Opt for a few aces up your sleeves this Valentine's Day. To add some context to this statement, I reference a timeless adage: "The way to someone's heart is through their stomach." There's no denying the truth in those words. Attaining culinary success in spades can guarantee you affection in return.
This year, wow your sweetie with dinner and dessert; make it an intimate affair and create classic dishes with a twist in your own home.
I visited Ovest, a modern Italian trattoria in Toronto, to ask Executive Chef Danylo Mielnik for two recipes that would be ideal for such a celebratory occasion.
He offered up the Gnocchi con Pesto di Pistacchi and the Nutella Mille Feuille dishes. Certainly, they may not appear to be the archetype of aphrodisiac foods, but one taste will most assuredly change your mind -- and get your heart racing.
And don't worry, you needn't slave away in the kitchen all day with these recipes. Many components can be prepared a day in advance. First up: cloud puffs of gnocchi with an ample amount of nutty-sweet pistachio pesto and salty pancetta pieces. The spuds have a soft chew which make for a time-release of flavours on the tongue. Delicate and floral, they're rich-tasting and pleasingly squishy. Finished with niblets of pancetta, a little bowl of this stuff goes a long way.
Then save room for dessert, of course. It's an easy assembly job but still a beaut of-a-looker in its own right. A double decker of passion-flaked puff pastry sandwich a mound of Nutella mousse. It's feather-light on the tongue, chocolatey -- (Chef references Ferrero Rocher, but without the heaviness), and gush-worthy good.
If you still want to brave the cold and get gussied up, here's an ideal game plan to consider: grab a seat at Ovest's modern bar for some nibbles and sips. I recommend their Frittura di Pesce to get the evening going. Lightly seasoned, the fried seafood goodies have a perfectly crisp exterior and sweet, creamy flesh.
Linger over a glass of vino (they have over 125 different varietals to choose from), then head home for the main indulgences.
Gnocchi con Pesto di Pistacchi (Gnocchi with a Pistachio Pesto and Pancetta)
Chef Danylo Mielnik offers the following helpful tips when making gnocchi: have patience and do not overwork the dough (it will make the pasta dough stiff, resulting in very tough- textured gnocchi). The gnocchi should still be pliable but able to hold its shape, like a soft pillow.
For the Gnocchi:
1kg net weight of cooked baking potatoes (peeled, boiled and passed through a food mill or potato ricer)
300 gr of all-purpose flour
50 gr of grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp. salt
For the Pesto and Finished Dish:
1 cup of shelled, blanched and peeled pistachios
1 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 cup of grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2 shallots, minced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup of unsalted butter
200 gr of pancetta, diced
10 slices of rolled pancetta fried for garnish
Boil 1kg of peeled baking potatoes (russets) in unsalted water until fully cooked. Drain for 5 minutes. Pass the potatoes through a food mill or potato ricer. Allow the potatoes to cool until room temperature.
Spread the potatoes out and create a well for the flour, eggs, cheese and salt. Mix by hand for 3-5 minutes until the entire mixture is well combined. Allow the dough to rest with a damp tea towel covering the gnocchi for 10-15 minutes. Cut the mound of gnocchi dough into approximately ½ cup portions. (This will allow for the inexperienced gnocchi roller to easily roll the gnocchi). Roll on an un-floured work surface until you have logs that are the diameter of no larger than a dime. Using a bench scrapper (or sharp knife) cut the logs of gnocchi dough into approximately 1 1/2 cm pieces. Heavily flour gnocchi and transfer to a baking sheet.
You can prepare and store for up to 24 hours in advance on a floured baking sheet covered with plastic wrap.
To cook the gnocchi, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi slowly with the help of a slotted spoon, making sure none of the gnocchi stick together. Leave in the boiling water for 30 seconds before gently stirring to help keep the gnocchi from sticking to each other and at the bottom of the pot. Once all of the gnocchi float the top, continue to cook for an additional 30 seconds. Strain and keep hot while you prepare the sauce. (Reserve 2 cups of the pasta water for the sauce).
For the sauce, begin by combining the pistachios and olive oil in a blender. Blend until smooth (close to the texture of natural peanut butter).
Meanwhile, bring a large frying pan to medium heat and cook the small pieces of pancetta until lightly golden brown and crispy. Add the shallots and garlic and continue to cook on medium heat for 1-2 more minutes. Add the pistachio pesto and 2 cups of pasta water and bring to the boil over high heat.
Add the gnocchi, grated Parmigiano Reggiano and salt to taste, continue to reduce the sauce until the gnocchi is completely coated with the pesto.
Serve garnished with a slice of crispy pancetta and a sprinkle with grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
For the Mousse:
1 Cup of Nutella
1 1/2 Cup heavy whipping cream (35% fat)
1/4 cup of toasted chopped hazelnuts
For the coulis:
Fresh Raspberries - 1/2 pint
6 tbsp granulated sugar
For the Mille-Feuille:
Puff pastry (Ovest makes theirs from scratch, but for sanity's sake, you may use good quality, store-bought puff pastry)
Cocoa powder and icing sugar to finish
Cut the sheet of puff pastry into small individual portions. Poke holes in the puff pastry so it does not rise too much as it bakes and rises uniformly. Sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake following directions on box. Approximately 375 degrees for 18 minutes.
Spread Nutella out in a large mixing bowl and keep in a warm place so the Nutella softens. Whip the heavy cream to whipped cream consistency - stiff peaks. Add 1/3 of the whipped cream to the Nutella and combine vigorously, do not worry about losing volume in the whipped cream.
Once combined, add the other 2 parts of whipped cream into 2 stages gently folding the cream until incorporated.
Add the hazelnuts and refrigerate for 2 hours before using.
Combine raspberries and sugar in a blender. Blend on high for 1 minute. Strain through a fine strainer.
Cut the puff pastry in half so you have a top and bottom.
Using a piping bag or spoon, put the Nutella in a flat thick 1 inch layer and then add the top of the puff pastry.
Dust with icing sugar and cocoa.
Garnish plate with raspberry coulis. Serve.
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