork or your fingers bring them together in whisking motions to make a rough dough. 

When the dough has formed flour your work surface and start kneading it into a smooth ball. People get scared thinking there is a strict technique to kneading but the really isn't, as long as you're stretching and pushing it together enough to mix the ingredients smoothly and get the gluten in the flour going you're fine. I usually knead my dough for 6-8 minutes until I have a super smooth, springy feeling ball of dough. Now wrap it up well in cling film (no gaps or the dough will dry out!) and pop it in the fridge for half an hour.

Now its time to roll out and cut the dough. I recently got a pasta machine so used that here, but before I just did this by hand. Cut the dough into quarters and roll it out to about 2mm thick on a floured work surface with a well floured rolling pin, then cut it into strips of whichever width you desire with a nice sharp knife. For this recipe I cut my pasta fettucine style so each strip is about 5mm wide. When cut spread the pasta in a thin layer over a baking sheet or tray so it can start to dry and prevent it sticking into one big ball. 

Your pasta is now ready to cook, but if you're making it ahead of time let it dry for about half an hour and then put in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to a month.

Creamy Shiitake and Prociutto Sauce

5-6 slices of prosciutto
125g shiitake mushrooms, torn into strips
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
120ml chicken stock (or vegetable if you prefer)
200g approx of fresh pasta
80ml double cream
1 tbsp butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat 2-3 tbsp olive oil in a large pan, then add the prosciutto in a single layer and cook for a few minutes on each side until crisp before tranferring onto a paper towel and setting aside.
Add the torn mushrooms to the same pot and cook over a pretty high heat until they've browned and become tender so 4-5 mins. Reduce the heat to medium and add the chopped onions and 3/4 of the thyme, cook for 2-3 mins until the onions and translucent and then add the stock. Turn the heat down to low and cook for around 5 minutes more, until you're left with only a think layer of stock coating the bottom of the pan. 
While the stock is reducing cook your pasta in boiling water in another pan until very al dente. I let the pasta boil until it floats to the surface of the water and then for just 1 minute more.
Using kitchen tongs take the pasta from the water and add it to your sauce pan along with about 120ml of the water the pasta has cooked in. Crumble in half of your crispy prosciutto and bring the heat back up to medium, then cook for another 2 minutes using the tongs to constantly toss everything together. 
When the sauce has thickened a bit and the pasta is al dente add the double cream and cook for another minute, then take off the heat and add the butter. Toss everything together and taste, then season as required until you have the perfect flavour balance.
Please up your pasta and crumble over the remaining prosciutto and thyme leave, then serve immediately.




DESSERT

To finish the meal I again decided on an arrangement of delicious treats from some of my favourite local artisans. I grabbed a little punnet of strawbs from the market along with a small bunch of mint and arranged these alongside a selection of chocolates from the amazing Cocoa Amore and little espresso cups of gelato and Italian baked treats like tiny cannolis from my favourite Gelato Village

This looks so pretty and I think it's really nice to end a meal with an array of little sweet treats that you can pick at while enjoying a coffee or a liqueur and each other's company, plus there's absolutely no cooking involved. You can even scoop the gelato into the cups and pop them in the freezer the night before so all you have to do is move them from the freezer to the stand! 

Speaking of the stand, I just adore this two level marble and gold stand that I was kindly gifted by the fabulous Prezzybox - when not in use for food I have it as a sort of display area on the breakfast bar in my kitchen and it's such an attention grabber. They might not be the first place you think of for homewares but I've had some really lovely pieces from them and highly suggest you have a look!


I really hope you've enjoyed this post and I'd love to hear if you give anything a try, it was great fun putting these together and having an early Valentine's dinner worked out great for us as we're in London on the day itself!

Whether you're feasting alone, with friends or with your special person I hope you have a marvellous day!
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*This post contains items that were gifted for review. For more information head to my disclaimer page.
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