The Domesticated Cupid: Cooking up weekday romance (with wine)
If only Cupid, that mischievous cherub of love, had enrolled in a home economics course instead of archery. His doing so would have allowed him to wield a needle and thread – stitching lovers’ hearts together rather than zinging couples with bow and arrow.
Nonetheless, I’m convinced that within the endless dirty dishes, kids’ sports schedules, monthly bills, piles of laundry and work trips, romance lurks even after that first zing. While grand gestures of love are noteworthy, sustained care for one another is the stuff of all the greatest relationships. Simple acts of kindness scattered throughout domestic life stoke the passions of love, and demonstrate how two hearts can become one in life.
Valentine’s Day falls on a weekday this year. In chatting with friends, many approach Feb. 14 with a feeling best described as blasé dread. The day holds a long-standing place in their lives as an overrated holiday that rarely lives up to expectations. They’d be just as happy to skip it all together.
But what if we establish new traditions? Instead of elaborate dinners out, a casual meal of easy-to-prepare family favorites is sure to leave all of your nearest and dearest feeling loved.
It will be an Italian-themed meal at our house this year. Taking the time to eat together and to appreciate the effort made to create the meal will have hearts aflutter. Want to turn the romance up a notch? Give the kids the night off dish duty, then crank up some favorite tunes and tackle the kitchen cleanup as a couple. Be sure to insert a slow dance while loading the dishwasher.
Kids can make the appetizers, instilling the idea that sharing the workload is an act of love. My Polenta Moons are an ultra-easy course that pairs beautifully with a French Sancerre or a Californian Sauvignon Blanc for the parents and sparkling pear cider for the under-agers.
Simply slice a tube of pre-cooked, store-bought polenta (available in the refrigerated section of most grocery stores) into 1/2-inch rounds. Place on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet and lightly spray, or brush on, olive oil on both sides. Pop prepared sheet into an oven that’s been preheated to 400 F. Bake rounds 5-7 minutes. Remove and turn over each round. Top with a teaspoon of store-bought pesto and a teaspoon of chevre. Return to oven for an additional 5-7 minutes. Once out of the oven, top with a shelled pistachio nut or small sundried tomato. Serve immediately.
ROMANCE AND RED SAUCE
Making dinner every night can be a thankless task at times. There’s nothing better than serving up a meal that is praised and devoured. My Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti is just the dish. The meatballs and sauce can be made in advance and simply reheated to suit busy family lives. If you’re able to make the recipe on Valentine’s Day, the aroma that will flow from your kitchen is the ultimate welcome home hug for any working spouse who walks through the door. Serving a simple green salad on the side completes the special weeknight meal.
TURKEY MEATBALLS AND SPAGHETTI
• 2 slices sourdough bread – preferably stale – cut into cubes
• 1/2 cup milk or chicken broth
• 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
• 1 large egg, beaten
• 4 tablespoons onion, finely minced
• 2 garlic cloves, finely mined
• 4 tablespoons basil, chopped
• Zest of 1 lemon
• Pinch of dried oregano
• 1 teaspoon grey or kosher salt
• Fresh cracked black pepper
• Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
• 1 pound ground turkey thigh
• 1/2 pound bulk mild Italian chicken sausage
• 3 cups of your favorite marinara sauce
• 1 package spaghetti
In large bowl, combine bread cubes and milk or broth. Allow mixture to sit 5 minutes – bread will absorb liquid. Using fork, mash bread. Add Parmesan cheese, egg, onion, garlic, basil, lemon zest, salt, black pepper, red pepper and dried oregano. Mix together. Add meats and, using your hands, mix well. Place in refrigerator for at least an hour and up to 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove meatball mixture from fridge. Using hands, form roughly 2-inch round meatballs and place on prepared baking sheets. Bake 35 minutes. While meatballs are baking, add your favorite marinara sauce to a large pot and bring to simmer. Once meatballs are out of oven, place directly into simmering sauce. Cook spaghetti, drain, drizzle with olive oil and then cover with sauce and meatballs. Serve with additional grated Parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes.
This meal calls out for a great Italian red wine. Emmett Welch, wine department manager at Draeger’s Market in Los Altos, is a knowledgeable source for food-and-wine pairing advice. From the store’s shelves, Welch recommends A. & G. Fantino Barbera d’Alba.
“The wine is fresh and aromatic,” Welch said. “It will be fantastic with the meatballs and spaghetti. Plus, it’s made by a brother team in Italy, adding to the family-centric theme of the meal.”
When my husband and I arrived home from our honeymoon many moons ago, I found in our mailbox a note from my mom. In it, she included her recipe for butterscotch pudding. She advised: “Make this often. He’s sure to like it and feel loved when he eats it.” Her advice sat unused for some years, but now this dessert is a beloved treat for everyone in our family. The recipe for me stands out as yet another example of my mom’s invaluable wisdom.
MOM’S BUTTERSCOTCH PUDDING
• 3/4 cup brown sugar
• 3 tablespoons cornstarch
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 3/4 cup water
• 1 1/2 cups milk
• 1/4 cup butter
• 2 beaten egg yolks
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• Whipped cream for serving
In pot, combine sugar, cornstarch and salt. Slowly stir in water and milk. Cook slowly, stirring constantly until mixture begins to boil. Boil 1 minute. Remove from heat.
Add 1/2 cup of mixture to egg yolks to temper eggs. Return egg mixture to pot and bring back to boil. Let simmer 1 minute, then remove from heat. Add butter, vanilla and mix until smooth. Pour into six serving dishes.
Serve warm or chill and top with whipped cream.