CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Guess what tomorrow is.
If you don't know the answer (Valentine's Day) and you have a significant other in your life, this column's for you. It's going to bail out your forgetful self and give you the chance to impress your sweetheart with the appearance of a well-considered and prepared dinner.
And it will cost you much less than dinner out, which you probably would be eating at either 5 or 10:30 p.m. as all the prime reservations times are already taken.
You have your choice of three menus: simple and fresh Shrimp and Parsley Pasta with Bibb Lettuce and Peach Salad with Vanilla Vinaigrette; inexpensive but impressive Pork Tenderloin stuffed with Spinach, Prosciutto, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Mozzarella; or elegant Beef Wellington Tarts.
I confess that the shrimp and pasta dish was not originally slated for this column. I planned to make a scallop and chervil pasta dish. I found myself at the grocery store picking up ingredients a scant hour ahead of an appointment to photograph the dish and discovered that the store was out of both scallops and chervil. Without time to make another stop, I improvised.
I'm not sure they ever have fresh chervil, actually, which is an herb in the parsley family with a delicate taste of anise. Licorice isn't my favorite flavor anyway, so I bought Italian flat leaf parsley. Instead of scallops, I purchased shrimp.
The simple combination of tender shrimp, fresh parsley, lemon and goat cheese turned out to be a light and flavorful meal when tossed with pasta. In a nod toward the romantic nature of the meal, I lessened the garlic flavor by smashing the cloves, gently cooking them, and then removing the smashed cloves from the saucepan leaving a hint of the flavor behind.
The slices of Pork Tenderloin stuffed with Spinach, Prosciutto, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Mozzarella make a colorful presentation with surprisingly little expense or effort. You might have to enlist the help of your Valentine, however, when tying up the rolled tenderloin. The job requires another set of hands, unless you're particularly dexterous.
The salty prosciutto in the filling married well with mashed sweet potatoes and a green salad tossed with a slightly sweet vinaigrette.
Showy Beef Wellington Tarts are a contemporary take on classic Beef Wellington. Instead of wrapping a tenderloin, duxelles (a finely chopped mushroom and shallots mixture) and foie gras in pastry, this recipe layers the same ingredients on a square of pastry. The crisp, buttery puff pastry forms the foundation for the decadent flavors. I'm not a big fan of foie gras, so I didn't use it when I made the recipe and thought the flavor was still plenty rich.
As is obvious from the accompanying photographs, Valentine's dinners at my house have already been prepared and eaten, so we might go out for dinner. I wonder if we'll have the 5 or 10:30 p.m. seating.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.
Shrimp and Parsley Pasta
1/2 pound dry spaghetti or cappellini
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 pound large raw shrimp, peeled
1/2 lemon, juiced and zested
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 additional tablespoon butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 green onions, white part only, chopped
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
Lemon wedges for serving
COOK pasta until al dente in boiling salted water according to package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water.
MELT 2 tablespoons butter over low to medium heat in sauté pan. Add garlic and cook 2-3 minutes, being careful not to burn. Remove garlic pieces from pan and discard.
ADD shrimp to pan and cook until they turn pink. Remove shrimp from pan. Add pasta water to pan and heat until reduced in half. Add lemon juice, zest, red pepper flakes, 1 tablespoon butter, cooked shrimp, parsley and green onions. Stir.
REMOVE to bowl and toss shrimp mixture with pasta. Place on plates and sprinkle goat cheese on top. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.Butter Lettuce, Peach and Goat Cheese Salad with Vanilla Vinaigrette
For the salad:
Butter leaf lettuce, torn into small pieces
1 peach, sliced thinly
Goat cheese crumbles
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon tarragon leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper